Personal Trainer and marathon runner Dan Fivey is setting out to destroy the misconception that vegans can’t be athletic
I’m a personal trainer and I run 60-70 miles a week. I only eat plants and vegetables. Each of those sentences might shock some people. Together, they might shock a whole lot of people.
I’ve been vegan half of my life, and I’m proud of the fact that despite what some people perceive as a restricted diet, I very rarely get sick and have plenty of energy for sports. I run marathons, swim, cycle and work out. I spend between thirty and forty hours per week working with clients as a personal trainer, and that involves a lot of exercise.
I turned vegetarian when I left home, and vegan at university. It horrified my parents who had no idea how to support my decision or cope with it at all. Well, it was twenty years ago…
I remember my first attempt at a vegan shopping trip. My housemates Rob and Matt joined me as we combed the shelves in Sainsbury’s in Lancaster. What a nightmare – the labeling was hopeless, there were very few vegan-friendly foods available and when we did find something, the taste was often pretty disappointing.
We used an early edition of the Animal Free Shopper (still available from The Vegan Society) and consulted the internet on ‘dial up’ which was agony because it was soooo slow. The Vegan Society had plenty of useful leaflets to read about calcium, dairy-free options, how to make egg-free cakes etc. (It’s funny to think that, at the time, I had no way of predicting that I would eventually be appearing on a Vegan Society leaflet myself!)
Eating out was hard work too. I remember going to Pizzaland – I ordered a vegetarian pizza and asked for the cheese to be left off. When it came, it had no cheese, but slices of pepperoni instead. Close questioning revealed that neither the waiter nor the chef knew what pepperoni was!
Famous vegans at the time won my respect because it wasn’t an easy road to go down – but the truth was, a lot of vegan men tended to look a bit thin and pale. I deliberately set out to prove that it didn’t have to be that way. I wanted to show that I could be fit, strong and sporty on a vegan diet. I played rugby back then and also ran a lot. Nothing made me happier than proving over and over again that I was faster and stronger than meat-eaters. I could train and train and train – and recover quickly too.
When I left university I became a personal trainer and I have trained people all over the world. Sometimes I tell people I’m vegan straight away, sometimes I wait. It’s interesting to watch their reactions. Some are more accepting than others. Typically, they are shocked and amazed that I’m not ill, pale and pasty.
I encourage my clients to follow my example – I get them started by suggesting they try a detoxifying raw food diet plan I have developed. After three to five days, they’re always amazed by the effect: they’re more energetic, less bloated, sleeping better and able to train harder.
I have probably impacted more people than I realize through being a good role model – as well as the personal clients I work with, I think people find out about me by seeing me running and follow up by looking at my website (www.danfiveypersonaltraining.co.uk) where I often post information about what I’m cooking and eating. I know that lots of the people I train are now making more conscious choices, and not using eggs or milk. My clients and my friends choose the veggie option at restaurants or have meat-free Mondays, and tell me about new things they have tried. I always emphasize that it’s very important to eat lots of fresh or minimally processed fruits and vegetables. My other refrigerated vegan staples include coconut and soya milk, tofu and hemp. I encourage people to try fruit and veg they have never had before, like sharon fruit, plantain, ackee, pak choi…
Over the years I’ve enjoyed cooking up some really tasty new meals and learning the joy of eggless baking. I regularly invite clients to dinner and to try my vegan cakes! This year I have opened a vegan/veggie café in Cheltenham. The chef and I see it as our responsibility to educate people about how to eat properly and healthily. We run workshops and our detox programme really helps people break their bad habits of junk food eating.
My meat-eating friends maintain that however fit and healthy I am, I’d be fitter, healthier, faster and all round ‘better’ with a bit of meat in my diet. Yet it’s a matter of public knowledge that the three most common causes of death in our country – heart disease, cancer and stroke – have all been linked to the standard Western diet, rich in animal products, refined carbohydrates and processed food.
My energy levels seem to increase every year – I’m running faster than ever and with less effort. Friends and clients are amazed at my energy and my get up and go. I always tell the people who come to me for advice: “No matter who you are, no matter what you did, no matter where you’ve come from, you can always change, become a better version of yourself.”