With the F1 title battle heating up and heading towards a dramatic finish, you would expect Lewis Hamilton to be doing all he can to keep himself in peak physical shape. Having successfully fought back from a slow start to take a considerable lead in the championship, you’d expect him to keep doing what he has been doing. After all, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.
So his announcement that he was switching to a fully-vegan, plant-based diet — right in the middle of the racing season — has taken many people by surprise, including some leading nutritionists. “It is a bad idea to switch mid-season,” said Dr. Rob Child, a nutrition specialist who has worked with both Grand Prix drivers and elite cyclists. “Changing your diet does throw up issues and…his performance could be compromised.”
The main issue that concerns the experts is that by turning vegan, Hamilton could lose his aggressive edge. The saturated fat found in meat and dairy products is essential in the production of testosterone, and without this hormone, many are concerned that Hamilton may not be as competitive as he has been. “A large drop in testosterone could reduce his racing edge,” says Dr. Child. “It could also slow his recovery after races.”
Another important dietary factor is iron, which is found in larger quantities in meat than in a plant-based diet. Low iron levels could leave him feeling tired after races, and if the levels drop further, he could find himself fatigued during races, too.
So, why is Lewis Hamilton taking such a risk at such a critical point in the year? Well, for one thing, the evidence against turning vegan is far from clear-cut, and opinions differ widely as to what effect the change will have on his odds of winning the F1 title. The diet has certainly worked for many other top athletes who have gone on to achieve great success after turning vegan.
The Williams sisters, Venus and Serena, took up a vegan diet five years ago and have remained at the very top of their sport ever since, with Serena winning ten grand slam titles in that time. They even won the doubles at the 2012 Olympics just a few months after making the change. In football, England regular, Jermain Defoe, swears by veganism, insisting that his diet has helped him to maintain his career well into his 30s.
As for the effects of a vegan diet on concentration and focus, former world number one snooker player, Neil Robertson, has nothing but praise for his meat-free regimen. “I find it much easier to maintain concentration,” he explains. “The fruit has given me a real boost.”
Of course, it is easy to make dietary changes work for you when you are surrounded by the world’s top experts, as Hamilton is. It’s safe to assume that they will not let him put his health, or his performance, at risk. Furthermore, one study by a British newspaper has even suggested that switching to a vegan diet could increase testosterone levels. So, who knows, it could actually make him a better driver than he was before.