25 year old Kainoa Lloyd, from Mississauga Ontario, is a fast winger who spent 2019 with the Toronto Arrows in Major League Rugby. He was called up to the World Cup in October as an injury replacement and has appeared for Canada 11 times, scoring 5 tries. His speed on the wing impresses at every turn. This athlete has developed a unique approach that is gaining traction in many professional sports: the plant-based diet. We were very eager to learn about his motivation for making the switch, his experience since being on the diet, and how that’s helped him be the strongest version of himself:
How did you decide that you would switch to a plant-based diet?
KL: Some of my friends had already made the switch over the past few years and I had been thinking of trying it out but wasn’t sure if I could handle the taste of plant-based protein sources. When I was a kid, I had tried to become a vegetarian so my dad bought and cooked some tofu for me… but I hated it so I gave up on it (turns out my dad is just not great at cooking tofu)! I decided to change to a plant-based diet around November when I was recovering from a broken finger. The Game Changers had recently been added to Netflix and some of my other teammates were trying out the diet portrayed, so I thought it’d be a good opportunity to ease into it. I wasn’t playing anytime soon so I thought “why not try and see if it works for me”, I had nothing to lose. I took it as a challenge to see if I could handle going without meat. It also helped that tofu is cheaper than the meat I was eating. So far, it has been working out pretty well for me so I’ve decided to keep with it and take it day by day. If I start to see a decrease in performance, I’ll take another look at my diet and make adjustments. It’s about finding a diet that works best for you, so if I find out that I’m better off with some meat back on the menu, then I’m not afraid to switch back.
How do you feel after switching over to a plant-based diet compared to when you were eating meat?
KL: I don’t feel too different on a day-to-day, though I do get cravings for bacon whenever my housemates make it.
How do you make sure that you get enough protein?
KL: Before I started changing my diet, I consulted our team nutritionists to make sure I was doing it safely. My aunt was a vegetarian for a few months but did no research on it and ended up anemic, before switching back to meat. We talked about what some good sources of protein would be, what I’d eat each meal, and how much was needed to fuel my body for training. She recommended doing a blood test for iron and B12, which I did, and I come back to her every few months to reassess.
What sort of foods do you like to make?
KL: In the morning, I’ll go with overnight oats (with vegan protein added), maple syrup, frozen berries, and some nuts. It’s simple to make so it saves me a lot of hassle. I also love tofu and edamame pad thai, vegan chili, black bean and chickpea burgers, and ginger tofu scramble with onions, tomatoes, and peppers on garlic avocado toast. I haven’t experimented too much, it’s easier to meal prep when it stays consistent throughout the week. My friend helps run an awesome company in Toronto that sells plant-based meal kits called Sorry I’ve Got Plants, so if I ever want to change things up I just ask her for some recipes.
Has your diet changed radically since switching over?
KL: Obviously the meat was a big change, I had it in most of my meals. For the most part, I’ve just replaced my old meals with tofu versions and added a few beans and veggies here and there. I had been trying to cut out dairy for a few years since realizing I was partially lactose intolerant, so that didn’t need to change much. I treat the diet as more of a loose set of rules rather than super strict because I feel like that helps me refrain from switching completely back to eating meat. I don’t cook meat and when there are other options I’ll choose the vegan one, but if I’m offered food and I’m hungry or on a night out and there’s no other options, I’m not afraid to diverge a bit. I treat eating meat more like junk food, every once in a while, but not making a habit of it.
Have your fitness statistics changed since switching your diet?
KL: My bronco time went down about 20 seconds and my other lifts remained around the same. Granted, I had been training more than I used to but that’s a huge improvement so I’m pretty happy with that.
What sort of things do you like to do in your free time?
KL: I love going out with my friends, going to the theatres, gaming, and have gotten more into hikes since living out in BC. When I’m back home on vacation, I like throwing around the frisbee, going biking, and bowling (we get pretty competitive at chasing that turkey).
How do you relax after a long day of training?
KL: I keep it pretty simple; mostly a mix of Netflix, Youtube, and reading.
Beyond rugby, what are some of your passions?
KL: I love the film Industry and game development, that’s what I got my degrees in. On the weekends I try to mix in a few hours working on game development to keep my skills sharp. I think a goal for me after I’m done rugby would be to either work on a film set or designing the next big gaming hit.
What are your goals with rugby?
KL: My main goals in rugby are to hopefully play in a World Cup, the Olympics, and have a solid professional career. It would be awesome if one day I got to play professionally overseas, like the Japan League or Super Rugby. As a winger, it would definitely be great if I could get in the top 10 all time tries scored for Canada. I’m at 5, so halfway there!
What keeps you inspired to pursue your goals?
KL: The biggest reason is because I love playing rugby. I also have this inner drive to do something that only a select few have before, while being able to say that I’ve fulfilled the goals I had set out for myself since high school. To be at the highest level of your sport and be representing your country is exhilarating. I want to make all the people who have helped me get here be proud of what I’ve done in the sport, starting from my parents, to my home club, and my high school teammates.