Canelo Alvarez will complete one of the most exciting boxing trilogies of this century when he takes on Gennadiy Golovkin on September 17 in Las Vegas. The rivalry exhibits the hallmarks of some of the greatest sports of all time – explosive punching power from both fighters inside the ring, coupled with a fiery mutual dislike for each other outside.
Going into the trilogy, the fight also displays a subplot: Alvarez’s alliance with a vegan diet and a return to eating red meat after his most recent loss.
Before facing WBA light heavyweight champion Dmitry Bivol last May, Alvarez revealed that he adopted a near-vegan diet. He said he quit eating red meat in 2018 after testing positive for clenbuterol, a banned substance sometimes illegally fed to cows in Mexico. Alvarez alleged that he came into contact with clenbuterol after eating spoiled meat in his home country. Either way, the Nevada Athletic Commission suspended him for six months, delaying his second fight with Golovkin – a bout the Mexican boxer won by split decision.
“I’m not complicated when it comes to food. I adapt quickly,” Alvarez told ESPN earlier this year. “I eat [a vegan diet] all week now and if one day the opportunity arises to eat red meat, chicken or whatever, it will not be a problem for me. But I try to stay vegan [right now].”
The impetus behind Alvarez’s switch to veganism came after watching “The Game Changers,” a documentary about athletes who incorporate plant-based diets. While training, Alvarez relied solely on vegan protein five days a week, but ate fish and chicken on the weekends.
“His performance hasn’t changed at all, physically he looks very strong and I don’t see any change in him after changing his diet,” said Munir Somoya, who worked with Alvarez as part of his team. training.
On fight night, Bivol dominated Alvarez and retained his crown via unanimous decision. Bivol relied on his superior size and reach to hold Canelo to a career-low 84 punches over 12 full rounds. Fighting at his preferred weight, Bivol utilized a two-inch reach advantage and taller frame paired with smooth movement and high energy output throughout the Alvarez flummox. In the final rounds, the usually resilient Alvarez, who has won titles in four different weight classes, looked sluggish and tired.
Alvarez’s sudden dietary change became a topic of post-fight discussion. Among the critics, former Alvarez promoter Oscar De La Hoya questioned the boxer’s choices ahead of the Bivol fight.
“When you change something drastic like your diet overnight, you run the risk that it won’t work for your body and it won’t adapt properly,” De La Hoya told reporters.
Since the loss, Alvarez no longer trains on a mostly plant-based diet as part of his fight plan to face Golovkin at super middleweight on Saturday.
“I tried to do it for a few weeks and it’s very complicated to change everything all of a sudden,” Alvarez told The Associated Press in an interview. “So now, like I’ve done my whole life, I eat what I used to do.”
While Alvarez didn’t use the diet to excuse his loss, his flirtation with veganism is notable in the sports world. In recent years, a number of elite athletes, including tennis stars Novak Djokovic and Venus Williams as well as the Formula 1 legend Lewis Hamilton followed plant-based diets.
A consistent vegan diet for months or even as quickly as weeks can positively affect the maximum amount of oxygen a person’s body can absorb and use during exercise, while maintaining strength through a similar level of oxygen. vegetable protein intake. This is according to The Impact of Vegan and Vegetarian Diets on Exercise Performance and Molecular Signaling in Skeletal Muscle, an academic article published in 2021 by members of the Institute of Sports Science at the University of Hildesheim in Germany. However, the authors admit that “research on the influence of a vegan or vegetarian diet on exercise performance is sparse.”
Due to the lack of research, it remains impossible to make a conclusive judgment across the board for any athlete who chooses to transition to a plant-based diet. According to experts, any change, whether plant-based or not, can have detrimental effects on a top athlete.
“In Canelo’s case, following a mostly plant-based diet shouldn’t have come so close to a fight,” said Colette Gonzalez, a nutritionist from Alvarez’s hometown of Guadalajara. “We can’t change a top athlete’s diet so drastically and expect them to perform the same way.”
Although Alvarez made other dietary changes during his career before the fights he ended up winning, a vegan diet — or even a near-vegan diet — takes time to adjust to, Gonzalez said. “There was clearly not enough time to assess how the change would affect his muscle mass or his energy requirements for such a big fight.”
As for the apparent fatigue Alvarez showed in later rounds of his last fight, Gonzalez says the regime isn’t entirely to blame. Higher weight and muscle mass forces the body to put out more energy, and although Alvarez has fought and fought at 175 pounds before, a fast opponent with fast hands like Bivol has simply outgrown him over time. .
“Any time you put on weight, your body has to adapt. If your opponent is more used to that weight, that’s a disadvantage,” Gonzalez said.
Combat sports in general can claim a few high profile ambassadors for vegan or vegetarian lifestyles. Former heavyweight champion David Haye adopted a vegan diet in 2014 in support of animal rights and stuck to his diet towards the end of his career. Haye’s lifestyle change, however, had come after his peak waned, only fighting in a handful of bouts on a plant-based diet.
“If you don’t have any examples of successful plant-based athletes in your sport, you’re going to think it doesn’t work here,” said Bryan Danielson, a pro wrestler for AEW who became a vegan in 2009. You need people who look like you or do what you do to be successful.”
Danielson initially adopted the diet for health reasons – while training for WWE events, he developed three staph infections in a year. Before that, Danielson suffered from a weakened immune system for most of his life. Shortly after switching to veganism, the infections cleared up and the diet became permanent.
With guidance from a trainer, Danielson – known as Daniel Bryan in his WWE days – achieved peak physical performance under the diet. “I lifted 518 pounds while on an all-vegan diet,” Danielson said. “There was no difference in my performance. The only difference was that I immediately stopped getting sick.”
When Alvarez chose to ditch red meat before his second meeting with Golovkin, he still ate other types of animal protein. The change was made in direct response, no doubt, to the weakness of his career.
Alvarez tested positive for clenbuterol in 2018, a banned substance cataloged as a performance-enhancing drug. He claimed that it accidentally entered his body via spoiled meat. In Mexico, the illegal practice of giving cows pulverized clenbuterol pills to stimulate growth and obtain more meat has been well documented.
A six-month suspension followed, pushing his fight back from May to September and leading to allegations of foul play by Golovkin’s side. For his part, Alvarez agreed to tread very carefully when it comes to what he put in his body.
“After what happened to me, I was very careful,” Canelo told ESPN at the time. “Really, too cautious, I think, [to the point] not to eat meat.”
Learn about the history and use of clenbuterol in cattle and the effects it can have on professional athletes.
When they finally faced off for their rematch on Sept. 15, Golovkin and Canelo set up The Ring magazine’s Fight of the Year for 2018, with Alvarez narrowly taking the lead on two of the scorecards. The result did little to quell the debate over which fighter was better, as the controversy behind the draw in the first fight, coupled with Alvarez’s previous doping suspension, created a lot of fodder.
In the shadow of their third fight – and as Canelo reels from the circumstances surrounding his second pro loss – Golovkin continues to raise the question, suggesting that Alvarez’s success may have less to do with diet and more with the search for unfair advantages.
“There are lab results,” Golovkin told the Orange County Register in August. “And when asked, I said, ‘Yes, I believe he cheated. And if someone in his team didn’t like my words, I think that’s his problem.”
Alvarez will enter the ring at a dangerously unique time in his storied career. After just a second loss, he will stand against a man he has yet to convincingly beat, whether in the scorecards or public opinion. Although Golovkin, who turned 40 in April, is likely in the final stages of his career, a loss or even an unconvincing win will put detractors front and center.
Moreover, Alvarez’s flirtation with veganism will do little to dampen the debate over whether a championship-level athlete in the most brutal combat sports can thrive on a plant-based diet alone. Somoya is no longer advising Alvarez and has gone to work with another Mexican fighter, heavyweight Andy Ruiz.
“One day you’ll have a fighter on [Alvarez’s] level that wins championships and follows a vegan diet,” Gonzalez said. “But that person will likely have been dieting for years — not just a few weeks.”