This football season, David Carter, a.k.a “The 300 Pound Vegan,” signed on as Defensive Lineman for the Chicago Bears. While this is Carter’s first season playing as a vegan, he is not the first of his compatriots to swear off meat while playing the game they love!
The following professional football players maintain a vegan or vegetarian diet for health, humane, or performance reasons; often for the perfect combination of them all:
- Seattle Seahawks guard Deuce Lutui.
- Houston Texans running back Arian Foster.
- Kansas City Chiefs tight-end Tony Gonzalez.
- Former Baltimore Ravens running back Ricky Williams.
- Dallas Cowboys fullback Tony Fiammetta.
- Detroit Lions running back Montell Owens.
- Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Griff Whalen.
With the addition of David Carter, a new spotlight is shone on the men who rebel against the stigma attached to professional football players who are vegan. Fans, teammates, and coaches alike often meet the announcements of these players with suspicion and concern, worried that performance and health will be negatively impacted by the diet change.
Others, like nutritionists dedicated to supporting healthy eating for players, meet the news with enthusiasm and offer useful advice. But is it possible, as Carter asserts, that:
“…being vegan is not only the most efficient way to be full-body strong, it’s also the most humane; everyone wins.”
For Health…Players in the National Football League (NFL) face a myriad of health problems given the violent nature of the game and the grueling physical stamina it requires.
Plant-based diets can improve blood and oxygen flow, which helps repair torn muscles and tendons for faster recovery from injuries common in this field. Complex carbs in whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables also break down more easily into fuel than meat, according to Mitzi Dulan, one of the NFL nutritionists who helped Gonzalez become a vegan. “Taking that fat and that density (in red meat), it’s a lot more work,” Dulan says. “It makes your blood acidic, and your body has to work to get your body in pH balance again.”
After failing a physical with the Cincinnati Bengals, a nutritionist recommended that Deuce Lutui begin eating a vegan diet. Soon, his excess weight began to disappear and he felt in the best shape of his life, results which encouraged his entire family to go vegan.
Tony Fiammetta transitioned completely from omnivore to vegan in only a week, after which he told ESPN “I’ve actually felt better on the field and off the field” since making the change.
And Griff Whalen, who switched to a plant-based diet soon after his girlfriend, agrees, saying, “I feel a lot lighter, faster, quicker on the field. There isn’t that heavy feeling, that groggy feeling after I eat.”
For Love of the Game…With a career that is so highly publicized and scrutinized, there is an incredible amount of pressure to deliver, sometimes no matter what the cost. So when NFL players share intentions to change anything about themselves or their habits, there can be serious fallback.
Arian Foster in particular was criticized for his new diet. “Everybody cares what I eat now,” he shared. “They didn’t care before, but they do now. Everybody is a nutritionist now and they’re an expert on protein. Every day, every single day somebody knows something new to do. I just smile and say, ‘OK.’ ”
Yet results have shown that, far from holding them back, healthier eating has propelled these players into even greater heights of success.
For instance, vegan Tony Gonzalez broke over 20 NFL records, including most Pro Bowl selections and most touchdown receptions for a tight end. “I have more energy, better focus, and more endurance,” he says. “I don’t get tired. I hardly ever come out of the game. And I’m strong as ever.”
Former NFL strength and conditioning trainer, Evan Marcus, agrees that coaches always get worried when an athlete goes vegan or vegetarian. However, he adds that these vegan or vegetarian players are “very special athletes. They seek out every advantage. They’ve researched this, read about it, thought about it.”
For Love of Animals…One reason for David Carter’s widespread welcome and emphasis on his vegan eating is how he goes about portraying it. More than just a diet for him, abstaining from eating meat is a deep, powerful expression of his belief that every animal has a voice.
His story began with a family that embraced food—namely barbecue–followed by a career that expected him to eat in a very specific way. After his wife determined to become vegan five years earlier, he admired her conviction but saw no way that he could follow given the demands of his job.
“In my mind there was no way I could compete at the highest level without meat in my diet. It was hard to for me to conceive that I could go against three hundred plus pound offensive linemen and come out on top on plants alone.”(The 300 Pound Vegan)
Health issues, a career that seemed to have stalled, and a feeling that there was something more prompted Carter to promise his wife, on February 14, 2014, that he would “never again consume another animal product.” From then on, they researched ways for him to power his body, the way he needed to, rather than the way he was expected to.
Now, David Carter is an activist, nutritionist, and powerful football player sharing his story, both on his blog “The 300 Pound Vegan,” and on the field, where the vegan and football worlds alike will watch and cheer!
It’s not an image that is easy to conjure. This typically cheeseburger and steak-obsessed group choosing quinoa and salad, but more and more, players like Carter are showing just how positive an impact eating only veggies can have on the health and performance of their star athletes’ bodies They are part of just one more group, beginning to join the mindful eaters of the vegan and vegetarian communities.