Sunil Chhetri: How shifting to a ‘vegan diet’ helped the Indian captain improve his game

Sunil Chhetri seems to have been able to crack the riddle and turn the clock opposite. (Indian Football)

You might be surprised at the number of sportstars chosing to go vegan for better health. Elite athletes like Venus Williams, Lewis Hamilton and Virat Kohli have chosen to ditch dairy, meat, and eggs.

Some of the world’s best footballers have also been associated with a vegan diet during their playing carrer including Barcelona’s Lionel Messi and Manchester City’s Sergio Agüero.

And now Indian football captain Sunil Chhetri joins the list which means cutting down the intake of saturated fat, animal hormones and cholesterol and replacing them with fresh fruits and vegetables.

With his no nonsense fitness regime being supplemented by his intake, Chhetri in an interview with AIFF spoke about him going vegan, giving up sweets and the awareness growing from his Sporting Lisbon days. EXCERPTS:

In all these years what is the most significant change you have witnessed in the National Team?

The diet! The current crop of boys knows what to eat, how much to eat, and when to eat. They understand what is beneficial for them, and most importantly they stick to it. And it’s doesn’t end with the National Team. It is percolating down to the Clubs, and age group players as well.

How have you changed on your diet?

My diet has kept on improving. It’s not that I was as strict as today some 10 years back. But it’s also not that 10 years back I was eating everything, and anything. So as every year passed by, I kept making changes – being strict on myself.

How did you mould yourself into it?

As I grew older, and as I had more knowledge and met more people who could help me, I kept making those positive changes. And because I was getting older, it was easier to calm my desperation, or my desire to cheat on diet.

So does that mean that it’s easier with every given day?

When you are younger it’s actually a bit difficult. When you are younger you eat a lot of things out of desire. As you grow older, you understand that these are the things which you should not, and these are the things you should.

Can you elaborate?

When I was 25 and I was told to eat 6 pieces of potato every day, someday it would be 8, someday it would be 10. Not that it’s going to make a big difference. But now when I am told by my nutritionist that you get to eat 6 pieces a day, it’s 6. Done! These things really help you when you grow older because by now you have understood what works for you, and it’s easier to be more disciplined. That is where probably when people who are 30 plus do well.

We heard that you have given up meat.

I have become vegan -I don’t take dairy or meat. But it has helped me a lot in terms of recovery and digestion.

And sweets?

It’s been over one and a half years. Both I have indulged on two momentous occasions – the first time I gave in was after BFC won the Hero ISL; and the next time I had a bite was after we drew our away match with Qatar. You need to understand what works best for your own body. In fact, there have been occasions when people put slices of cake in my mouth. But I never gulped it, but went to the washroom to rinse out (smiles).

When did all this realisation creep in?

The awareness crept up after my stint with Sporting Lisbon. When I was in Kansas in the US, there was a little slight change but as I said as I was young – I didn’t go deep into it. I followed it but not religiously. Then when I went to Sporting Lisbon, I saw that it’s common in Europe about what they eat. It was there that I became stricter.

Hasn’t life become boring?

With every each passing year the more knowledge you gather, and the more experiment you do on yourself, and see the positive results. It’s then when you tend to get strict. I don’t feel the desire or feel bad that I am missing on something. I am enjoying my life.

What at home? Does your wife also eat the same?

It would be wrong to say that it has come into effect only after she became my wife. That’s why I am completely happy, and so much in peace that I did get married to her. Does she eat what I eat. Well, off-course. Not because she has to, but because she gives me company. But yeah she is not a vegan, and every now and then, she enjoys her prawns, and fish curries too. I am so much in peace that I did get married to her. The support from home has stayed the bedrock.