That’s right, some of the world’s top Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighters are into vegetarianism. I was out of town recently and was using the computer at the hotel instead of my own. The home page when you opened Firefox was www.yahoo.com (which I never visit when at home). I noticed a featured article on the homepage was something about MMA fighters increasingly eating an “organic” diet and was curious, so clicked on the link. Once I opened the article, I saw it was less about “organic” and more about vegetarian — the title on the actual page is Vegetarianism all the rage in the MMA. Of course, as a lifelong vegetarian, this interested me.
Who Are the Vegetarian, Semi-Vegetarian, and Vegan MMA Fighters?
For those of you who follow MMA (I don’t), here are the fighters mentioned in the article… (and I imagine there may be more):
- Jon Fitch (“considered by most either the No. 2 or No. 3 welterweight in the world”)
- Jake Shields (“the next challenger for Georges St. Pierre’s welterweight title” — this April 30th fight has sold out the 55,000-seat Rogers Centre in Toronto)
- Nick Diaz (“Strikeforce welterweight champion”)
- Nate Diaz (.. Nick’s younger brother)
- Mac Danzig (“Season 6 winner of ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ as a welterweight”)
What Are Their Reasons for Being Vegetarian?
Jake Shields, Nick and Nate Diaz
To start with, Jake Shields was born and raised vegetarian, and “has never wavered” on this diet (though, he does eat eggs, which some vegetarians — like me — consider out of the question). Jake influenced Nick Diaz, his training partner, to go vegetarian as a teenager (he is now 27 years old) for its health and fitness benefits. And Nate, Nick’s younger brother, followed in their steps.
“I’ve got nothing to compare it to,” Shields, who has won 15 consecutive fights, said. “The only thing is, nobody can train as hard or as long as me and Nick Diaz, so that seems to indicate something.”
Nick Diaz adds that eating organic is important as well. “I try to keep my diet all organic,” said Diaz. “It’s healthier. You recover faster. Nobody trains as hard as we do.”
Jon Fitch recently switched to a vegetarian diet (when training, at least) for a couple of reasons. Fitch was influenced by his wife, Michele, after she read Skinny Bitch (a very popular book that focuses on the health benefits of eating vegan), became vegan, and saw considerable health benefits from it. He slowly made the switch as well, seeing significant improvements to his training each step of the way. He was also significantly influenced by Shields due to his great success.
Fitch seems completely sold on this diet now. “The biggest thing is better recuperation from training,” Fitch said. “I don’t have the days where I came in flat. It’s made for the best training camp of my career.”
Across the board, eating vegetarian seems to be helping him in his training. “In every kind of testing to see where I’m at, strength, speed, conditioning, I’m either right at or well ahead of the best marks I’ve ever had at this stage of training,” Fitch said. “A few weeks ago, we were concerned I was peaking too fast. I’d kick the [expletive] out of myself at the same stage of training for any of my previous fights.”
In addition to the above, Fitch did some reading:
Fitch read “Skinny Bastard,” the male counterpart to “Skinny Bitch,” by the same authors, as well as “The China Study,” a research project collaboration among Cornell University, Oxford University and the Chinese Academy of Preventive Medicine, which examined diseases and lifestyles in rural China. The study showed people who ate the most animal-based protein had more chronic illnesses, and people who ate mostly plant-based foods were the healthiest and lived the longest.
Danzig, 31, got into vegetarianism for more than health reasons and he is active in promoting it for animal welfare reasons. He has worked with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and says he doesn’t understand how anyone with a pet can eat meat.
At 13, he was on a farm and saw pigs being brought to their slaughter. He made eye contact with one pig and said that this had a profound effect on his life. At 20, he worked at an animal sanctuary and, after talking with strong, vegetarian and vegan animal-welfare advocates, became vegan for one year. He dropped veganism when he became a full-time fighter because he thought he needed animal protein to compete at the highest level. When he read more books on the matter, though, he decided that wasn’t the case and has switched back to veganism.
“I don’t understand how anyone can have an animal in their life and know what is going on and contribute to it,” Danzig said. “You don’t need any kind of animal products to be an athlete in this day and age.”
The Health and Fitness Benefits These Guys Are Seeing Are Anything but Surprising, BUT…
As I wrote in an article about one and a half years ago here on EatDrinkBetter on going vegetarian, “the American Dietetic Association (ADA) now recommends a vegetarian diet for its health benefits…. It used to say it was an acceptable diet but now it recommends it.” I also noted that a number of famous athletes are or were vegetarian or vegan, including Carl Lewis, “Athlete of the Century” last century and 9-time Olympic gold medalist (a record). So, that these fighters would notice considerable health, strength, and fitness benefits from being vegetarian is no surprise to me.
But I hear people all the time saying that it’s not healthy to live without meat (not sure where they actually get this idea), so I’m sure the benefits identified by these fighters will be a big surprise to many and probably a lot of people won’t even believe them. It can take a ton of evidence to change deep-seated beliefs and feelings, such as those related to eating meat….