One of the most important aspects of an NFL star's lifestyle is their diet. What they put into their bodies directly affects how they are able to perform on the field. In the last two decades, a new way of eating has taken the league by storm -- going vegan. From Tom Brady to Tyrann Mathieu, some of the best players have given up meat and meat-based products for clean green living, and they credit this change for their success. These are the NFL stars you had no idea were vegan.
David Carter Was One Of The First
In 2014, 300-pound defensive end David Carter became one of the first NFL stars to publicly go vegan. He was inspired to change his lifestyle after watching Forks Over Knives, a documentary about the health impacts of an animal-based diet.
At the time, Carter was suffering from several ailments, all of which he claims cleared up shortly after. He 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." Since retiring, Carter has become an activist for a vegan lifestyle.
Cam Newton Is New To Veganism
Cam Newton has taken a lot of hits in his NFL career and has somehow bounced back from them all no worse for the wear. The only problem is he hasn't always gotten healthy again as quickly as he'd like. That's why at 30 years old he made the decision to go vegan.
Speaking with ESPN, Newton said, "I’ve been a vegan all year, and I don’t think I’m going back. I feel good. I recover well. And that’s pretty much what it’s all about."
Tom Brady Made A Business Out Of Being Mostly Vegan
If you know who Tom Brady is, then you also probably know about his now-famous TB12 Method. After going (mostly) vegan, the Patriots legend turned his lifestyle into a business, advocating for a meatless diet and a workout plan focused on flexibility.
As far as proving that his plan worked, Brady became the oldest quarterback in the history of the NFL to win a Super Bowl in 2019. When he says that he plans to play until he's 45 years old, we believe him!
Colin Kaepernick Went Vegan In 2017
Although he hasn't played a snap in the NFL since 2016, Colin Kaepernick has undoubtedly stayed in the public eye as a social activist. Today he still stays in shape, hoping an NFL team comes calling. He first revealed he was vegan in 2016.
He shares his lifestyle with his girlfriend and radio personality Nessa Diab. In a video she posted to MTV2's Facebook page, she said, "He’s also a vegan with me. We did it together.”
Theo Riddick Says Plants Give Him More Energy
Theo Riddick became a vegan while playing for the Detroit Lions in 2017. He says before his diet, "I wouldn't really feel better until probably Friday. And then you go back out there and play on Sunday."
After changing his lifestyle, Riddick said, "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.”
Tyrann Mathieu Was Tired Of The Lies
Kansas City Chief safety Tyrann Mathieu began his transition to veganism in 2016. The reasons for changing his diet were simple, "I was tired of eating poison [and] was tired of supporting people that don’t support us in a healthy way.”
Like others on this list, he also says giving up meat has made him feel more energized. Since going vegan, Mathieu has lost 16 pounds and, while he has slipped up and eaten meat once or twice on the road, feels better with a plant-based lifestyle.
Andre Patton Eats Plant-Based Burgers And Hot Dogs
With an up-and-down NFL career so far, maybe going vegan in 2019 will help Chargers wide receiver Andre Patton find consistency. His change came after a friend showed him how the meat industry handles its products.
To make sure he gets protein, Patton says, "I eat plant-based burgers and hot dogs... To be honest, if I’m around meat — like meat, chicken, beef — it smells. It just smells so bad.” It doesn't sound like he'll be going back to meat anytime soon.
Griff Whalen Is No Longer A Midwest Eater
If you asked Griff Whalen about his diet growing up, he would tell you it was "typical Midwest." If you asked him about his diet today, he would proudly tell you he has been vegan for six years.
Whalen credits his diet to faster recovery times and having more energy. He does admit starting his diet was the hardest part. "It’s not too tough now. I would say the first six months, maybe a year, is pretty tough because you’re totally reprogramming what you look for to fill your plate up," he said.
Derrick Morgan Inspired His Teammates To Go Vegan
Derrick Morgan may be retired, but the impact he had on 15 of his Tennessee Titans teammates still lives on. During the 2017 season, Morgan decided to go vegan, and asked his wife to cook all his new meals.
As he ate in the locker room, his teammates slowly came around and asked for meals of their own. Morgan believes that, "Overcoming the preconceived notions is the biggest part. I was a part of it. I used to believe athletes had to eat meat to maintain play, then I educated myself."
DaQuan Jones Gave In To Derrick Morgan
DaQuan Jones is one of Derrick Morgan's teammates who was convinced to become a vegan in 2017. He was enticed to join the movement after learning of the health benefits that going meatless provides athletes.
Unlike everyone else so far on this list, Jones hasn't committed fully to his new lifestyle. He admits to giving himself one "cheat meal" a week that usually consists of chicken. He says the meal is used to provide a protein boost in his diet.
Wesley Woodyard Was A Tough Sell
Another Titan who has committed to a plant-based diet is Wesley Woodyard. When he first heard his teammates were going vegan he said, "y’all crazy with this vegan thing. I’m from LaGrange, Georgia. I’m going to eat my pork.”
Eventually, he changed his mind, and now he feels better than ever, even admitting, "I used to feel sluggish when I ate heavy. I don’t get tired like I used to and that’s definitely the food I eat.”
Brandon Flowers Used Veganism To Cut Weight
It was 2015 when former NFL star Brandon Flowers took the vegan plunge. He wasn't happy with his weight, and the diet helped him cut 12 pounds before training camp that year. Since then, he's fallen in love with the lifestyle.
When asked if he misses meat, he said, "You don’t just cut out the taste of having a hamburger. They have vegan hamburgers that taste like hamburgers you know, so why not go with that instead of putting the meat of an animal inside your body.”
Marcus Mariota Wanted To Be Like Brady
Marcus Mariota followed in Tom Brady's footsteps by going vegan, hoping to revive his career as a result. The Titans' quarterback was drafted in the first round of the NFL Draft and has spent a lot of his career injured.
Moving to a vegan diet was considered a risk for Mariota, who was told he needed to add weight, not lose it. Despite being healthy, Mariota was benched in 2019 for Ryan Tannehill, another oft-injured quarterback, but not a vegan.
Aaron Rodgers Is Mostly Vegan
Aaron Rodgers is going to end up in the NFL Hall of Fame. Recently, in an effort to extend his career as much as possible, he went mostly vegan. He made the change in 2016, following what he calls the 80/20 model.
Following the model, Rodgers keeps 80 percent of his meals healthy. Since he started his diet, he has thrown nearly 100 touchdown passes, including a career-high 40 in the first year of his program.
Ricky Williams Was Vegan Before It Was Cool
In 2005, NFL superstar running back Ricky Williams went 99 percent vegan. The only dairy he ate, and still eats, is Greek yogurt. When he first began telling people about his diet, he said, "People get weird about it. They don't understand it. It goes against what they believe. And it takes a lot of work."
Williams ended his NFL career with over 10,000 rushing yards, giving him a legitimate shot to be inducted into the Hall of Fame one day.
Eric Johnson Is Investing In Vegan Fast Food
Eric Johnson played for the San Francisco 49ers and New Orleans Saints during his NFL career. Today, however, he is more famous for his relationship with Jessica Simpson. While the pop star has gone back and forth with her own diet, Johnson is vegan and looking to invest.
Johnson initially planned to open a vegan fast food restaurant in Los Angeles in 2010, with the goal of eventually expanding nationwide. While there is no information on if he was able to make his dream a reality, we still salute his effort and drive.
Arian Foster Was Briefly Vegan
Even though Arian Foster wasn't able to commit to a vegan lifestyle, his brief stint with a plant-based diet is still worth mentioning. Foster was coming off an injury in 2012 when he stopped eating meat.
That season he rushed for over 1,400 yards. Foster retired from the NFL in 2016 after a productive career. With one career over, he embarked on another and began performing and recording music. In 2018 he released his first album under the name Bobby Feeno.
D.J. Swearinger Is A Recent Convert
D.J. Swearinger began his journey to veganism in 2015 when he cut red meat out of his diet. He still allowed himself to eat chicken and fish, though. By 2016, he was a pescatarian and only ate fish with his veggies.
Then, in a 2018 interview, he claimed he was mostly vegan, although he would still eat fish occasionally. He says the switch was easy because, "For the most part, human bodies should eat plant-based fruits, veggies, plant-based things."
David Johnson Couldn't Commit
Not every athlete who goes vegan is able to stay that way. David Johnson learned that the hard way in 2017 when he became vegan. In two weeks he lost 14 pounds. A player known for his power running style, losing so much weight so quickly was not good for him.
Johnson said the diet made him feel energized, and his recovery time was notably faster than before. The problem was, "I just couldn't keep the weight on." After a few weeks, Johnson returned to his normal diet.
Tony Gonzalez Tried Veganism
Tony Gonzalez is one of the greatest tight ends to ever step on a football field. During his career, he set nearly every receiving record for the position. Part of his success on the field was his dedication to his diet, which at one point was completely vegan.
Being a full-blown vegan didn't stick for Gonzalez though, as he ultimately landed with the 80/20 model that would occasionally allow him to eat fish or chicken with a meal.
Venus Williams Is Vegan For Her Health
Venus Williams has won just about every trophy she can in tennis. Next to her sister, she might be the greatest female tennis player ever. She's also a vegan. Williams switched to a raw vegan diet in 2011 after being diagnosed with Sjogren's syndrome.
She says, "I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, and I wanted to maintain my performance on the court. Once I started, I fell in love with the concept of fueling your body in the best way possible [through raw, vegan food]."
Lewis Hamilton Just Keeps Winning
In 2017 Lewis Hamilton won his fifth Formula 1 world championship. The celebration came one year after the sport's biggest star went vegan. Today, he has a net worth of over $170 million, so you know he doesn't regret his decision.
One of the main reasons Hamilton gave up meat was to help reduce greenhouse emissions caused by cow agriculture, "They say it is more than what we produce with our flights and our cars, which is kind of crazy to think. The cruelty is horrible and I don't necessarily want to support that."
Kyrie Irving Was Convinced By Netflix
Throughout his young career, Kyrie Irving has made a lot of controversial statements. Perhaps his most famous is saying he thinks the Earth is flat. One thing he has done that is not controversial, though, is go vegan.
Irving adopted the lifestyle after watching the Netflix documentary What The Health. Now he says his diet is the reason he can dribble the ball so fast. We're not sure if that's true, but it does sound like something the Brooklyn star would believe.
Nate Diaz Has Been Vegan Since He Was A Teen
Nate Diaz is one of the most popular UFC fighters in the world today. We bet his countless fans would be surprised to know that the star is vegan. Not only that, though, he's been vegan since he was 18-years-old.
Diaz credits his diet for his heightened fighting IQ, "I think you're a smarter and more intelligent fighter [when you go vegan]. Me and my brother are at the top of the game and have been for a long time. We’re obviously doing something right. Besides knowing how to kick somebody in the head, you should know how to feel good tomorrow."
Going Vegan Gave Mike Tyson A Second Life
Mike Tyson is one of the greatest and most controversial sports figures of all-time. In 2013, he made the decision to go vegan, completely upending his lavish lifestyle. According to his testimony, the change may have saved his life:
"Becoming a vegan gave me another opportunity to live a healthy life. I was so congested from all the drugs... I could hardly breathe, [I had] high blood pressure, [was] almost dying [and had] arthritis. And once I became a vegan all that stuff diminished."
WWE Star Daniel Bryan Just Says No To Meat
When you think about what a WWE superstar is, the last thing that comes to your mind is probably a 5'10" vegan. That's exactly what Daniel Bryan is, though, and he's not ashamed to admit it.
In 2012, Bryan was named PETA's "Most Animal-Friendly Athlete." Unfortunately, that same year, he became intolerant to soy and needed to include small amounts of meat back in his diet. He says, "When I eat meat I eat as little as possible because it really weighs me down."
Pat Neshek Lets Veggies Provide His Power
In Major League Baseball, it's hard for any player, let alone a pitcher, play past 35-years-old. At nearly 40, Pat Neshek is still going strong. So, is his vegan diet to thank?
Neshek says, "After the 2007 season, I had read so much I decided to become a vegan and get rid of all the animal products – meat and dairy. At first, it was basically just for the health benefits – I was intrigued by the 2005 season when I cut a lot of that stuff out and got a lot better. It really changed my career."
Jermain Defoe Won't Stop Scoring
With 150 career Premier League goals, Jermain Defoe is one of the best to ever play the sport in England. He spent his entire career in the EPL playing for Bournemouth FC. He was also a regular on the English national team.
When he had to come back from injury early in his career, Defoe switched diets. Today he credits veganism for his comeback. He also doesn't miss meat products, "I don't find anything hard to give up… because I know the feeling scoring goals gives me."
John Salley Wants Athletes TO Be Well Oiled Machines
During his NBA career, John Salley played for a number of teams including the Lakers, Heat, Pistons, and Bulls. As a former athlete, Salley understands that one of his most valuable assets is his body, do it's his job to keep it running smooth.
To do this, Salley advocates for a plant-based lifestyle, "I explain to athletes, you're supposed to be a well-oiled machine. You’re supposed to be in better shape than the people watching you. You’re supposed to be an unbelievable specimen of a human being. You have to treat your body different while you’re performing."
David Haye Gave Up Meat In 2014
World class boxer David Haye gave up meat in 2014 and learning about the inner workings of the industry. Today, at 39-years-old, he's just as tough to knock out in the ring as he ever has been.
About going vegan, Haye explains, ""I watched a TV documentary about how animals are farmed, killed, and prepared for us to eat. I saw all those cows and pigs and [realized] I couldn't be a part of it anymore. It was horrible."
Jake Shields Has Never Been A Meat Guy
Jake Shields may have grown up in Tennessee surrounding by some of the most incredible BBQ possible, but that never enticed him to eat meat. As far as we tell, he's been a vegan all his life.
Explaining his decision, he said, " I never even really thought about eating meat, it's something that always seemed a little gross to me, especially with the way animals are treated and whatnot. The older I got, the more I started doing a little research, and started realizing all the health benefits as well."
Georges Laraque Invests In The Lifestyle
Georges Laraque began his legendary NHL career in 1996 and retired in 2010, one year after becoming vegan. In 2015 he came out of retirement, but only for that season. He has since settled into a life of various pursuits.
One of Laraque's most intriguing pursuits is his investment in the vegan lifestyle. After changing his lifestyle, he invested in two Crudesence locations that serve raw vegan food. He is also the part owner of Delicieux Cafe Veg Fusion restaurant.
Salim Stoudemire Is Okay Eating Alone
Playing for the Atlanta Hawks, Portland native Salim Stoudmire never wanted to eat alone. He was always curious about adopting a vegan lifestyle, but never found a reason to commit. He always feared he would get shunned.
So what changed? He says, "I've always wanted to be one because of health, but I never wanted to go eat by myself or have people talk about me. But I finally reached a point where I just didn't care what other people thought, and I didn't have a problem with eating alone."
Timothy Bradley Does It To Fight
Already considered one of the best fighters of his era, going vegan might help Timothy Bradley achieve his goal to be number one. For him, going plant-based was a way to build more muscle and be a better fighter:
" when I fought Junior Witter, I was vegan. I went vegan for that fight... Nutrients is what builds bigger muscles; not protein. It's the nutrients, man, so with that said, I was like, man. I consume more complex-carbohydrates than I do protein and I consume more good fat than I consume freakin' protein as well."
Meagan Duhamel Is A Gold Medal Vegan
Meagan Duhamel is one of the most decorated figure skaters of her generation, an achievement she might attribute to her veganism. The star has been plant based since 2008 and has won two world championships since.
If Duhamel had one wish today, it's that more people would adopt a vegan lifestyle, ""So many people tell me they could never be vegan. I just wish people would understand and realize that it's really not that difficult, and it's a choice that we make. I think that it is in everybody's grasp to be able to make a decision like switching to a vegan lifestyle. One of my proudest accomplishments has been going vegan."
Andy Lally Has Evolved
Born in New York, Andy Lally has made a successful career for himself on the racetrack. Debuting with NASCAR in 2011, Lally has garnered plenty of acclaim for his skills, even if first-place finishes haven't followed.
Still, Lally believes that veganism will eventually give him a hand up because it's just the next step in evolution, "by this point in human evolution, we should be smart enough and kind enough to live without torturing other living beings just so we can enjoy a juicy lunch. There are plenty of plant-based options available that taste great and are excellent meat and dairy alternatives."
Tim Shieff Was Addicted To Meat
Freerunner Tim Shieff has been vegan since 2012, three years after winning the World Freerun Championship in 2009. To be as extreme as possible, Shieff knew he needed to cut a major addiction out of his life - meat:
"What really helped me overcome what I firmly believe was an addiction to meat was that it wasn't about me, I could never kill an animal intentionally myself just to eat it so I had no right to pay someone else to do it, plus I don't want any animals to die or suffer just for me to enjoy a certain flavor and texture in my mouth for a few minutes a day."
Fabian Delph Switched For Science
When Fabian Delph played for Manchester City and the English national team he looked at his diet scientifically. His studies made hms believe that by going plant-based he could strengthen his body quicker.
At first, Delph had his doubts. Prior to changing lifestyle, he had an injury history he didn't think food would fix. Eventually, he said, "I decided to ignore my doubts and began to look at my body objectively as if it were detached from me... I changed the fuel I put into my body and switched to a vegan diet."
Hannah Teter Takes Veganism To The Slopes
In her snowboarding career, Hannah Teter has won two Olympic medals. As a child in Vermont, Teter grew up in a fully sustainable house thank to her parents. Having such a respect for the environment led her to go vegan in 2010.
Since going vegan, Teter said, "I feel stronger than I've ever been, mentally, physically, and emotionally. My plant-based diet has opened up more doors to being an athlete. It’s a whole other level that I’m elevating to."
Tia Blanco Grew Up Vegetarian
Two-time world surfing champion Tia Blanco grew up vegetarian, which made he transition to veganism in 2013 that much easier. With how connected she felt to nature because of her career, the choice was made even easier.
Speaking with Teen Vogue she said, "I feel really great eating a plant-based diet and love the way it makes me feel physically and mentally. Many of us know the effects of diet on one's health, but fail to realize that diet plays a huge role in more than just your personal well-being."