Veganism has had quite the PR transformation over the last few years. The more trendy terminology these days is ‘plant-based diet” and it’s been embraced by quite a few high profile athletes. Celtics point guard Kyrie Irving joins a dozen or so NBA players who have gone vegan. Titans linebacker Wesley Woodward convinced 10 other teammates to go vegan in a season that ended with Tennessee heading to the playoffs for the first time in a decade on the backs of its top-ranked defense.
Just a few years ago, vegan diets weren’t necessarily linked to strength and athleticism. Former NFL lineman David Carter was one of the first football players to openly tout the advantages of the plant-based diet after realizing the negative impact his own eating habits were having on his health. Carter met up with SI at his favorite restaurant Modern Love (home of what its website calls "swanky vegan comfort food") to discuss his transition into a vegan lifestyle.
“I remember one time pushing myself out of the bathtub and it felt like somebody was taking a knife or bat to my elbow,” said the former Cardinals defensive end “It hurt worse than getting hit on the field.”
He also had painful bouts of tendinitis, inflammation and high blood pressure, all of which, Carter claims, were exacerbated by his diet. “I was eating pork chops, chicken and you know the defensive lineman diet.”
That defensive lineman diet sometimes consisted of six double hamburgers(!) after a particularly grueling practice.
Then, one night he came across the popular and controversial documentary Forks Over Knives.The film examines the claim that most, if not all, degenerative diseases can be controlled, or even reversed, by eliminating animal-based and processed foods from a diet.
“I was drinking a milkshake while I was watching the documentary and poured it out,” Carter said.
In less than a day, his diet was completely shifted. It did help that his wife at the time was already vegan, which meant he had someone to keep him on track. The effects were almost immediate, says Carter. Gone was the joint pain along with the daily use of anti-inflammatories. The result of the diet that didn't bode well for an NFL player, though, was the amount of body mass Carter was losing. The defensive tackle went from 300 lbs to 265 lbs and was at risk of losing his job. Carter needed to eat upwards of 10,000 calories a day to maintain his ideal playing weight.
“I found out there are vegan bodybuilders and reached out to them for advice. I was basically eating six meals a day and smoothies in between. I was eating every two hours. When I was trying to gain weight, I would wake up in the middle of the night to eat.”
This was in 2014. Teams weren’t adopting vegan lifestyles just yet. Carter was met with skepticism but stuck with his new lifestyle even during team dinners at a steakhouse. He would just order the green beans, no butter.
Carter’s life outside of the NFL continues to center around the vegan lifestyle. His moniker is the “300 pound vegan”.
He tours the country as a vegan activist and is in the process of starting a non-profit that educates communities of color about healthy plant-based eating. And his job has gotten a bit easier now that he can add mac and (cashew) cheese, pesto Gnocchi and cookie dough ice cream to his menu.