TJ Perenara on his journey from overweight kid to vegan rugby star

TJ Perenara says the lessons he learned as an overweight youth helped improve his relationship with food and ultimately eased his transition to a plant-based diet.

The All Blacks star has revealed he first overhauled his eating habits in his early teens when he struggled with weight issues which impacted his fitness and performance on the pitch.

“I was always pretty disciplined with my diet even before I became vegetarian and vegan, because I was overweight as a kid,” Perenara said.

“I would have been around 12 or 13 when I really started to wake up. My teammates were all improving as players, but while my skills were improving, on the pitch, I couldn’t perform at a high level for that long.

CHRIS SKELTON/STUFF

Journalist Steven Walton receives his first box of food from Green Dinner Table as he begins his month-long journey on a vegan diet.

READ MORE:
* The All Blacks, NRL stars, lockdown chat and potential transfer of TJ Perenara to Roosters
* ‘The guy is made for the league’: Dane Coles torn over possible change to Hurricanes teammate TJ Perenara
* Storm, Kiwi prostitute Brandon Smith reveals February message from TJ Perenara about the NRL

“It was a red flag for me, that if I wanted to go far in my footballing career, it would be something I should take charge of.”

Perenara first decided to become a vegetarian four years into her professional career in 2016, an ethical decision made due to her concerns about the environmental impacts of farming and mass meat production.

Three years later, after the 2019 Rugby World Cup, he chose to go all out and embrace veganism – a change he says was made easier by the structure he learned to apply to his diet when he was young.

“I’ve always wanted to be a rugby player and I’ve always been fit,” he said.

TJ Perenara says the lessons he learned as an overweight kid helped improve his relationship with food.

Provided

TJ Perenara says the lessons he learned as an overweight kid helped improve his relationship with food.

“But I was a bit overweight, and my relationship with food wasn’t good, and I was gaining weight and having a harder time performing.

“I knew that in a professional environment, it was going to be something I had to be strict and disciplined about in order to reach a higher level.

“So make the change [to a plant-based diet] It might have been a little easier for me, because I had already set up these disciplines around food.

Perenara’s early forays into vegetarianism were aided by being at camp with the All Blacks on their 2016 year-end tour of the United States and the Northern Hemisphere.

The Hurricanes captain credited the support and expertise of All Blacks nutritionist Kat Darry and strength and conditioning coach Nick Gill, who helped refine his new diet to ensure he always received all the necessary nutrients and proteins.

TJ Perenara in action during a Hurricanes Super Rugby training session in Wellington on March 3, 2022.

Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images

TJ Perenara in action during a Hurricanes Super Rugby training session in Wellington on March 3, 2022.

“They were very open and understood that a bunch of different diets work for different people in high performance,” he said.

“Kat actually helped a lot to ease the transition for me. She made sure food, snacks and meals throughout the day were all prepared.

“So being at camp was actually the easiest thing, because I didn’t have to think about preparing my food. I am very grateful for that.

The 78-game half-back admits he’s never ranked among the All Blacks’ biggest eaters, confessing: “I can only eat four Weetbix.”

The biggest challenge he faced after giving up a carnivorous life was increasing the amount of plant-based meals – up to four and a half meals, before playing a night game – that he now devours to keep his body fueled.

“I definitely did some research on the things I would need to eat to maintain my energy levels.

“The big change for me was the amount of food I was consuming. I wasn’t used to eating so much. I was eating a lot more when I first switched to vegetarianism.

Perenara’s teammates initially viewed his then drastic dietary changes with suspicion, but understood and respected his professionalism.

“Some of the boys upset me a bit at first just because it was so different. In a rugby environment, there was no vegetarianism or veganism in the squad at all at that time. It was a little ironic for a while, but they were all nice about it.

TJ Perenara has played 78 games for the All Blacks and eats more than four meals before game night.

Getty Images

TJ Perenara has played 78 games for the All Blacks and eats more than four meals before game night.

Perenara’s stance on reducing its carbon footprint and its criticism of commercial meat production has already rubbed some Kiwis the wrong way.

But the 30-year-old said his beef was with greedy corporate lords, and indicated he never wanted to get sidelined with meat-eating Kiwis.

“Just seeing the effects of agriculture on our carbon footprint as a planet was my main reason.

“But my reasoning is not against the local farmer doing something for his family, it’s for these big corporations mass producing meat that we don’t need and then going to waste.”

The support of those close to her also makes it easier for Perenara to maintain her dietary goal, with her wife, Greer, and baby daughter, Amaia, both vegetarians.

Now an ambassador for plant-based protein brand Kiwi Plan*t and an investor in parent company Sustainable Foods, Perenara has no problem listing her must-have vegan meals.

“I like chia pudding and oatmeal in the morning. And after a big game, Kat [Darry] gets these really good burgers with these vegan patties which I really enjoy.

“She also makes me a great smoothie after the game, which I will have as soon as I enter the hangars. It goes well.

Comments are closed.