It was a big week for the Tall Ferns; it was an especially big week for newbie Matangiroa Flavell.
Day one of the training camp was particularly brutal. A three-hour on-court training session in the morning would be followed by another long grind in the afternoon.
Lunch wasn't just a chance to sit down, but the only opportunity to refuel.
Protein was called for and the caterers hadn't held back: buffet warming trays sat upon two large tables filled with chicken, sausages and mince with rice and roast veges as sides.
As the athletes tucked in they noticed something was missing from the 22-year-old Flavell's plate.
Just four months prior at the William Jones Cup in Taiwan, Flavell happily ate meat. She had a history of struggling to reach her daily protein requirement so the looks of confusion on her teammates' faces was understandable.
"There was definitely concern," Flavell says. "A week of full-on training is always tough and you have to get your nutrients in, everything that you need to nourish your body.
"The nutritionist and the coaches were really concerned about if I knew what I was doing, what I was eating and if I was eating enough."
It was the first time Flavell had attempted pre-tournament training on a plant-based diet since saying goodbye to meat just eight weeks prior.
She had recently moved to Hamilton to live with her sister who had been vegan for a year.
Flavell had firmly rejected her sister's previous advances about trying the diet.
"As an athlete there's that mindset of, 'I need all the food I can get'," she says. "I was scared that I wouldn't like the taste either and end up not eating anything and missing out on the nutrients meat has... but I just tried it out with one meal and thought, 'Oh yeah, this is okay.' I told myself to just give it another meal, give it a go, then I liked the other meal my sister made and just carried on."
Flavell set out to go meat-free for a few weeks before she would re-assess her diet choices, but by the time the two-week mark rolled around, the results were too good to ignore.
"I definitely felt my body change," she says. "I shredded quite a bit, lost a bit of weight and the recovery side was just insane.
"Every time after training, and there were some really tough trainings, I would still be tired and fatigued but I felt like I could keep going.
"I was recovering a lot faster than usual. Even heavy lifting, I'd usually be sore the day after but I felt good like I could do it again. I was really surprised and that was one of the reasons I thought, 'Yup this is really good'."
Flavell wasn't the only one to notice.
By the end of the week her teammates weren't asking why, they were asking how. They sought recipes and advice from Flavell, keen to trim down on meat themselves.
The team was suddenly curious about the meat-less life and many decided to join Flavell along the plant-powered path.
The plant-based and vegan lifestyle has, in recent years, started finding a captive audience in the once meaty world of high-performance sport.
Top sportspeople such as Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton, tennis great Venus Williams, NBA star Kyrie Irving, even former All Black Ma'a Nonu have all credited positive results from eating a strict plant-based diet.
The meat-free lifestyle has seen consistent growth, with 'plant-based diet' now one of the top Googled diet terms worldwide.
The search term reached its peak popularity of the decade between August 2017 and November 2019, according to Google trends.
But it wasn't until early last year when Netflix documentary The Game Changers went viral, that athletes really started to listen.
The documentary set out to debunk common myths around the relationship between meat and performance through success stories of plant-based athletes such as bodybuilders Arnold Schwarzenegger and Patrik Baboumian, and mixed martial artist James Wilks.
Axis Sports Medicine performance nutritionist Dane Baker has seen first-hand the increase in the number of Kiwi athletes curious about switching to plant-based diets in the wake of the film's release.
Baker, who has worked extensively with New Zealand's high-performance athletes and some of the country's leading sports teams such as the Blues, the Black Ferns Sevens, the Black Sticks Men and previously the Chiefs, says the documentary is often one of the first things brought up when athletes express an interest in reducing their meat intake.
"It's easy to think of the plant-based diet as a fad, [but] I don't think it's a fad at all," Baker says. "There are real ethical reasons people want to switch to the plant-based diet... This is a lot more of a long-term lifestyle rather than a diet."
Athletes featured in the documentary such as US national cycling champion Dotsie Bausch claim much of their recent success to a plant-based diet.
Bausch goes as far as to say that eliminating meat was "one of the biggest components to her success as an Olympic athlete".
She and others in the documentary report similar changes in performance to those experienced by Flavell.
Black Sticks' striker Hugo Inglis, who made the transition to a vegan diet three years ago, says the effects were life-changing.
"Without trying to sell the fairy-tale, it was a huge enabler in training," he says. "It's not like I was suddenly smashing my personal bests but just the ability to bounce back from sessions. My recovery time was way quicker, then you can train a bit harder and push yourself a bit further.
"I'm probably the fittest and healthiest I've been. It's not going to make you bulletproof for everything but I certainly found a big performance lift. Even outside of training it's things like waking up without that groggy feeling and having a bit more energy in day-to-day life."
Inglis has experienced first-hand the shift of perception around veganism. The 28-year-old 2018 Commonwealth Games silver medallist has remained wary of putting a label on his diet.
"It's one of those things I'm a little careful when I tell people about it," Inglis says.
"I try to steer clear of the word 'vegan' because then everyone is sort of waiting for you to eat cheese or something and they'll jump down your throat."
Inglis says the coldest reception to his lifestyle change was during his time in Europe where he played club hockey for Rotterdam.
The meat-free lifestyle is almost unheard of in the Netherlands, something which made conversations with coaches and fellow players a struggle.
"I'm usually the only one at the club asking for a vegan meal after training, so I've had some funny conversations with coaches and players over there," he says.
"I pulled my hamstring after a training session once and they sat me down and told me I needed to look at my diet and that I'm not getting enough protein. They care about you at the end of the day, they want you on the field and they want you fit and healthy.
"I just try to ease those concerns and show them I'm performing really well, and I'm getting a bit old so maybe my hamstrings are just getting a bit sore."
Although opinions have shifted, The Game Changers wasn't exempt to criticism.
Many experts have since picked apart the documentary for misquoting facts and avoiding discussion around the dangers for athletes when eliminating meat.
When discussing how he came to be a record-holding strongman on a vegan diet, Baboumian makes one of the most cited quotes in the film.
"Someone asked me, 'How could you get as strong as an ox without eating any meat?' And my answer was, 'Have you ever seen an ox eat meat? '" he says.
His claim was criticised, along with the film's reference to Roman gladiators' high bone density on plant-based diets, over comparing our digestive systems to ones, functionally, very different.
Sports nutrition researcher Eric Trexler and powerlifter Greg Nuckols discuss this issue in the widely-renowned Stronger by Science podcast.
They discuss how an ox's digestive system allows them to derive more protein from plants than humans and that gladiators' high bone density was more likely to derive from their extended athletic exploits, rather than their diet.
They also point out how the documentary generally compares the vegan diet to the worst interpretation of a western diet – high in fat, processed meat, sugar and starches.
Baker shares similar concern over the film's claims.
"The key thing is context, so it depends on where you come from," he says. "A lot of athletes say they feel a lot better but it depends a lot on where they were [compared] with their current diet.
"The last four to five years in popular nutrition, through media and social media there's been a real drive for lower carbohydrate, high protein paleo-based diets where I think a lot of athletes are under-eating carbohydrates quite significantly. So switching more to a plant-based diet they're going to get an increase in carbohydrate intake which is going to give them more energy.
"Often just switching diets, especially if there's a strong belief that you're going to feel good, is enough. It's a positive thing but it's just trying to find the long-term success in that diet for the athlete."
With the film's core argument based on performance results from a meat-free diet, Baker says there's very little evidence to back it up.
"So far we don't have evidence comparing a high-quality omnivore diet vs the plant-based diet," he says. "A well-controlled omnivore diet for sports performance, we don't see impairment in performance.
"The key thing is making sure that athletes are informed of the totality of the research. Some of these documentaries, because they're only 90 minutes, it's hard to show the full story, especially around performance."
He says while athletes can perform just as well on a planned plant-based diet, there are certain things they need to be aware of when going cold-turkey on meat.
Unlike common belief, meeting protein needs isn't the sole concern for vegans.
Consuming enough foods with the nine essential amino acids- histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine – keeping vitamins B12, D and Iron high, while meeting total energy requirements are just as critical.
Baker says it's important to track these nutrients with regular blood tests and supplement if needed.
"We struggle a lot with athletes not being able to meet energy needs and a lot of the time they are reducing meat out of their diet and there's a lot of education that needs to go in," he says.
"While we might get short-term benefits from feeling better because we're getting more carbohydrates, long-term, if we're not replacing that energy [total calories], we can start to get energy deficient.
"For most people, we lose weight and it's a good thing, but for athletes that can start to impair their performance, recovery and then the second part is how well their body adapts to the exercise and that's where protein becomes important."
The plant-based diet can look different from person to person.
Some choose to go fully vegan, excluding all dairy products and eggs, while others focus on reducing just red meat, some eat fish and sometimes it's a mixture of all the variations.
There are common trends, however, with what foods are included.
Flavell considers herself part vegan and is working towards cutting out all dairy, although admits butter is a tough one to shake.
A typical meal day for her includes plenty of vegetables, tofu and her favourite meat substitute – falafel.
In order to keep her protein on track, she uses vegan protein powders in her breakfast smoothies and ensures she's consuming plenty of high-protein plant-based foods throughout the day.
Baker says although it would alter from person to person, an ideal plant-based diet for athletes would include foods such as legumes, beans, nuts, and chickpeas.
"It's not just having a few tablespoons of beans, it's like a cup and a half to replace that 150g of chicken or fish they might've been having," he says. "It's having that awareness, that's the key thing we try to educate athletes with."
For most of it, the years being vegan have been easy for Inglis.
Thanks to his own research and advice from dietitians, including Baker, Inglis has perfected his diet and hasn't had any issues in consuming enough protein.
Legumes and whole grains are his daily staples and he says it just takes a bit of additional planning.
"I've tracked everything I was eating on an app before and I was smashing my protein out of the water, I was eating more than enough," he says. "The protein kind of takes care of itself.
"If you eat a plant-based diet you're not going to have a problem unless you're eating the same meal every day of the week ... if you're combining your protein sources like brown rice, quinoa and beans, then you're going to be good as gold.
Baker takes a similar view, saying it's all about ensuring athletes are aware of the risks.
"There's definitely not a one-stop approach," Baker says.
"The key thing would be to be really well-planned and I guess the higher your requirements, the higher your muscle mass, the more output you're doing, the more planned you need to be because the more chance you have of under-consuming your total amount of energy.
"It's not just an easy switch for someone competing at a higher level."
When it comes to facts and scientific evidence over the relationship between the plant-based diet and performance, the jury's still out.
However, it's difficult to ignore the growing number of voices who credit their success to ditching meat.
Whether it starts as an environmental, ethical or performance-based decision, few athletes backtrack once making the switch.
Flavell admits having tried to reintroduce chicken before last year's Tall Ferns camp, but says her body's response didn't make it worthwhile.
"It was really weird because I was a massive chicken lover," she says "My body didn't like it, my mindset was different, it just shut off and I didn't enjoy it."
Meanwhile, Inglis goes as far as to suggest the limited dairy and meat-free options available during the Hockey World Cup in India last year played a part in his individual performance.
"We were pretty restricted with what we could eat so I was eating quite a few curries and I didn't feel as good as I have felt," he says.
"I certainly think that changing of environments and being out of your comfort zone, it does have a bit of an impact."
Athletes such as Inglis and Flavell have contributed to the significant shift in perception at New Zealand's high-performance level.
They've challenged meat's importance in an athlete's diet, advocating that plant-based foods can fuel, restore and improve an athlete's lifestyle.
Like Flavell, Inglis noticed a similar U-turn in opinions from his teammates, many who now also ask for recipes and advice about the plant-based lifestyle.
So whether you're a hard-core vegan or meat-lover, it seems the plant-based way is here to stay.
"There's still a bunch of guys who are going to give me a bit of s*** over my separate dinner or whatever but the perception is definitely starting to shift,'" Inglis says.
"I've gone from three years of being the brunt of a lot of the jokes around the sports teams I'm in, to now people actually taking a genuine interest in it."