Vegans and Pigskin

From Beef Cakes to Rice Cakes

Over the last few years, Veganism has had a serious PR transformation.  The trendier terminology is ‘plant-based diet’ and it’s been embraced by quite a few high-profile athletes. Although some have taken a bit longer than others to jump on this new, athletic diet trend.

“Y’all crazy with this vegan thing,” Wesley Woodyard said one Friday night early in training camp before a Tennessee Titans practice.  “I’m from LaGrange, Georgia.  I’m going to eat my pork.”  Little did he realize he would soon swallow his pride in place of his pork and join in on the Tennessee Titan’s vegan movement. 

That’s right, there is a vegan movement in the NFL. 

No More Linebacker Diet

Just a few years ago, vegan diets weren’t necessarily linked to strength and athleticism. 

Beefy, meat-devouring football players often head out to the steakhouse following a practice or game, but for Former NFL Lineman David Carter, his plate would look different from the others sitting at his table.  Instead of a juicy Ribeye sprawled out across his plate, he would order a pile of green beans with no butter added.  This was a familiar scene in his final seasons as the rare, vegan football player. 

“Socially, it kind of isolates you,” Carter said.  “Football is a machismo sport, which is great, but everything can’t be machismo.  On the field and at practice, yes, you can be machismo, but when it comes to diet, you need to have compassion for your body.” 

Carter openly discusses the advantages of the plant-based diet after realizing the negative impact his previous eating habits were having on his health.  He had once adopted the defensive lineman diet, which sometimes consisted of six double hamburgers after a particularly grueling practice. 

“I remember one time pushing myself out of the bathtub and it felt like somebody was taking a knife or bat to my elbow,” he went on to say, “It hurt worse than getting hit on the field.” 

One night in 2014, he watched a documentary titled, “Forks Over Knives” that explained how dairy and animal fats can cause inflammation in joints. 

“It got me thinking, why do we need meat?” Carter said.  “I need protein to be big and strong but look at some of the largest and strongest animals in the world and none of them eat meat.”

When he became vegan, all his ailments dissipated, and his performance at practices and in the weight room improved.  Hanging up his cleats, Carter now travels the country advocating for the vegan diet.  This self-proclaimed 300lb vegan promotes, “My food is my medicine now.”

The Mighty Vegan Titans

For the Tennessee Titans, it all began with Derrick Morgan, a Titans Linebacker, who decided to slowly transition to a plant-based lifestyle back in 2017.  His wife, Charity, joined in and re-educated herself as a vegan chef to cook for him.  One by one, Titans players spotted Morgan’s lunches and asked to be put on his meal plan. 

As soon as these vegan athletes started feasting together over a rainbow of vegetables, the jokes from their comrades began.  Many, like Woodyard, teased them about their vegan ways, until they noticed their teammates performance levels spiked.

Brian Orakpo, Linebacker for the Titans, is a firm believer in the vegan diet.  “Everybody is making plays.  Everybody is healthy.  Everybody is eating right, and she’s (Charity) been a big part.” 

The Vegan Titans believe there’s proof that a plant-based diet helps them lose weight, recover faster and, believe it or not, play better. Could going vegan be their best play move to win the next Super Bowl? (Between you and me, it wouldn’t hurt their numbers if they tested this theory.)

Let’s look at Tom Brady, who some claim is the greatest quarterback in football history.  As of 2019, Brady headed to his eighth Super Bowl with the New England Patriots.   Others in the league have not only been watching his career but have also been taking notice of his healthy habits.  As the Boston Globe points out, “Tom Brady dominated the league in his late 30s and is still going strong at 40, thanks to his vegetable-based diet and flexibility training over muscle mass.”

Though not vegan, Brady’s diet is reportedly 80 percent plant-based.  Back in 2016, he teamed up with vegan meal delivery service, Purple Carrot, to create a meatless, dairy-free TB12 performance meal plan.  There may be some validity to the claims of the vegan diet and one’s athletic performance after all. 

With that said, the Titans might want to raise Derrick Morgan’s salary after he convinced 10 of his teammates to go vegan in 2018.  They ended that season with Tennessee heading to the playoffs for the first time in a decade on the backs of its top-ranked defense.    

Vegan Diet Misconceptions

Where does a 300lb defensive lineman get enough protein in a plant-based lifestyle to keep his strength?  That is a question that David Carter was faced with when turning to veganism.  For the Titans, they leaned into Morgan’s family and their research to stay informed.  It is very easy for a vegan diet to meet the recommendations for protein.  Nearly all vegetables, beans, grains, nuts, and seeds contain some, and often much, protein.

“There’s so many misconceptions.  We were taught wrong as consumers of meat,” Charity said.  “Plants have so much protein.”

Charity makes sure their lunches are stocked with high sources of protein such as kale, spinach, nuts, beans, lentils, and seitan.  All the salads are sprinkled with hemp seeds.  It’s more of a holistic diet so very few processed meats, soy or corn crops are used, but she does use honey (not all players are 100% vegan). 

There is no question that you can be a vegetarian/vegan and an athlete.  Athletes who follow a vegetarian or vegan diet have two concerns.  One is that these diets are typically low in calories. One way to combat this concern is to make sure calories are increased depending on frequency, duration, and intensity of the athlete’s physical activity. 

Second, vegetarian and vegan diets tend to restrict essential nutrients that are primarily found in animal sources: protein, iron, calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B12, zinc and omega-3 fatty acids.  This is not quite as easy as concern number one.  For vegans, both omega-3s and some of the listed micronutrients should be supplemented to ensure adequate levels are maintained.

Supplement companies have every essential nutrient packed into a pill and on our pharmacy shelves, but how do we know what is the best vegan option when it comes to omega-3 fatty acids?  Vegan options for this essential nutrient are not as easy to come by; however, Stratum Nutrition supplies Ahiflower seed oil that is a super omega packed with omega-3, 6, and 9.  It is vegan friendly for any athlete desiring superpowers.  If you haven’t noticed, we think it is pretty “super,” and truth be told, it is superior in comparison to its not named competitors.  For more information about our vegan ingredients, please contact us

(No bias opinion has been added to this article.)