A Crew of Elite NFL Athletes are Betting on a Vegan Diet

by Joshua Katcher

More pro-athletes are turning to a plant-based diet to get the most out of their workouts, training, and recoveries. But what might seem like a new trend in the NFL is nothing new to strength sports in general. Back in June 2017, for example, the totally vegan PlantBuilt team competed at the Naturally Fit Games in Austin, Texas in CrossFit, powerlifting, bodybuilding, Olympic weightlifting, and kettlebell – taking home 32 medals. Teammate Sara Lee set an American and world record in kettlebell. Icelandic vegan powerlifter Hulda B. Waage set a record back squat in 2016, and America’s strongest weightlifter, Kendrick Farris “is 100% vegan”, according to both Men’s Fittness and his own testimony from a fun interview during the Rio Olympics where he said, “I’m not missing out on anything…I weigh over two hundred pounds.”

The rewards of a plant-based diet are also becoming popular among elite NFL athletes. Ravens wide receiver Griff Whalen, has followed a strictly vegan diet for almost four years.


Follow Griff on Instagram @griffwhalen

When I tried a whole food vegan diet I felt a major impact in less than 2 weeks. That was enough motivation for me to stick with it. – Griff Whalen

Whalen even eschews leather for ethical reasons. He spoke exclusively with thediscerningbrute.com about why he thinks this trend is happening in his sport:

I think the league is so competitive that many of the guys are looking for any edge they can find, including nutrition. Better nutrition allows us to recover faster, train harder and longer, and ultimately become better athletes. There are many different opinions on the best dietary methods for athletes, and tons of false or partial truths out there, so it can be very difficult to wade through all that to find out what the real facts and research support… Today things are slowly changing with the resources we have online, and also in books and documentaries. I think the real evidence is starting to get some exposure and word is spreading.

(Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)


Griff is not alone in his experience with the physical rewards of a vegan diet. The Detroit Lion’s running back, Theo Riddick, was interviewed in The Detroit News regarding his switch after suffering a wrist injury.

“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.” – The Detroit News

Arie Kouandjio went vegan with the encouragement of teammate Trent Williams. Photo: Redskins.com


Two Washington Redskins players have also gone vegan; offensive tackle Trent Williams and guard Arie Kouandjio. In an interview with NFL.com Williams said:

“I just wanted to find ways to improve at healthy living, and hopefully it will help me with longevity in my career.” – NFL.com

Trent Williams interviewed on NFL.com


Williams is encouraging others to try it, too, like New Orleans Saints running back, Adrian Peterson, with whom he co-owns O Athletic Gym in Houston. Peterson admitted to being tempted to make the switch himself. He was interviewed by NOLA.com as saying that his diet is about 85% plant-based now. Time will tell if he joins the ranks and gets from aspiring-vegan to 100%. He said:

“I’ve always been kind of leery about processed food, so I’ve always kind of (avoided) it. But once I watched the documentary [What The Health] after I heard about it from Trent, I watched it, and it just kind of puts it in your face. I was just like, it’s time to really kind of change some things up.” – NOLA.com

Filmmaker Santino Panico, whose forthcoming film “From The Ground Up” – which takes a in-depth look at vegetarian and vegan athletes across a spectrum of sports, has spent time with many of these elite athletes, and has gotten to know how they think. I asked Panico for his opinion on this, and he said a trend like this “several years ago would have seemed impossible”.

“Inflammation is an athlete’s worst enemy, especially if that athlete is an NFL player. So these players are seeing research showing that plant-based diets reduce inflammation while diets heavy in meat and animal products cause inflammation.”

Panico also explained that “the culture of the NFL tends to lean towards machismo and food is tied to that.”

“Players believe they need meat to be strong and masculine,” he said. “But now even that is being proven wrong”.

This all begs the question, if a plant-based diet is good enough for athletes in some of the most physically demanding sports, isn’t it sufficient for average people?

Body Machine: Heavyweight David Haye’s Plant-Powered Return

When heavyweight boxer David Hay had to consider retirement due to a shoulder that was nearly destroyed, he faced two options: quit or get reconstructive surgery with months of recovery. In a lengthy piece for The Telegraph, Haye describes his ordeal, his choice to go vegan, and his formidable resurrection at an age the presents problems for most boxers. On going vegan in 2014, Haye said of animal products that “cutting it out made me feel immediately better and stronger than ever…Everyone should try it.”

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Haye fights Arnold “The Cobra” Gjergjaj in London on May 21, 2016. Watch it on Dave. #HayeDay

More Vegan Athletes Rise to the Top


When Flex Magazine did a March 2016 feature article Meatless Meat-Heads, they were talking about guys like twenty-nine-year-old Kendrick Farris, an Olympic weightlifter, coach and Olympian who went vegan in late 2014. He broke the American lifting record for clean-and-jerk with three lifts totaling 377 kg (743 lbs) in May of 2016. 

Farris announced his having gone vegan on Facebook:Screen Shot 2016-05-15 at 4.33.42 PM

You can watch Farris’ record-breaking lift (209 kg / 461 lbs), which is also his all-time personal best, here:

Farris is not the only vegan Olympian in the news lately. Heavyweight boxer Cam F. Awesome, an outspoken vegan, will be returning to the 2016 games in Rio De Janeiro. He’s also a stand-up comic. How’s that for a 1-2 punch to moronic stereotypes that vegans are strong or funny?


It seems like attitudes about plant-powered athletes are finally changing in the mainstream. Arnold Schwarzenegger, for example, might think twice before telling Mr. Awesome he hits like a vegetarian, and in fact, Arnold recently told the world to eat less meat. Arnold’s call for less meat was part of the environmental summit COP21, where he was quoted responding to some angry meat-pious true-believers with, “luckily we know that you can get your protein source from many different ways, you can get it through vegetables if you are a vegetarian…I have seen many body builders that are vegetarian and they get strong and healthy.”

Many people might not know that ten-time gold-medalist and legendary track star Carl Lewis credits his successes to a plant-based diet. And he’s not the only legendary athlete who has advocated the performance maximizing benefits of plant-fuel.

Despite the growing proof that one can thrive as a plant-powered strength athlete (let’s not forget the world-record holding strongman, Patrik Baboumian or the entire Plantbuilt team) there are those who still cling to the mythology that we must eat muscle to become muscle – at least in the long term.

Ed Baur, owner of NewEthic Strength & Conditioning, has been a strict vegan for over 20 years. He’s a Crossfit and powerlifting coach, and he recently got two personal records, one for front squat and another for deadlift. This goes to show that even after 20 years of veganism, competitive athletes can still build strength and make gains. When he posted the image below on his Instagram feed he said, “I will get …bigger and better than before and I am going to take a lot of you with me.”


Shop the Brave GentleMan vegan Crossfit grip:


A Vegan Nate Diaz Takes Conor McGregor Down at UFC196

The irony of Conor McGregor’s fight against Nate Diaz was not limited to a bursting of a hugely inflated ego – but to McGregor’s use of predator symbolism. Before the fight, he spoke of Diaz as a heavy-footed and wounded gazelle and he, the lion, the king of carnivores, would hunt Diaz down. In a bloody sport dominated by machismo, meat-eating is seen by many as both a necessary staple and a potent symbol of strength. However, Nate Diaz is a long-time vegan. In McGregor’s allegory, the herbivorous Gazelle has now beaten the lion – a role reversal that challenges some very deep-seated beliefs about masculinity, strength and athletics. For a man with a tiger tattooed on his stomach, a man who clearly goes to lengths to identify as a carnivorous predator, a loss to someone who actively chooses an herbivorous diet hurts in was more than physically.

According to Rise of the Vegan,

“Ido Portal, one of Conor McGregor’s coaches leading up to the fight once famously stated: “I can’t view vegan diets as something healthy. I’ve never met a vegan who was able to perform with the same energy levels as I see with someone with a more carnivore diet. I actually refuse to work with vegans”. One can only assume Ido Portal is now eating some humble (vegan) pie.

NBA’s Ben Gordon & NFL’s David Carter


Orlando Magic’s Ben Gordon sat down with Vice Sports and friends at the Los Angeles eatery Plant Food & Wine. Turns out he’s vegan and has a great sense of humor! Meanwhile, the Chicago Bears singed David Carter of The 300 Pound Vegan who recently graced the cover of LAIKA Magazine. You can hear Carter’s powerful interview on the Rich Roll Podcast.