I had become vegetarian in 1970 when I was 13 and in 1980 I became vegan. I signed as a professional footballer on my 17th birthday in 1974. Since then, apart from periods when I have been injured or ill, I have done some form of physical exercise almost every day. Throughout that time I have adopted a range of exercise programmes.
Around fourteen years ago I had become committed and obsessed to a body-building regime with the intention of demonstrating that I could develop large muscles on a vegan diet. So I ate as much food as I could and supplemented my diet with a range of vegan protein drinks. A couple of years later this led to two things. Firstly, my weight had soared up to nearly 15 stone (210lbs, 95kg), my ‘fighting’ weight as a professional footballer had been around 10st 7lb (151lbs, 68kg). Secondly, I had a heart scare brought on by over six months of repeated panic attacks and my stress levels had soared through various events happening in my life at that time. I had been experiencing palpitations for several weeks and so went to the doctor to see if there really were any underlying health problems. I went to my local hospital for a routine electrocardiogram (ECG) and ended up in hospital for 5 days with a suspected heart attack! My resting heart rate was 130 beats per minute (the norm is around 70)! As well as increased stress levels, I’d been over training and over eating the wrong type of vegan foods (high-fat) during my bodybuilding obsession. My heart was telling me to slow down and eat less. I actually hadn’t had a heart attack but my stress levels had brought about a ‘blip’ on the ECG.
I loved training and my vegan diet but I was determined not to go through that again. I did some research and came across the work of Dr McDougall. I decided there and then to adopt his philosophy of a diet consisting of less than 10% fat an I’ve followed this low-fat, plant-exclusive, dietary regimen since I came out of hospital in 2000. I also decided to change my training regime to one which combined conditioning via cardiovascular training (CV) combined with resistance training which focused on toning and strengthening muscles rather than increasing size and bulk.
After several weeks on this regime my weight was back down to my ‘fighting’ weight and I feel as fit if not fitter than when I was playing professional football.
My brother John is 16 months older than me. He had encouraged me to become vegetarian and then vegan. He also has two degrees, one in Sports Studies and one in Food, Nutrition and Health. He was a decent footballer and certainly had the ability to have become a professional footballer if he had been able to apply himself better to training. Although very much a committed vegan, he has always loved food and a drink and could never imagine himself joining a gym. As a result he has always struggled with his weight.
It was John who suggested that it was a shame that my knowledge and experience of training was going to waste and encouraged me to get out there and promote my ideas and beliefs. For my part, I was disappointed that John had never really made use of his academic studies and I knew that if he could change his diet and begin training he would be a great ally for me and my work.
So I set him a challenge. Was he prepared to follow my diet and exercise programme for at least three months to see if it would make a difference to his health and well being? Reluctantly, and after some efforts at persuasion, he agreed.
In other to gauge any improvements we decided that we would need some independent scientific proof. We had some links to the Football Exchange based at Liverpool John Moores University. They agreed to do two key health and fitness tests before John started the challenged to be repeated three months into his programme. Firstly, a body scan, which would determine levels of body fat, lean muscle and bone density. Secondly, they would conduct a sub-maximal fitness test a standard test to determine fitness levels.
In addition, we tape measured and photographed John’s body before beginning the programme and we will repeat this three months into the programme. John also went to his doctor to get a full lipid (cholesterol) profile. For comparison, I decided to get the same tests and measurements done.
You can follow John’s progress in the posts under the category Johnny’s Diary.