Pre-season games for the National Football League are kicking into action, beginning the ever-anticipated lead-up to the Super Bowl.
The NFL is wildly popular — it has the highest average attendance of any professional sports league in the world, according to Sportingintelligence.com. Most moves made by the athletes, on and off the field, don’t go unnoticed. That’s why when a growing number of NFL stars choose to ditch animal products in favor of plant-based foods, it’s worth talking about.
Do Athletes Need Meat?
Athletes eating vegan report higher energy levels, quicker recovery times, better sleep, and fewer injuries.
Tom Brady is 42-years-old but still going strong as a New England Patriots quarterback. Brady has played in nine Super Bowls and won six, which is more than any player in NFL history. Brady eats a mostly vegan diet — plant-based foods make up 80 percent of it, according to Men’s Health. This might be why he intends on playing until he’s 45, even though many players retire at around 30-years-old. Boston Globe commented that the plant-based movement in the NFL is “being led by Tom Brady, who dominated the league in his late 30s and is still going strong … thanks to his vegetable-based diet and flexibility training over muscle mass.”
Brady teamed up with vegan meal delivery service Purple Carrot in 2016 to create a high-protein, low-carb, plant-based TB12 performance meal plan. Former New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski said the vegan meal plan helped to extend his career.
Gronkowski isn’t the only former player loving the benefits of vegan food. Former NFL players including Brian Orakpo, Arian Foster, Brandon Flowers, Ricky Williams, Colin Kaepernick, David Carter, and Derrick Morgan have all credited vegan food for improvements in their athletic performances.
Vegan Diet Benefits
The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) — a non-profit research and advocacy organization made up of 12,000 doctors — says that a vegan diet can improve sporting performance. This is because of its anti-inflammatory effect, which can help with recovery. A diet free from animal products is low in saturated fat and contains no cholesterol, which helps improve blood viscosity and, in turn, allows the muscles to receive more oxygen.
Compared to those who eat meat, people on a plant-based diet receive more antioxidants, which ultimately reduces muscle fatigue and improves athletic performance, PCRM says.
NFL players aren’t alone in their quest for improved performance with the help of plants. The popularity of veganism is cropping up all over the sporting world. Top Formula 1 driver Lewis Hamilton says his vegan diet has helped him feel “better than ever.” Speaking to CNN about his diet in 2017, Hamilton said, “I do feel the best I’ve ever felt in my life, in my 32 years, physically. I feel incredibly clean and healthy.”
Novak Djokovic, who follows a plant-based diet, claimed his fifth Men’s Singles Wimbledon victory in July. Djokovic believes his diet helped his allergies disappear and quickened up his recovery times.
Vegan athlete Conor Devine — who has multiple sclerosis (MS) — is currently training for his eighth Ironman triathlon. Devine said that it only took 28 days for him to see major improvements in his health after switching to an animal-free diet. “After 28 days or so of taking meat and dairy out of my diet and stopping conventional medication, I felt an amazing sense of mental clarity,” he said to LIVEKINDLY. “The fog and pressure kind of lifted from my head,” he explained, adding that “you need to experience it to believe it.”
American cycler and Olympic medalist Dotsie Bausch, professional footballer Lionel Messi, and professional surfer Tia Blanco are just some of the vegan athletes proving you don’t need animal products to succeed in sport.
These 7 Vegan NFL Players Get Their Power From Plants
1. Andre Patton
Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver Andre Patton went vegan two months ago. In an interview with Chargers, Patton said he was inspired by to make the change by a friend who sent him videos to “open my eyes.”
“What the meat industry is actually doing to the meat. I feel like if you actually watch those videos and see what actually goes on with the meat packaging and how they deal with their meat, then like, it will kind of make you sick as well,” he said to Chargers.
Where does he get his protein? “I eat plant-based burgers and hot dogs,” the athlete said. He also likes oatmeal, strawberries, blueberries, bananas, pineapple, black beans, peanuts, and salads with plenty of balsamic vinegar. And he doesn’t seem to miss meat. He said to Chargers, “To be honest if I’m around meat — like meat, chicken, beef — it smells. It just smells so bad.”
The switch has had a positive impact on his health, especially his energy levels. “It definitely makes my body feel good coming out here and practicing. I feel the difference, especially in the mornings. Morning time I wake up, I got a lot of energy as soon as I wake up,” he said.
2. Griff Whalen
Griff Whalen went vegan around six years ago. The 29-year-old wide receiver dipped his toes into veganism for what he intended to be a 28-day program. He soon began researching how sustainability and food are interlocked and a week into eating plant-based, he noticed a change in his physical health.
“I felt so much lighter,” Whalen said to Baltimore Ravens. “My joints felt smoother, everything felt better. I could run and breathe easier.”
Whalen’s recovery time also improved. The wide receiver said it only took him a day rather than two or three to recover from an intense workout, something he credited to better blood flow.
“I’ve always been a guy who has done everything I can to help myself,” he said. “Any little advantage I can find, I’m going to do it. I felt like this really gave me an edge.”
It’s a far cry from what he grew up on — a diet he describes as “typical Midwest” — but Whalen doesn’t find a plant-based diet difficult to stick to. “It’s not too tough now. I would say the first six months, maybe a year, is pretty tough because you’re totally reprogramming what you look for to fill your plate up,” he said. “Like anything, it’s tough when you’re starting over.”
Now, even Whalen’s dog is vegan.
3. DaQuan Jones
Tennessee Titans defensive end DaQuan Jones adopted a plant-based diet in 2017. He ditched animal products after his then-teammate Derrick Morgan (who retired in July) went vegan.
The inspiration didn’t come from Morgan alone but also Morgan’s wife, Charity, a chef with a culinary degree from Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts. Charity was preparing vegan meals for Morgan to take to practice. Dairy-free cheese and bean flautas, vegan chicken wraps, and plant-based pulled pork sandwiches were among the dishes he took to training. Morgan’s teammates, including Jones, began stealing his food and after realizing how good it tasted and seeing the results in Morgan’s athletic performance, they decided to try a vegan diet for themselves.
Eventually, 15 players in the Tennessee Titans team were following a plant-based diet.
4. Wesley Woodyard
Wesley Woodyard, linebacker for the Tennessee Titans, was resistant to the idea of an animal-free diet. When his teammates began going vegan, he stated, “y’all crazy with this vegan thing. I’m from LaGrange, Georgia. I’m going to eat my pork.”
But Woodyard came around soon enough, and his plant-based diet gave him more energy. “My energy level’s gone up,” Woodyard said to USA Today in 2017. “And it’s just putting in good fuel to your body.”
Speaking to ESPN that same year, the athlete explained, “I used to feel sluggish when I ate heavy. I don’t get tired like I used to and that’s definitely the food I eat.”
ESPN said that Woodyard experienced a “revival” following the switch, “going from a two-down linebacker in 2016 to a Pro Bowl-caliber player who ranks among the NFL’s leaders in tackles in 2017.”
Charity commented, “If you want them to play like warriors, we must feed them like it.” She added, “To hear Wesley tell me he feels like a 20-year-old on the field and he’s 30, it’s amazing.”
5. Tyrann Mathieu
Tyrann Mathieu is a safety for the Kansas City Chiefs. In 2016, he began transitioning to veganism. He said on Twitter, “I was tired of eating poison [and] was tired of supporting people that don’t support us in a healthy way.” Soon after, he told New Orleans radio personality, Raashad Evans, that ditching animal products was helping him feel more energized.
The move also helped him lose 16 pounds, according to ESPN. The sports outlet said that though Mathieu slipped up while on the road and ate animal products, the player ultimately “felt better with a plant-based diet.”
6. Cam Newton
Thirty-year-old quarterback for the Carolina Panthers Cam Newton is entering his ninth NFL season. Following a sprained foot in the third preseason game and shoulder surgery in January, it was unclear whether Newton would be fit to return for the remainder of the season. But his coach, Ron Rivera, said Newton is in “great shape.”
“He’s right where we need him to be,” Rivera said to ESPN.
Newton thanks his vegan diet for his speedy recovery. “Vegan. Vegan strong,” he said to the sports publication. “That helps a lot. I’ve been a vegan all year, and I don’t think I’m going back. I feel good. I recover well. And that’s pretty much what it’s all about.”
“It’s not putting certain things in your body that is going to combat your body trying to recover. You want to put things in your body that is going to expedite that whole process,” the quarterback explained.
Speaking to WCCB News in March, Newton pointed out, “Some of the strongest animals, some of the strongest species on this Earth are vegetarian.” He added, “Look at gorillas, look at really elephants, they find their source of protein in plants and I do the same thing. I’m loving how I’m feeling.”
7. Theo Riddick
Theo Riddick, running back for the Denver Broncos, credits his vegan diet for his improved energy levels and recovery time. He told The Detroit News in 2017, “I turned vegan over the summer. I’ve noticed a difference just with my energy level. I’m not a junk-food type of eater. I’m like a smoothie guy; I do a lot of fruit and throw my kale and all my protein in there and that’s how I get everything.”
He said to MLive last year that his recovery level became “phenomenal.”
“I think when I was younger, to be honest, I wouldn’t really feel better until probably Friday. And then you go back out there and play on Sunday,” Riddick said. But on a plant-based diet, he was “feeling good by Tuesday.”
It was documentaries like “What the Health” that motivated the change for Riddick. “Watching things like that is alarming on a lot of levels because of a lot of things you don’t know in terms of things you eat on a daily basis such as chicken and drinking milk has no nutritional value. You have to be conscientious of what you’re putting in your body,” the athlete said to The Detroit News.