Vegan/Vegetarian athletes: sports nutrition isn’t just a steak and eggs game anymore
By KAYLEIGH RONGEY
Being a vegan or vegetarian athlete may sound oxymoronic, but more players choose to go meat-free than you would think. As I looked at previous Atlanta Falcons players after Super Bowl LI, I stumbled across a former player who was able to maintain a vegan diet throughout his football career while maintaining a healthy weight of 247 pounds.
Former Kansas City Chiefs and Atlanta Falcons tight end, Tony Gonzalez, decided to remain vegan even after being drafted, a decision which led to severe doubt and questioning from his peers.
He told The Washington Street Journal in 2008, “It’s the Catch-22…Am I going to be unhealthy and play football? Or be healthy and get out of the league?” When faced with this difficult decision, Gonzalez decided to stay healthy and continue playing. His phenomenal records would stand as proof to his peers that a plant- based diet could not only be managed by an athlete, but it might even improve their game.
Not only was Gonzalez able to maintain a healthy vegan diet, in his 2008 season, he had 96 receptions and a 1,000-yard season. In an interview with Men’s Journal, he touted, “I have more energy, better focus and more endurance. I don’t get tired. I hardly ever come out of the game. And I’m as strong as ever.” Gonzalez attributes his success to his strict diet, and he is not the only athlete to do so.
I was thoroughly surprised by the number of players who have claimed that a vegan or vegetarian diet is the reason they can maintain their energy during a game. Vegans and vegetarians can be found all over the broad spectrum of sports.
From baseball players like Hall of Fame member Hank Aaron, to former Atlanta Hawks point-guard Salim Stoudamire, veggie enthusiasts can be found in nearly every sport. Like Gonzalez, these players claim that they could not perform on the field or on the court as well as they could if they ate the standard, meat-heavy athlete’s diet.
Some athletes, like Venus Williams, did not make the choice to become vegan or vegetarian merely to improve stats. After being diagnosed with Sjögren’s syndrome, Williams made the switch in order to control the symptoms of the painful immune disease.
After a rough season in 2011 due to the severe joint pain that accompanies this disease, Williams removed all meats and animal products from her diet. The results were astounding. In an interview with Health, she stated, “I literally could not play tennis anymore, so it really changed my life.
Because it was starting to take away what I loved, I had to make some changes. I had to change my life. Thankfully, I was able to find something that helped me get back to doing what I loved.”
University of Mary Washington athletes are joining the greens life, such as Emma Carolan from the UMW women’s rugby, who team enjoys her vegan diet.
According to her, many athletes take a multivitamin in order to supplement the nutrients that they would normally receive from meat or animal products.
“I take a multivitamin but I didn’t always,” Carolan said. “I’ve never had a problem getting the vitamins in but I do now just as a precautionary measure.”
“I don’t have a meal plan anymore so I cook at home. But when I was a freshman and sophomore I’d go to the dining hall or the Nest with the rest of my team.” Her favorite vegan dishes are “probably a really good pizza or black bean burger.”
Even here on campus, Eagles are proving that being a vegan or vegetarian athlete is not as oxymoronic as you might think. In fact, the benefits that players like Tony Gonzalez and Venus Williams experience are proof that a plant-based diet may be the answer on how to succeed in sport.