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Former NFL Player Discovers Vegan Diet

              Friends and co-workers pick at me often because I’m constantly making tweaks and subtle changes to my diet.  This is in large part due to the fact I am always learning something new that can further optimize both my workouts and my overall physical health. 

                One of my oldest friends, Alvin Pearman has a similar mentality.  Alvin and I went to the same high school and spent countless summers as workout partners while I was in college and he was preparing for his final high school seasons.  I graduated three years prior to Alvin, then he went on to break nearly every touchdown and rushing record at our high school.  He finished his career as the all-time leader in rushing yardage for Mecklenburg County in North Carolina.  He earned a scholarship to the University of Virginia and finished a brilliant career as the school’s all-time leader in pass receptions by a running back, as well as posting 1,938 all-purpose yards in his senior season, the fourth highest total in ACC history.

                In 2005, Alvin was selected in 4th round of the NFL Draft, #127 overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars.  He spent five seasons in the NFL with the Jaguars, Titans, and Seahawks (where he would meet his future wife during time off due to a knee injury).

                Beginning the latest chapter in his life, Alvin has become more serious in educating himself about his diet and nutrition.  While neither of us enjoys being categorized or labled, his latest pursuit has taken him down the path of a Vegan diet. 

                Since I have been down this path myself (and am headed there once again as of this writing), I asked him to share part of his story and some of the things he has learned so far:


(1) Compared to now, what was your diet like as a high school and college player at Virginia?

In high school, my diet consisted primarily of meats and starches. In college, the cheapest food definitely outweighed the healthiest food- especially when I started living off campus. Chicken Parmesan was my staple meal of choice. 


(2) When did you decide to switch to a more vegan/vegetarian approach?  What was your motivation?

For the last few years, I have become increasingly aware of the environmental and physiological benefits of a whole grain, plant-based diet however I was reluctant to make the switch due to the physical demands of football. Specifically, I have always had a difficult time maintaining the weight that I felt I needed to keep. Once the season would start, I would find myself loosing the weight I packed on during the offseason. I was afraid that if I stopped eating meat, I wouldn’t be able to maintain the weight I needed to for football. I finally made the switch to a whole grain, plant based diet when I hung up my cleats and transitioned away from the game in September of 2010.


(3) Were there any books that were key resources in educating yourself?

Three books that drastically influenced my diet are "The China Study", by Thomas M. Campbell and T Colin Campbell; "The Food Revolution", by John Robbins; and "7 Pillars of Health", by Don Colbert.



(4) What sort of physical changes have you noticed since the change?

The first thing that I noticed was my core body temperature decreased. When I was single, I would keep my house at 67 degrees. Once I got married, my wife and I compromised at 70 degrees. Once I made the diet switch, I soon felt more comfortable around 75 degrees, which made my wife happy. This may sound weird but I actually feel more in tune with my body. I seem to be more sensitive to what my body needs. I have also dropped about 15 pounds to a weight I feel more natural with.


(5) What does your meal plan menu look like on a typical day?

Sample day:

Early morning: Whole grain oatmeal with strawberries, bananas, and soy milk.

Mid-morning: cashews, carrots

Early afternoon: spinach salad with apples, cranberries, pecans,

Late afternoon: whole grain toast with hummus, pear

Early evening: quinoa with sweet potatoes and avocados

*3-4 quarts of purified water daily.





(6) Are you still able to stay active and have productive workouts?

My workload has dropped drastically since transitioning away from football. Gone are the 5-day-a-week, 4-hour, grind-till-you-can't-think-straight workouts and in are the 3-day-a-week, 30-minute maintenance workouts. My goal is no longer to be as strong or as fast as a possibly can, rather it is to be as healthy as I can. My workouts are productive and I have high energy levels throughout the day.


(7) How has your wife reacted to the change?

She's been supportive. Meals are always interesting since she cooks most often and still eats meat. She will normally prepare a meal and make some meat for herself on the side. Yesterday I had vegetarian chili with brown rice and she cooked ground lamb meat to put in her chili. Besides the tree hugger jokes she throws at me, we have a pretty good balance.


(8) Is this something you might teach to your son (just a few months old as of this writing) as he gets older and learns about nutrition and eating habits?

I will encourage my son to make informed decisions with what he eats.


(9) In your opinion - why are more college and NFL players hesitant to go this route?

I believe most college and NFL players are hesitant to go the vegetarian/vegan path due to fear and misinformation.


(10) What has been the most difficult part of your transition so far?

I am reluctant to label myself as a hard pressed "Vegetarian". As a dinner guest, I won't allow food to get in the way of fellowship. In other words, if I am presented with a meal, I will not turn away food that has been prepared for me- even if it includes meat.

A difficult part of my transition was moving away from the idea that a good meal is prepared quickly. We have found that we need to be more intentional with our prep time and cook time in order to make a flavorful, nutritious meal. I have grown to appreciate this time and dinners have become more of an evening experience with my wife.



While some may feel that a vegetarian or vegan diet is not optimal for them, it’s always important to learn as much as you can about the human digestive system and what foods work best for your body.  Alvin comes from an athletic family (his father was our Track & Field coach, and his wife was a Track & Field athlete in college) so to some degree he will always be an athlete. 

                I am admittedly biased as his friend, however I think Alvin is a positive example of someone who continues to pursue not just optimal athleticism, but optimal health overall.  He has certainly inspired me to be more diligent about my nutritional pursuits as I learn more about what constitutes vegan nutrition.

                You can also learn more about Alvin Pearman’s latest venture in the world of photography.



The Vegetarian Experiment

If you've read this site frequently enough, you can probably tell I am one for dietary experimentation.  Well, my current experiment has taken me to a place where I am interested in learning more about the "herbivore vs carnivore" debate. 

Within a week, I realized that quite a few of my friends (4-5) were vegetarians, not including my own dad.  Each of these friends were what I would consider to be "healthy/athletic" people, both in-terms of lifestyle and body types.  This caused me to want to investigate things a little further (which is why Google is my favorite website).

Rather than re-state all of my interesting findings one-by-one, and turn this into a scholarly research article, I'd rather give the top-line, most interesting findings, and share my sources.

I found out that our human bodies have much more in-common with herbivores (plant-based eaters) than carnivores (meat-based eaters).

Intestinal tract - carnivores have intestinal tract lengths almost twice the length of herbivores.  This is relevant because lots of times, meat can turn rancid after 4-5 days, thus the longer an intestinal tract...the longer it sits in your system....possibly turning rancid.  (Eww.)

Acidity - it requires more acidity to break down meats for digestion.  Carnivores have much more acidic stomachs and saliva than do herbivores.  Apparently that of humans falls more in-line with herbivores.

Teeth - most carnivores (wolves, lions, bears, etc) have sharp front teeth and powerful jaws, but no flat molars meant for chewing. Carnivores have the inverse teeth description.  Guess which matches human beings more closely.

As I said, rather than attempt to re-state every interesting finding, I'd prefer to point you to a few of the notable articles and websites and let you gather your own conclusions.




As I've written previously, I was also influenced by the story of Atlanta Falcons' all-pro tight end Tony Gonzalez.  You can read the details here, but basically he had a couple health scares years ago while playing for the KC Chiefs.  On a plane ride, he was turned onto the book, The China Study and had his entire attitude towards meat as a part of his diet changed instantly.  While Tony Gonzalez is not a "strict" vegetarian, I am always a fan of people (athletes especially) who are willing to experiment and have open minds in the pursuit of the best health practices possible. His learnings eventually led to co-authoring a book based on his nutritional findings for athletes.

There are also other high-level athletes who have decided to jettison meat from their diets, like Milwaukee Brewers all-star Prince Fielder and UFC's Mac Danzig.

Danzig isn't the only mixed martial artist having success with a meatless lifestyle, Strikeforce middleweight champion Jake Shields is also a vegetarian.

It's not just athletes who have found health and performance benefits in eliminating meat from their eating habits.  A few of my favorite music artists like Common, Erykah Badu, The Roots, and Andre 3000 are vegetarians to one degree or another.

As I've maintained, this is far from a finished conclusion in my eyes.  I don't really have a stance on things like activism or PETA necessarily. However after having a family member battle a form of cancer that is often-times attributed to dietary habits, the benefits of eliminating (or at least reducing) meat from my diet are tough for me to ignore.  As I touched on earlier, a meat-heavy diet can be very acidic and harmful for the digestive system.  I'll get into some pro-active measures and how they've helped the former UFC heavyweight champion in my next article.


Fitness Spotlight: "Raw Model" Anthony Anderson

Anthony Anderson is a model who is very out-spoken about his love for natural foods and "green" living.  He was one of the first sources I began to learn from about the benefits of getting a couple pounds of fresh green leafy vegetables into my system every day if possible.

When I experimented with a vegetarian plant-based diet last year, Anthony Anderson was one of my main sources for information on alternate sources of protein.  Here is his take on non-meat, plant-based protein sources:

"Where do you get your protein???" The question is on cue almost every time. Its like they are trained to say it, and in reality, they are. 

So where do I get it? Brazil Nuts, Hempseeds, Pumpkin Seeds (Pepitas), Almonds, Bee Pollen, Spirulina and Blue-Green Algae, Maca Root, and of course, the leafy greens. (Kale, Spinach, Chard, Collard Greens, Wheatgrass and Sunflower Sprouts.) About 45% of calories in spinach come from protein. Thats huge. Especially if you are eating over a pound of leafy greens a day, which really is a good idea anyways. Most of my protein and fat is consumed in my daily smoothie, which I like to have for lunch. This makes is easily absorbed into the body, and allows me more time to do the more important things in life instead of preparing a salad for 30 min."

He also impliments some of the benefits of the famous "Lemon Cleanse" (fresh lemon juice, cayenne pepper) each day without going overboard and pushing to the borders of metabolism slowdown.

You can follow his blog at www.rawmodel.com