David Haye is the archetypal champion boxer. a bruiser in the ring and a smooth-tongued crowd pleaser outside of it, he embodied boxing and all its traditional values.
Even his training and nutrition followed suit. Twenty-four eggs were consumed in a day, for example – usually necked from a pint glass – and he’d have four tins of sardines for breakfast. Basic, sure, but it worked. Haye became a one-time world heavyweight champion in 2009, and before that, he reigned supreme in the cruiserweight division for years. But little over two years later, it had all come crashing down. Constant muscle inflammation and tears in his shoulder meant he could hardly wash himself, let alone throw a punch properly, and his boxing career looked like it was over. “I hadn’t done things the right way,” he reflected several years later, “It’s the way I’ve trained in the past.”
Today, much as changed for the Hayemaker. He is now a vegan and is boxing again. He owes much of it to the switch in training methods and his new meat and dairy-free diet.
Veganism, it turns out, has pretty much underpinned his recovery process and has helped him redevelop into a bigger and stronger fighter. “I watched a TV documentary about how animals are farmed, killed and prepared for us to eat,” he said in a recent interview, talking about his abandoning of anything animal-based. “I saw all those cows and pigs and realised I couldn’t be a part of it any more. I did some research to make sure I could still obtain enough protein to fight and, once satisfied that I could, I stopped. I’ll never go back.”
The man helping David to satisfy those protein pangs is leading nutritionist Aidan Goggins. Aidan and David linked up in 2014 shortly after Haye went vegan.
“When we first met in 2014, the plan was for him to return [to action] in 2015,” Aidan tells us, as we catch up with him ahead of David’s training camp for his May fight. “However, we knew we had so much to do and it was not necessarily feasible to return then, and we didn’t want to rush it. We wanted to build him from the ground up and he wanted to be perfect for his return.
For David and his camp around him, the process has been long and arduous, but the culmination of his efforts saw him stop Mark de Mori in his return fight at the beginning of the year.
David looked bigger and more ripped than he had previously, and still carried the devastating power with his hallmark Hayemaker that made him the most successful British cruiserweight boxer in recent history.
Aidan attributes much of this to his increase in muscle mass, put on in the past 18 months. “What we were able to do from there was add 5kg of pure muscle, which he’s never been able to do before,” Aidan says.
“Even when he was heavyweight champion of the world he was 98kg, but now he’s 103kg.
“Now his body can support that weight because of his nutrition. His training is more functional and he’s been able to build his body from the ground up again. He’s happy at that weight and that level because he now has extra mass and extra force.
“It operates on this functional level where he feels really quick and really strong, without being tired out because of a bulky frame.
“Also, if you look at previous fights, he was finding muscle was breaking down quickly afterwards and it became harder and harder for him to regain it. That breakdown and inflammation was hindering him. Now, he’s better equipped for it.”
But how is it possible for someone to operate at such an elite level if they’re vegan? Well, it’s not as hard as traditional nutritional wisdom would have you believe.
As Aidan explains, standard macronutrient splits – protein, carbs, fats etc – only go so far in creating a nutritional profile that an elitelevel athlete can adhere to. In fact, there’s a whole base below this, formed of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that have to be considered for optimal performance.
“David looked bigger and more ripped than he had previously, and still carried the devastating power with his hallmark Hayemaker”
These are Vitamins, Nutrients and Minerals such as (but not limited to):
Which comes from the sun and promotes proper mineral and nutrient absorption as well as a healthy immune system (luckily Haye has been known to take training camps in Cyprus)
Which is very important for regulating hormones and muscle inflammation. This is supplemented usually, as it comes from the soil or organ meats in smaller quantities (a no-no for David).
Has to be monitored as he doesn’t eat dairy. He’s topped up through things like nuts, seeds and green vegetables.
Which is commonly found in seafood and dairy products. It’s massively important for thyroid function, so Aidan adds a seaweed called wakame to Haye’s diet so he can get plenty of it.
Provides an array of functions, but can only be found in animal products. This is one of the few vitamins David will directly supplement.
There are a lot of these nutrients that David has at high levels, and he gets these through plant foods. “We try almost exclusively to use food products,” Aidan says. “Vitamin K comes through things like leafy green veg and David’s vitamin K levels are top of the range.
“He has a good base level of folic acid, which is necessary for proper red blood cell production but you can get it from leafy green veg. His magnesium levels are at the very top of the range, too, which help with muscle contraction, nerve function and energy production.” Now, Haye will look at the heavyweight boxing landscape and know he has to prove his relevance. Now, however, his approach to training and diet is far more fitting with the times than it is a Rocky training montage. Will he win another world title? It’s a distinct possibility, but for David, the benefits for his health are now myriad.
“All that mattered to him was that he returned in the best possible condition he could be in and I think we’ve achieved it,” Aidan says, finally. “I don’t think he can believe he could’ve done so well. He’s always had the champion inside him and he’s more confident in himself after the time out he’s had. I think he has every right to be.”