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The Real-Life Diet of a Vegan NFL Defensive Lineman

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Professional athletes don’t get to the top by accident. It takes superhuman levels of time, dedication, and focus—and that includes paying attention to what they put in their bellies. In this series, Health Insiders takes a look at what pro athletes in different sports eat on a daily basis to perform at their best. Here’s a look at the vegan diet of David Carter, a 300-pound NFL defensive lineman.


Back in 2014, David Carter weighed 285 pounds and was working his way back up to 300. He had just signed with the Oakland Raiders, and was adding ice cream shakes and entire gallons of milk to his diet.

But he was also in pain. His shoulder hurt, he was battling tendonitis, and three fingers on his hand were numb. He chalked it up to part of being a professional football player, specifically a bruising defensive lineman in the NFL.

Apparently, he’d soon learn, a life in pain didn’t have to be a given. Carter’s life changed when he learned, from a documentary on veganism, that dairy contributes to some forms of tendonitis. His own tendonitis had gotten so bad that he struggled to lift himself out of the bathtub. “I realized I was making everything worse,” he says. “I was feeding the tendonitis, the muscle fatigue, everything. So the next day I went vegan. The first thing I ate was a bean burger and haven’t eaten meat since.”

Maintaining weight is important though, since defensive linemen are weighed regularly and no one wants to look puny at 250 pounds. In the first month after going vegan, Carter lost 40 pounds. But he was running farther and faster, lifting heavier weight, and within two months all the pain in his joints had disappeared. Carter’s been able to get back up to 300 pounds, and is leaner and faster now than when he ate animals and their byproducts. And as of a few weeks ago, he’s officially playing for the Chicago Bears.

“I realized I was making everything worse. I was feeding the tendinitis, the muscle fatigue, everything. So the next day I went vegan.”

It takes extra effort to maintain that kind of weight with a vegan diet, specifically 10,000 calories worth of effort, which works out to five meals a day plus four 20-ounce shakes between them. It means that Carter is eating every two hours, and eating hard. Those smoothies aren’t even a break. Instead of dairy, Carter uses cannellini beans and sunflower seeds to give them protein and body—even brightened up with fruit it’s a feat to choke them down. He starts each morning with a huge batch of the bean smoothies in his Vitamix blender (enough to total 100 grams of protein) which he divvies up for the course of the day. And on top of that, there’s grazing on homemade, probiotic sauerkraut throughout the day.

So while some athletes crave to cheat on their diet by sneaking curly fries or tiramisu, Carter just wishes he could skip a meal. But during what he calls “Operation Weight Gain” in the offseason, there’s no room to miss a single one.

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