Dean Howell is a former professional English football player who is recognized as one of the first soccer players in the UK to go vegan. He made the switch back in 2005 before documentaries likeThe Game Changers were shining a spotlight on plant-based athletes around the globe. Although Howell always felt considerably healthy before he adopted a vegan diet he says that it took his career and lifestyle one step further.
The Beet chatted with Dean Howell to uncover what it meant to be a professional athlete and a vegan in 2005 when the diet was unfamiliar to many. He talked about the hardships he went through when coaches and managers did not believe in the diet or his passion to create a health and nutrition company, Raw Sport, which sells protein powder, supplements and eventually will have a clothing line.
As a result of eating plant-based, Howell's athletic performance improved and he was able to recover faster whenever he had a minor injury. Now he eats a whole-food, high alkaline diet, and has eliminated all soy-based products because he believes they were slowing him down. High alkaline foods have a pH level of over 7.365 and are believed to help reduce the risk of diseases since cancer in the lab does not grow in alkaline conditions. The popularity of alkaline diets has grown in the past few months and people are now using it to lower their risk of disease and to lose weight. Alkaline foods are fruits, vegetables, legumes and plants. The most important thing is to avoid foods that are acidic, or with a pH level are below 4.6, which are processed foods, those high in sugar, and meat.
Howell describes high alkaline food as "water-based" (such as fruit) because water increases pH levels and helps the body find balance. The athlete shares what he eats in a day and a go-to plant protein-packed smoothie for energy and fuel.
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Q: How long have you been vegan and what made you start?
DH: "I went vegan when I was 24 years old. I'm 36 now so I've been vegan for 12 years. At the time when I was 24, I was fit and healthy but I felt something was missing on a physical level, which then I discovered when I went completely vegan.
"I lost my Nana to breast cancer and felt encouraged to research nutrition and lifestyle on my own. I attended seminars and listened to people speak about diets and health, then came upon the conclusion that I needed to try a plant-based diet. I started slowly, and I recommend doing this for anyone who wants to start a plant-based journey. First, I cut out cheese and dairy and I felt so much better and recovered from injury faster. Once I felt the results, I gave up meat and fish. I realized my body reacts to soy in a negative way, so I don't eat any soy-based products, instead, I eat a whole food plant-based diet, foods that are high in alkaline.
"After my experiences, I was considered the World's second professional football player and faced difficulties with coaches and managers who thought it was "weird." But, that never turned me away, a vegan diet aligned with me.
Q: What do you eat for breakfast?
DH: "I eat a lot of fruit for breakfast, mainly because it's light and water-based so I feel hydrated. Then sometimes I will eat porridge with maple syrup, banana, oat milk, and mix in protein powder, either Garden of Life or Sun Warrior protein. My diet consists of high carb and high alkaline foods. I eat a lot of Caribbean food like yams, dumplings, sweet potatoes, and salads. I especially love curry.
Q: What's your go-to vegan smoothie recipe?
DH: "I drink a lot of smoothies and they're usually full of Raw Sport Elite protein powders. My favorite protein flavors are the banana, vanilla cinnamon, chocolate, and toffee fudge. I don't like to mix fats and carbohydrates together so I blend together berries and add either cashew milk or coconut water. When I make a smoothie, I eat for fuel.
Q: What's your favorite source of vegan protein?
DH: "I eat a lot of black beans, chickpeas, lentils, plantains, broccoli, sweet potato. I make an awesome curry dish with vegetables and the spice.
Q: Do you think anyone can be plant-based?
DH: "I think it has a lot to do with your outlook on life. Not everyone is going to be plant-based for several reasons and excuses are one of them. People don't want to do their research or there not inclined into trying something new. But for the people that do align with it, they have a reason whether it's companionship for animals, health reasons, or moral ethics. For me, it was personal because I made the switch based on my health. A lot of people think, "well that's selfish" and you can argue it both ways. But I see it as loving myself and within myself, I can show my love for the planet, animals, and everyone who surrounds me.
Q: What advice do you have for others who are starting their plant-based journey?
DH: "Research, try, and connect with people who are experienced in plant-based diets. You have to respect the vessel, meaning our body, we have been given, and think about how you want to feel and look. Then, try not to put so much pressure on yourself. Make small changes instead of diving in headfirst. It's more sustainable.
Q: Do you have a mentor or a role model?
DH: "I followed Doctor Sebi, he encouraged me to eat plant-based food high in alkaline. I listened to his radio and read his blogs, what he said really resonated with me. Now, I know what works for me but I do get inspired by other people like speaker David Avocado Wolfe who has a large social following and promotes a raw vegan lifestyle.
Q: Can you tell me more about your high alkaline diet?
DH: "The alkaline concept promotes food produced by nature. The body wants to maintain a balance so when pH levels are 7.365 and above, the body has natural to more alkaline. When we're stressed, drinking, smoking, eating high sugar diets, the body is in an acidic state which is an environment that creates bacteria and diseases flourish. In that case, I eat foods that are water-based like fruits with seeds such as dates and avocado, herbs like rosemary, peppers, grains, quinoa, wild rice, squashes, and key limes.
Q: What's the best way for people to keep fit without access to gyms?
DH: "I've been doing home workouts that include HIIT body exercises like burpees, squats, press-ups, ab workouts, and yoga stretching. All you need is a mat and a towel. If you can exercise outdoors, I suggest running 3-4 times a week and cycling almost every day.
"Lifting weights is important for anyone starting a vegan diet. When I first started, I lost a lot of weight because I was limiting my calorie intake by eating plants, so I had to increase my weight training. If you're a vegan who doesn't exercise you could look "unnourished" and that's the stigma around the entire lifestyle, people will judge you on how you look and be turned off by the diet.
Q: What are the challenges of transitioning from pro athlete to business owner?
DH: I have a great team around me. "My two best friends Gariff and Ryan are my partners and I can completely trust them and we're all very passionate about the company. We found that most vegan supplements were full of heavy metals and wanted to create products that are 100% vegan, organic, high in alkaline, and sustainable. So we did, and the company is called Raw Sports. We source the best ingredients that are good for people so they enjoy our product and want more. If an ingredient is expensive, we will pay extra money to have a healthy product. Me, my family, and friends love Raw Sports and enjoy a meal replacer or smoothie with protein supplements almost every day.
"Raw Sport has a whole variety of products--protein, meal replacement is the most popular, we do seaweeds, fruits, greens, mushrooms, pollen, joint formula, herbal fat burner--no fillers, only 100% real ingredients. We make our capsules by hand in the UK and source, package, and ship them ourselves. We supply to elite athletes like professional boxer Anthony Joshua, and F1 driver Lewis Hamilton, also a longtime vegan.
Q: What's your daily mantra?
DH: "Let's do it, especially when you feel tired and don't want to do anything. I feel this way sometimes but I still have a mindset of a professional athlete, I trained every day in football and told myself "let's do it." I had the vision to create a sports and nutrition company without compromising ethics--there's a way to make money and help others. We sell products in 57 counties worldwide and there are exciting times ahead.
Q. What advice do you have to an aspiring professional football player?
DH: "Focus on your passion. There are times when coaches and managers will tell you to only focus on football and forget about other things that are happening. When I was playing professionally, I was passionate about better nutrition and health and found a manager that was willing to support me. If you have a passion, follow it, think about it, and commit to it.