Like many of the people you may know who go vegetarian or vegan, Griff Whalen’s journey started with a documentary.
You know, those dang documentaries that shock, mortify and guilt you into swearing off all animal products. You’ve probably been encouraged to watch one.
Big difference, however, is that you and your friends are probably not NFL players.
As far as he knows, Whalen is the only player in the league that does it 100 percent.
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady attributes his longevity to the vegan diet he has for much of the year. This offseason, Pro Bowl Washington Redskins offensive tackle Trent Williams went vegan, but he’s not sure how long he’ll keep it up.
Whalen has been doing it for four … whole … years. At first,he intended for it to just be a trial run – a 28-day program. A week into it, he started doing major research into how sustainable it would be long term.
“I felt so much lighter,” Whalen said. “My joints felt smoother, everything felt better. I could run and breathe easier.”
The biggest difference Whalen found was that his recovery periods were much shorter. After a strenuous workout, he would feel fine a day later instead of two or three days later. He attributed it to better blood flow from not having as much saturated fat.
“I’ve always been a guy who has done everything I can to help myself,” he said. “Any little advantage I can find, I’m going to do it. I felt like this really gave me an edge.”
It shouldn’t be surprising that Whalen has that mindset.
The 5-foot-11, 190-pound wideout went undrafted out of Stanford in 2012. He spent three years with the Indianapolis Colts before bouncing between three teams last season (Miami Dolphins, San Diego Chargers and New England Patriots).
The Ravens signed Whalen in late July soon before the start of training camp. He immediately transferred his strict diet to Baltimore’s Under Armour Performance Center. Other than vitamins, he doesn’t use any other supplements.
Here’s Whalen’s typical daily diet, which he shared with Men’s Fitness:
Breakfast: Overnight oatmeal with 1 cup oats, 1 cup cashew milk, 2/3 Tbsp. maca powder, ½ Tbsp. hemp seeds, ½ Tbsp. chia seeds, 1/3 Tbsp. cocao powder, 1 date, a dash of cinnamon and Himalayan pink salt
Snack (post-workout): Smoothie with 1 banana, 1 cup almond milk, 2 dates, 1 Tbsp. chia seeds, ¼ cup blueberries, 2 Tbsp. hemp seeds, handful spinach and arugula
Lunch: Large portion of grains with vegetables like peas, broccoli, spinach, and legumes like black beans, chickpeas, or lentils
Snack: Raw vegetables and hummus, banana, or a cup of berries
Dinner: Big spinach or kale salad with a ton of toppings like olives, carrots, avocado, corn, cucumbers and sunflower seeds, dressed with apple cider vinegar and olive oil or a scoop of hummus; side of rice
That actually sounds kinda delicious.
“It’s not too tough now,” Whalen said. “I would say the first six months, maybe a year, is pretty tough because you’re totally reprogramming what you look for to fill your plate up. Like anything, it’s tough when you’re starting over.”
The Ravens make sure Whalen has the food he wants both at home and on the road, even if it means cooking up something special for him.
He says most of his teammates have asked him about his veganism. In a profession in which diet and your body’s performance is so important, players care – even ones that begin the conversation by busting Whalen’s chops.
“They’re like, ‘So you don’t eat meat, fish, dairy or eggs?’” Whalen said. “And then they look at their plate and it’s basically all animal products. It’s just a huge change from what Americans typically eat. Hey, I grew up in Ohio eating your typical Midwest diet.
“One hundred percent of the people say they could never do that. I usually say they don’t have to. I think that’s a flaw for a lot of people, thinking that if they want to try being vegetarian or vegan, they have to do it 100 percent. The point is to be more healthy, so if you just eat more vegetables and more grains and more fresh whole foods and less processed foods and less meat and less dairy, that’s better for you.”
Whalen said he’s not trying to convert anyone. He just answers whatever questions they have.
Well, he may be changing some diets unintentionally. Defensive tackles Carl Davis and Michael Pierce expressed interest last week on Twitter. Safety Eric Weddle … not so much.