January 25, 2008, - 4:36 pm

Weekend Read: Can a 247 lb. NFL Lineman Be a Vegan? (Subtitle: Vegans Are Lying)

By Debbie Schlussel
Lots of vegan, vegetarian, and animal rights sites around the Net are buzzing about today’s Wall Street Journal feature, “The 247 Lb. Vegan*“. They’re claiming that this article, about the diet of 247 lb. Kansas City Chiefs Tight End Tony Gonzalez, proves that an animal products-free diet is sustainable for anyone regardless of the lifestyle, physique, or profession.
But it’s a lie. There’s a reason there is an asterisk in the title of the article. Gonzalez’s diet includes 1,120 calories of broiled salmon for dinner. And according to the Vegan/PETA (a/k/a PUTAh–People for the Unethical Treatment of Animals and humans) orthodoxy, you cannot eat any animals or animal products in your diet. Um, people, salmon is a fish. It was alive. It feels pain. Forget the PETA campaign against fishing?
Oh, and then there’s the fish oil, the meat, chicken, and other fish he incorporates into his diet. THAT’S. NOT. VEGAN. Not even vegetarian.


Tony Gonzalez, Carnivore: The NFL’s Meat-Eating “Vegan”

So, the answer is no. One cannot be an NFL lineman and be a vegan. You need animal protein to maintain the weight. And looking at the photo of Gonzalez, he looks on the small and thin side for an NFL lineman. He’d probably be much bigger and stronge–a prized advantage in an NFL line–if he ate meat and protein and drank cow’s or goat’s milk. Let’s see how he does, next season. And by the way, when he first started “veganism,” Gonzalez had serious workout problems, and even his vegan nutritionist told him to take fish oil. Guess where that comes from? Hint: an animal that once lived. That’s anti-vegan.
Veganism doesn’t help athletes, and that’s why Gonzalez’s diet isn’t vegan:

There’s no evidence a vegan diet can improve an athlete’s performance, says David Nieman, a professor of health and exercise at Appalachian State University. His 1988 study of vegetarian runners found they ran as well as their meat-eating rivals but no better. Although the vegetarian athletes in his study also ate eggs and dairy foods, he says, “there is scientific evidence that veganism, when done right, won’t hurt performance.” But, he adds, there is only anecdotal evidence that it can help. . . .
Experts say athletes in training need as much as twice the protein of an average person to rebuild muscle. Their bodies also require a big dose of minerals and vitamins, as well as the amino acids, iron and creatine packed into fish, meat and dairy foods. It’s fine to be a vegan, says sports nutritionist and dietician Nancy Clark, if you’re willing to work at it. “It’s harder to get calcium, harder to get protein, harder to get Vitamin D, harder to get iron,” she says. “You have to be committed.” . . .
Mr. Gonzalez, who grew up in Southern California, says cheeseburgers were his favorite food. But he quit them, substituting fruits, nuts and vegetables. At restaurants, he ordered pasta with tomato sauce.
Three weeks later, he walked into the weight room at the Chiefs’ training facility and got a shock. The 100-pound dumbbells he used to easily throw around felt like lead weights. “I was scared out of my mind,” he says. Standing on the scale, he learned he’d lost 10 pounds.
Mr. Gonzalez considered scrapping the diet altogether and returning to the Chiefs’ standard gut-busting menu. First, though, he called Mr. Campbell, who put him in touch with Jon Hinds, himself a vegan and the former strength coach for the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team. Mr. Hinds suggested plant foods with more protein.
The Chiefs’ team nutritionist, Mitzi Dulan, a former vegetarian athlete, did not believe that was enough. With the team’s prospects and Mr. Gonzalez’s legacy at stake, she persuaded the tight-end to incorporate small amounts of meat into his plant diet. Just no beef, pork or shellfish, he said; only a few servings of fish and chicken a week. [DS: Um, that ain’t vegan. It’s not even vegetarian.] . . .
Mr. Hinds showed him nutritious fish oils and how to pick out breads dense with whole grains, nuts and seeds.

Once again, fish oils–NOT vegan.
Regardless, the article is an interesting read.
**** UPDATE, 01/27/08: I missed this part because it was in a caption under pics of food and drinks in Tony Gonzalez’s “Vegan” diet:

After-workout recovery drink: Mr. Gonzalez drinks Accelerade, a mix of carbohydrates and protein. Though accelerade uses animal protein, Mr. Gonzalez says he doesn’t mind because it helps his muscles recover from his workout.

(Emphasis added.)
Um, animal protein? NOT VEGAN. Answer: No a 247 lb. NFL Lineman CANNOT Be a Vegan.

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17 Responses

He’s really more of a very big wide receiver. But the point is true. It would be very difficult to maintain his muscle mass on a purely vegan diet. Unless, of course, he’s been visiting with Stallone.

Blayne on January 25, 2008 at 5:12 pm

Is it just me, or is the writing in the Journal deteriorating? Seems clear to me which way the writer leans. I do find it ironic that football players are concerned with disease from food, are oblivious to the head injuries they will most likely suffer from.

Mark L. Jackson on January 25, 2008 at 5:41 pm

Debbie, as soon as I saw that article this morning, I had a hunch you would write about it.
There is no doubt that it the WSJ is deteriorating, particularly concerning the Mideast. The article a few weeks ago about how the terrible checkpoints were stifling Palestinian life and the Palestinian economy was probably the worst thing I have read in the WSJ.
Even though Mr. Gonzales’ diet includes salmon and appears to also include fish oil, but it is still quite close to vegan. What the reporter could have added is that the Training Table Menu in the adjoining column is larded with unhealthy foods such as corn beef hash, sausage grvey, Canadian Bacon, chipped beef, sausage links, and even many of the other items, while not clearly unhealthy are likely to be unhealthy, since the article doesn’t specify the types of oils used, (e.g. for the fried okra, what is mixed in with the Greek style gyros, etc.), whether trans-fat is present (it almost certainly is), the amount of sodium (clearly astronomical) the absence of whole grains, etc. etc. The list of degenerative diseases these items are linked to is staggering.
If anything, while the WSJ writer seems to disregard the subtleties of nutrition the article gives vegetarianism too little credit as it applies to the overwhelming majority of people who are not world-class athletes. The sentence on the lead page, while discussing govt. recommendations concerning meat etc., does not mention that medical and nutrition experts at such places as Harvard, Johns Hopkins, Berkeley, Cleveland Clinic, Mayo Clinic etc., regularly and uniformly recommend that if animal products are included at all, for anyone, they should be limited to a few 3 oz. servings a week (and one or two days meat/poultry-free). Red meat in particular has been linked in recent years with various types of degenerative diseases in addition to heart disease when more than a few oz. p/w are consumed.
Articles from Harvard public health newsletters have repeatedly taken the position that 60-70 grams p/d of protein are fine for most people, even those who work out a lot, with the exception of world-class athletes who need a little more. They also consistently recommend as do the authors of other publications from leading public health centers, that the overwhelming majority of protein should come from plant sources. Calcium, iron and Vitamin D can easily be obtained from supplements.
When I saw the article I hoped that the point people would get from it is that it is worth exploring alternatives to the traditional American diet, not based on the reasoning of some loony from PETA, but just for general health reasons. Most of us are not world-class athletes, and the point for the rest of us is that, everything being equal, a plant-centered diet, with animal products just included as a garnish (except for salmon or other fatty fish) will generally lead to better health, lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, and so on.

c f on January 25, 2008 at 6:47 pm

I don’t trust the Harvard Medical School anymore than I trust PETA. I remind you that Harvard (and other “elite” schools) are on the Green/”Global Warming” bandwagon as well.
I also find it odd that the anti-meat eaters recommend a high carb diet which is a horrible alternative. The reason America is getting fatter is due to a high carb diet, not high fat. Fats are overrated as an evil food, as is red meat. Balance is the key, not touchy-feely nonsense.
More meat equals stronger leaner people, it’s that simple. Take a look at second generation Japanese and other Asiatics whose parents subsisted on vegetables and rice -centric diet that is common in poorer countries; they are several inches taller and better developed than their parents and grandparents.
The only people pushing a vegan/vegetarian lifestyle are doing it for political/philosophical reasons, and are using science as a way to appear legitimate.

Mark L. Jackson on January 25, 2008 at 7:13 pm

There’s a reason why Tony Gonzales looks on the small and thin side for an NFL lineman. He’s not a lineman. He’s a tight end, which means he needs both the strength to make blocks and the athleticism to beat coverage down field and make catches. His position is a hybrid of the lineman and receiver, and one that arguably one demands the most versatility in the game.
The statement that eating “meat and protein” would “probably” make him a “prized advantage” to the line seems to overlook the fact that he is already one of the league’s elite tight ends, a perennial selection to the pro bowl, and “probably” on his way to the pro football Hall of Fame. If there is any question as to the effect his new diet will have on his play, we can look to his performance this season, in which he set a new record for career catches by a tight end and earned a spot in the pro bowl.
You are right about one thing, though, his is not actually a vegan diet. But it seems a bit of a stretch to go from there to the conclusion that “One cannot be an NFL lineman [or, perhaps more relevantly, a tight end] and be a vegan.” And to say that “you need animal protein to maintain the weight” is simply false. Consult veganbodybuilding.org for examples of competitive vegan body builders.
To Mark L. Jackson, I object to the statement that “the only people pushing a vegan lifestyle are doing it for political/philosophical reasons, and are using science as a way to appear legitimate.” A growing contingent of the medical field, including The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, advocate a vegan diet for its apparent preventative health benefits (pcrm.org).

alphatwosix on January 25, 2008 at 10:41 pm

this is not an admonishment …
but, anyone cares. Why?
Eat meat or meat derived supplements but to claim to not eat meat.
Who give a squat?

laneh on January 26, 2008 at 7:07 am

To alphatwosix: Perhaps you can become a super strong vegan body builder; but Tony Gonzales is eating salmon and chicken and taking fish oil supplements. He obviously thinks he needs them to maintain the stregnth and conditioning it takes to play at the NFL level. Thus, his claim to be a vegan is false. That is the point I took from the post.

Southernops on January 26, 2008 at 8:45 am

The biggest animals on land are the gorilla and the elephant. Both are veggies. But we are humans and if you will check back to Bill Walton’s days at Portland you will see that he went on a rigid vegan diet and his bones went to hell. The disease is now called “Walton’s Disease.” We all need animal protein in some fashion and the most dangerous thing you can do is think that high protein soy oil will work. It won’t.

Howard on January 26, 2008 at 9:29 am

The correct term for Gonzalez’s dietary preference might be “pescetarian” (or “piscetarian” or “fishetarian”).
I know quite a few such people, some who do this as a “lite” version of vegetarianism, and some who observe kashrut and just find it easier to keep kosher that way (no need to worry about separate dishes and pots, etc.)

Former Belgian/Ancien Belge on January 26, 2008 at 12:11 pm

How do vegans drink water? Aren’t they worried about all those poor amoebas?

kishke on January 27, 2008 at 1:17 pm

Vegans (and I’ve known a few) will tell you that if a person eats even fish, they are not even a vegetarian. Vegetarians eat no meat but may still eat cheese, eggs or other animal products that don’t require killing the animal to obtain. Vegans don’t eat any animal products of any kind (no eggs, no cheese, no cow or goat milk, no foods cooked in animal fat and–for whatever reason–no marshmallows). Some vegans won’t even WEAR animal products (no leather shoes or belts, and no wool).
I consider myself to be a tolerant carnivore who believes that a meatless meal every so often never hurt anybody, but believe it or not, there are even more stringent sects:
Fruitarian: They will only eat fruits and vegetables that don’t require having to “kill” the plant to obtain. Apples and tomatoes are ok, but potatoes and carrots are not.
Also, I can’t remember the name, but there’s a sect that, while being vegetarian/vegan, will consume animal products that would otherwise be thrown away. The idea is that they don’t want to see it go to waste and pollute the environment.
G-sh, I could really go for a hamburger right now!

richardzowie on January 28, 2008 at 9:30 am

and–for whatever reason–no marshmallows
Marshmallows are made of gelatin, which is made of animal bones. That’s why vegans don’t eat them.

kishke on January 28, 2008 at 9:37 am

Re my prior comment, yes, I overlooked the occasional chicken & animal protein that Gonzales ate, and of course his diet is not vegan, although I am not sure that we can draw the conclusion that an NFL player absolutely cannot be a vegan, just that Mr. Gonzales is not one, and it has not yet been demonstrated that a successful NFL player can be one.
The people who make a cult of veganism on the basis that it is cruel to animals, make an easy target because of their extreme and foolish positions (although a few of the comments in this discussion are equally foolish). However, there is no doubt from the comparison of the two diets in the WSJ article that Mr. Gonzales’s diet is near-vegan; even though fish, chicken, fish-oil, etc. are included, they are clearly a subordinate part of his diet, and it is largely, based on the types of food, and (rough estimate) total calories, vegetarian, & even vegan.
I don’t think the point is whether we need to use a “gotcha” approach to see how many non-vegan items we can find. To me the main point is that this NFL player, on a primarily plant-based diet, is able to thrive in the NFL, and at the same time, follow a much, much healthier diet than his NFL counterparts who follow the conventional training diet in the adjoining column.
Although I disagree with you on this one issue, this disagreement, to me, is far overshadowed by the numerous, very valuable contributions you make on crucial issues like the Mideast, illegal immigration & ICE, etc.

c f on January 28, 2008 at 12:20 pm

“Although I disagree with you on this one issue, this disagreement, to me, is far overshadowed by the numerous, very valuable contributions you make”
Well, thank heavens! Debbie can rest easy now.

kishke on January 28, 2008 at 12:43 pm

Actually, Gonzalez is right about average-sized for an NFL Tight End. And one of the best in NFL history.
Stick to what you know – hating Muslims.

Discourse on January 29, 2008 at 4:06 am

To make a few comments, it is totally true that he is in no way shape or form a vegan. I am in disbelief and shock that the WSJ stated that. It is encouraging that they are bringing attention to his endeavours to become more of a vegetarian. However the article still treats veganism as some sort of fringe diet that is new and kitchy and dangerous. They also insinuate that he still needs some animal protein to be healthy and strong. Veganism has been around for centuries and is the healthiest diet for humans.
To say that an NFL player cannot be vegan because of evidence in that article is ludicrous. First of all, as already stated, that article was written by someone who has no idea what they’re talking about. There are lots of professional vegan athletes. Former NFL all star Desmond Howard is vegan (although I’m not sure if he was vegan while still playing). As stated above, there are a number of websites dedicated to professional vegan athletes and vegan bodybuilding (www.veganbodybuilding.org is one example). It is not difficult to maintain lean muscle mass while on a vegan diet. Non vegetarians often think that the only source of protein is dead animals. This is not true at all! Nuts, seeds, beans, soy, brown rice, legumes, quinoa all are packed with protein!
For those who think that being a vegan is wimpy, or will make you not tough, look up Mac Danzig. He is a current ultimate fighting champ, is a vegan, and is tough as nails!
To comment on what c.f. said above: First, I’m not sure why you wouldn’t trust Harvard Medical School. They are on the green/global warming bandwagon with other elite schools? So they follow scientific evidence from experts the world over? WOW- they are wackjobs allright! Your comment on a high carb diet vs. high protein diet: You seem to be ignorant about carbohydrates or just didn’t elaborate enough if you do understand. Complex carbohydrates are not bad. Carbohydrates provide energy for the body. The body needs lots of them, more so than protein. Elite athletes especially need to consume lots of carbs. What is important to understand is the type of carbohydrate that you eat matters greatly. Drinking a soda is not good for you because it is filled with refined simple sugars. Eating brown rice is good for you however because it is packed with complex carbs.
And the comment on the Bill Walton- what disease does he have? I looked up ‘Walton’s Disease’ on the internet and found nothing. Animal protein simply is not necessary in anyone’s diet. There is no disease caused by veganism. Yes, there can be vitamin deficiences from a vegan diet, but no more so than those from a high meat diet. If one maintains a balanced and healthy vegan diet, there should be no deficiences (Vitamin B12 is the exception, some take B12 supplements, but a lot of life long vegans believe it is not necessary). OK, i’m done.

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