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Vegan athletes solve the 'protein problem'

April 10, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
The idea of an athlete eating a vegan diet may seem counterintuitive. But it's a trend that's becoming more popular. Athletes going vegan show how it's possible to get enough protein to perform.

"No steak 'every now and then,' no ribs, no burgers, none of that," said Jacksonville Jaguars NFL player Montell Owens. Owens has become a so-called "clean eater" after watching friends and family experience health complications.

"Many of the things that they were going through, they were preventable," said Owens. "Culturally there needs to be a change, and why not start with myself?"

And he's not alone. Mixed-martial-arts fighter Mac Danzig started down the road to vegan a decade ago, first for moral issues, but then he found he liked how well he performed with a plant program.

"I felt just as good as I had before, if not maybe a little better," said Danzig. "I think if you eat cleanly and you have good fats and good carbohydrates and good protein, you don't need a really high amount of protein."

Both men got help from triathlete Brendan Brazier, who has helped many people join the ranks of veganism.

"Football players, hockey players, baseball players, fighters, all kinds of people," said Brazier.

Brazier, who owns a line of vegan performance shakes and home delivery service, wants people to know that there is plenty of plant protein found in grains like quinoa, wild rice and amaranth; along with produce such as spinach and kale. These foods offer the body a good way to reduce inflammation.

If the idea of animal- or meat-free sounds scary to you, take baby steps. Maybe start with swapping out mayonnaise and butter for something like hummus and avocado for your condiments.

With smoothies, go with coconut or almond milk.

And don't go with an all-day event. Start with breakfast and lunch and make that vegetarian.

"I personally think it should be slow. I think there should be a transitional phase. Just one meal, one snack a day, start off with a nutrient-dense smoothie, just sort of ease into it," said Brazier. "And they usually find their taste buds start to change, their palate changes and they start creating really good food."


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