Athletes With Beards: How Facial Hair Affects Sports PerformanceBy Jack Shaw (Guest Post) | Last updated 30th October 2023
When you think of professional athletes, you may imagine clean-cut guys like Erling Halaand, Roger Federer and Cristiano Ronaldo. You rarely see athletes on the field with even a five o’clock shadow.
Some athletes stay clean-shaven to keep cool. After all, playing football or driving a racecar in the summer heat can quickly become uncomfortable. However, there are many notable bearded athletes in sports — Lionel Messi, one of the most popular athletes in the world, can often be seen sporting some scruff on the pitch.
Why would an athlete grow out their beard? As it turns out, facial hair can positively or negatively affect an athlete, depending on his sport, position and personal preferences. For example, a goalie in hockey will have different reasons for his facial hair than a striker in football.
Let’s explore the relationship between facial hair and athletic performance.
How Does Facial Hair Affect Sports Performance?
Here are six ways facial hair actually helps your athletic performance.
1. Thermal Insulation
Most sports occur in warm or hot weather, but you can’t forget about autumn and winter sports. In the United States, the National Football League (NFL) plays games in the heart of America’s winter. Facial hair significantly boosts these players’ performance because it provides thermal insulation.
In 2021, the New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills played in Orchard Park, New York, with winds over 50 miles per hour. Having a beard protects against the incredible gusts and windburn these conditions cause.
2. Sunburn Protection
Beards also come in handy when protecting your face from the sun. Sure, facial hair makes you a bit warmer, but you also get the necessary protection from ultraviolet (UV) rays.
With UV protection, beards are doing you a huge favour. Sunlight provides vitamin D, assisting in your testosterone production and beard growth. However, excessive sun exposure can harm your health by damaging skin cells and causing skin cancer. Melanoma is the worst type of skin cancer, and research shows 90% of cases are avoidable if you stay safe in the sun.
3. Cut Protection
While playing sports, your entire body is at risk. You can wear helmets, pads and mouth guards, but there is still a chance you get hurt. Facial cuts are a less common injury in sports, but they still happen.
Luckily, beards provide a buffer for your face. Your beard might not deflect a ball coming for your face, but it’ll protect against another player’s sharp nails or friction from your equipment.
Confidence is critical in every sport. That sentence may seem cliché, but it’s true. You need the confidence to score the game-winning penalty kick or sink a buzzer-beating shot. Your beard won’t take the shot for you, but the look can go a long way.
A full-grown beard makes you more intimidating than if you showed up with a baby face. Sports are about instilling fear into the other opponent, and you can do just that with a neck full of hair.
If you’re an athlete with a beard, you’ll become more recognisable over time. Fans will associate you with the beard and may even become sad if you shave your face.
Some athletes, such as fighter Conor McGregor and rugby player Sébastien Chabal, have used their beards for branding purposes. Their beards significantly contribute to their persona, contributing to their wider influence in their respective sports.
Sports seasons can be long and mentally taxing. How do you stay sharp despite the thousands of miles travelled? You get into a routine. Before competitions, some athletes use breathing exercises to control their mind and body.
For athletes with scruff, their routines often include beard maintenance. For example, Bjorn Borg, one of the greatest tennis players ever, attributes his success to his beard superstition. Borg intentionally grew a beard to prepare for Wimbledon, leading to massive success in the late 1970s.
But how do athletes upkeep their facial hair despite being away from home? Beard maintenance while flying or driving can be complex, so bringing a travel kit with you is best. Athletes don’t typically do a full shave, but trimming their beard keeps their facial hair as sharp as their minds.
How Do Athletes Keep Their Beards Healthy?
Athletes are all about appearances. Looking good on TV helps their confidence and brand grow with every match, so how do they keep their beards healthy? These six tips will help you look as sharp as the pros do.
When you’re an athlete, your travels can take you anywhere. Being ready for any weather is important because the climate will significantly affect your beard’s condition.
For example, suppose you live in a humid area and travel to an arid climate. Your beard is accustomed to moist air, so it could quickly become brittle if you don’t moisturise it. Bearded athletes in dry climates rely on beard oil for upkeep. One of our favourites is the imperial master beard oil because of its fresh lemongrass scent.
After applying beard oil, you need a comb to spread it throughout your facial hair. This wooden beard comb easily folds and fits into your pockets. It’s convenient for athletes to bring on the go and perform beard maintenance from whatever hotel room or locker room you’re preparing in.
Your training regimen could require you to be outside for multiple hours of the day. UV rays harm your skin and can dry out your beard, so athletes need to protect their facial hair as much as possible. Wear a wide-brimmed hat while outside and shield your beard from the sun.
Wearing a wide-brimmed hat might not be possible or permissible at rugby practise, so you’ll have to brace the sun for a while. Afterwards, it’s essential to clean your beard and rehydrate it. Take a shower to clean your beard and eliminate the sweat and dirt that can get trapped inside. The last thing you want is a smelly beard.
Something you shouldn’t underrate with your beard is your diet. For example, protein grows new cells and assists your beard growth if you eat plenty throughout the day. Poultry, fish, eggs, dairy, red meat, beans and tofu are excellent ways to keep your protein intake up. Athletes need protein-heavy diets to build and maintain muscle, which also helps their beard growth.
Another critical and underrated part of your beard maintenance is hydration. Of course, you need to keep your beard hydrated with moisturiser, but you must drink plenty of water to keep your skin and beard healthy. Drinking more water leads to better blood circulation to your follicles, thus improving beard growth. Athletes need ample water, considering how much they train daily.
Famous Examples of Bearded Athletes
Sports worldwide have given us athletes with some great beards. Each athlete’s facial hair is unique — sometimes becoming a part of their identity. These eight athletes stand out with their iconic facial hair.
1. Lionel Messi
Кирилл Венедиктов, CC BY-SA 3.0 GFDL, via Wikimedia Commons
Last year, Lionel Messi cemented his legacy by finally winning the World Cup, and he did it in style with a beard on his chin. Messi has won 10 titles in La Liga, four in the Champions League and seven in Copa del Rey. We could go on for an hour, but let’s discuss his facial hair.
Messi sports an excellent chin of hair nowadays as he plays for Inter Miami. However, the best days of his beard came during his years for F.C. Barcelona. He had a full beard at times, but he mostly sticks to a better-groomed tapered beard.
2. Jimmy Durmaz
Jimmy Durmaz has one of the best beards in not just football but all sports. The 34-year-old Swedish defensive midfielder plays for AIK Fotboll in Allsvenskan. Previously, he’s played for teams like Toulouse in Ligue 1 and Olympiacos in the Greek Super League. Jimmy rocks a full, well-groomed beard no matter where you see him.
3. LeBron James
LeBron James might not have much to show with his hair, but his beard more than makes up for it. The National Basketball Association’s (NBA) all-time leading scorer has sported beards of varying lengths since early in his career. Typically, you’ll see LeBron with a chinstrap beard, considering his moustache isn’t very long. Over the years, LeBron has let his beard grow longer, symbolising his elder status in the NBA.
4. James Harden
We can’t talk about beards and basketball without mentioning James Harden. The former league MVP has had “The Beard” nickname for over a decade and has made it central to his identity. Harden says he hasn’t shaved clean since high school and has sported at least a trimmed beard since playing college at Arizona State.
Harden is all about his beard, and shaving it will cost you a pretty penny. A few years ago, The Ringer asked James Harden how much it would take for him to shave his beard. The 2018 MVP said he’ll start the bid at $10 million and see where it goes. Was he joking? Most likely. However, the point remains he loves his beard.
5. Charlie Faumuina
Charlie Faumuina has had a long rugby career and is still going strong for Manu Samoa in the international rugby union. In 2015, he and the New Zealand national team won the Rugby World Cup. We like to think his beard plays a significant role in his rugby success. Sure, he’s a terrific tighthead prop, but he might best be known for his big bushy beard.
6. Josh Strauss
Josh Strauss is one of the few rugby players who can challenge Faumuina for his beard. The South African-born flanker plays for the Tel Aviv Heat, with previous successful stints with the Glasgow Warriors and the Sale Sharks. Strauss has given us clean-shaven looks before, but he typically sticks with his mountain man look.
7. Jason Kelce
In last year’s Super Bowl, Travis Kelce’s Kansas City Chiefs defeated Jason Kelce’s Philadelphia Eagles to win his second championship ring. However, Jason constantly beats Travis in the beard department — the stat that matters most.
This photo depicts Jason from his younger years when he kept a truly majestic beard. Nowadays, he keeps it tamer, but his beard still looks magnificent. In a 2018 interview, Jason said he visits his barber once every few weeks for a trim to keep everything tidy.
8. Conor McGregor
Conor McGregor has become synonymous with mixed martial arts (MMA) and the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). While successfully taking down opponents, he also knows how to sport a nice beard. McGregor typically rocks a full beard while twirling his moustache. Sometimes he gives us a ginger beard or a shorter beard.
Keeping a Championship-Level Beard
Over the years, athletes have embraced their abilities to grow beards. Some keep a clean- shaven face, while others demonstrate you can have the best of both worlds — a beard and a successful athletic career.
Beards build confidence and add to an athlete’s aura. Growing beards has helped build legacies in sports, and we look forward to seeing what the next generation of athletes has in store with their beards.
Jack Shaw is a writer, editor and grooming enthusiast. His explorations of men's health, fitness and fashion can all be found on Modded, a men's lifestyle publication on which he serves as the senior writer.