Top MMA Fighters Raving about Vegetarianism

jon fitch fighting

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.

Jake Shields, lifelong vegetarian and top MMA fighter, on the left.

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 on the left.

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 on the left.

Jon Fitch

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.

Mac Danzig, top MMA fighter and animal welfare advocate.

Mac Danzig

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….

Photo Credits: JAweb.com via flickr; teamrks via flickr; teamrks via flickr; JAweb.com via flickr; vegetarians-dominate-meat-eaters-01 via flickr

6 Comments

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  1. I am a life long vegan and marttial artist who practices Homeopathy and holds certs in several fitness areas. I have worked with Olympians and world class athletes and I can attest to the truth in this article. A vegan diet allows the athlete more energy for their sport, as there is a huge expenditure in energy when animal products are consumed.

  2. Speaking as a martial artist (who spars and fights) of over ten or twelve years experience and as a (ovo-lacto) vegetarian of over 20 years, I’ve faired exceptionally well under this diet and this above all keeps me convinced that it is the right choice for me.

    Recently -over the last few years- my dietary choices have been seriously tested by new friends conversion to the Paleo (think: the anti-vegetarian, but look it up for yourself for more info) diet. I have stood steadfast to my belief that vegetarians can be as strong (if not stronger!) than those on other diets (see: Jake Shields and crew (like the fighters listed above) and Carl Lewis (U.S. Olympian extraordinaire) but I also feel people have a right to choose, having -over the years- seen several vegetarian friends become anemic from a (veggie diet) I feel that it may not suit everyone.

    I would like to make one point above all and this may seem a bit of a small one but here it is; ‘The China Study’ is not a quotable source of support for a vegetarian argument. Drop this text into a vegetarian supporting argument against people who have done their homework and you will get embarrassed. It seems Dr. Colin Campbell’s findings may have been ‘adjusted’ by the lens of his beliefs. Please, please, please do not argue for the vegeatrian diet based on anything from this text!

    Vegetarians are doing just fine thank you without dodgy studies undermining what we have built.

    I write this with respect intended. Please look into it for yourself if you do not believe me.

    Terry Neil

  3. Most people think that eating meat is the only way to get enough protein to bulk up and perform at peak performance when it comes to athletics. The fact of the matter is, is that all foods have protein in completely sufficient amounts.

    Exercising a lot does not mean you should eat more meat products to get bulky, but rather eat more food in general. A healthy diet of plant based foods is more than adequate to give your muscles the protein they need.

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