If you’ve ever seen Kollins Ezekh or followed one of his workouts on Instagram, you surely noticed his chiseled muscles and six-pack abs. But this incredibly fit boxer is also a vegan – one of a growing number who is reaching high visibility in their sports. Ezekh talked to Inhabitat about why he adopted a plant-based diet and how boxing and being vegan fit together.

A vegan fighter’s background

I was born in the communist USSR,” Ezekh said. When he was twelve, his family moved to Thailand. “Which was a huge cultural shock to go from one extreme to another.” While living in Thailand, he got into Thai boxing. He later added jujitsu, boxing and other martial arts to his repertoire.

Related: The first 24/7 plant-based convenience store in the US

Changing countries early in life wasn’t easy for Ezekh, but it taught him an important lesson. “That let me understand that I can be anywhere I want to be and do anything I want to do. That’s how I ended up deciding to move to the United States down the line.”

Winding up in Los Angeles provided another opportunity for culture shock. But Ezekh used his martial arts skills to dive into fitness training. Now he’s been at it for almost 20 years, training Angelenos famous and not so famous, and owning a franchise of Mayweather Boxing + Fitness on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles. He’s helped Mayweather open other gyms around the country, including in Tampa, Houston, Chicago and Atlanta. He has more than 139,000 Instagram followers, where he goes by the handle @plantbasedboxer.

Kollins Ezekh with his arms crossed

Going vegan

Once Ezekh landed in L.A., he noticed a strange practice among many Angelenos: abstaining from animal products. This was contrary to his upbringing. He mentioned his curiosity about vegan lifestyles three years after moving to L.A, and how he sought to understand how athletes can be successful without eating meat. So, Ezekh decided to try it for himself.

Remember how I mentioned those abs? Ezekh lost no muscle mass. In fact, he noticed an improved energy level without his standard meat rations or eating four egg whites in the morning. He felt good. The new habit stuck.

“Now I stand for a plant-based diet for athletes,” Ezekh said. “We were able to achieve great results without hurting any animals.”

Ezekh is in good company. “The movement for plant-based athletes has been huge,” he said, noting pro-vegan Netflix documentaries as one driver. “I believe more and more athletes [are] moving towards a vegan lifestyle as a lot of them see a significant boost in their performance and recovery.”

Other leading vegan athletes include ultramarathon runner Scott Jurek, super famous tennis champ Venus Williams, surfer Tia Blanco, silver Olympic medalist and speed cyclist Dotsie Bausch, and FIFA Women’s World Cup champion and Olympic gold medalist Alex Morgan.

Plant-based sports nutrition

Ezekh used to recommend lean chicken and wild-caught fish for his clients who wanted to build lean muscle. Now that he’s vegan, he recommends chowing down on vegetables. His own diet can serve as a model for a plant-based athlete’s diet.

As Ezekh told The Beet, he eats oatmeal with berries about an hour before his morning workout. Then, just before exercising, he downs black coffee. After working out, he replaces his glycogen stores with foods like avocado toast and a plant-based protein shake.

His biggest meal is lunch. Plant-based burgers and veggie pizzas with dairy-free cheese are favorites. Or he’ll eat a bowl of quinoa, kale, mushrooms, broccoli and tomatoes. He tries to eat dinner before seven at night. Usually, this is a big bowl of green vegetables with plant-based protein and avocado.

Of course, when people change their diets, there could be some backsliding. Maybe one day a client can’t resist a real burger or a hunk of cheese. Or maybe they eat a whole pint of vegan ice cream. “Just keep pushing,” Ezekh urges would-be vegan athletes. “Don’t give up. You might slip one day, but then get back on track the next.”

Kollins Ezekh in a boxing pose

Vegan boxing gear

Of course, vegan boxers face an additional obstacle beyond diet. What are boxing gloves made of, anyway? Leather, usually. And non-leather boxing gloves are often seen as fake and inferior.

Fortunately, some enlightened companies are now making quality vegan-friendly boxing gear. Ezekh recommends Hayabusa’s T3 gloves, which you can find on Amazon here. They’re made of something called Vylar-engineered leather, which is typically a mix of leather and recycled materials. But Hayabusa’s version is vegan.

To some people, saving animals and punching an opponent in the face may seem like contradictory activities. But Ezekh has a different take. “I always believed in doing whatever makes you happy without hurting anybody around you. That’s including animals,” he said. “Fighting is a sport. We don’t get in the ring to hurt each other. We get in the room to compete and win.” And plant-based athletes using vegan gloves are a definite win for animals.

Images courtesy of Kollins Ezekh and Pexels

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