As far as NFL stars go, Houston Texan running back Arian Foster definitely stands out – and not just for his record of most rushing yards and rushing touchdowns. Foster is considered “unusual” in the world of pro sports because he writes poetry, majored in philosophy, and openly supports gay marriage. But, of all of the things which make Arian Foster unique, the one which gets the most attention is his diet.
Before 2012, no one (except maybe his trainers) cared what he ate. Then, when Foster announced on Twitter that he was switching to a vegan diet, the world sat up and took notice. Foster was bombarded with a flood of criticism from sports announcers, fans, and fellow athletes. Sports analysts predicted that the NFL star would lose strength. Bloggers guessed as to what he would be eating for protein now. Fans drowned him with advice on nutrition.
Going vegan couldn’t have been easy for a football player like Foster. In our society, meat is associated with power and machismo. To make matters worse, Foster plays for the Texans – and Texas is the land of barbeque. Foster took all of the criticism in good stride though.
“Everybody cares what I eat now. They didn’t care before, but they do now. Everybody is a nutritionist now and they’re an expert on protein. Every day, every single day somebody knows something new to do. I just smile and say, ‘OK.’ ”
It is understandable that people would be so concerned with Foster’s switch to veganism. They were worried that Foster would lose his strength and cost the Texans the season. After all, in any sport, an athlete’s diet is critical to performance. Most people don’t realize that it is actually very easy to get enough protein on a vegan diet through soy products like tofu, and other plant-based products like seitan. There are also plenty of protein supplements available for vegetarians who worry that they might not be able to get enough protein from food alone.
But anyone would have to be stupid to think that Arian Foster – who has his own personal nutritionist – would suddenly switch his diet without thinking through the consequences. As Foster himself said in response, “I didn’t just blindly stop eating meat. I know what I’m doing”.
Yet, even though Foster obviously had thought the switch through, he didn’t receive much encouragement. Even his teammates were less than supportive. Fellow Texan Brian Cushing said,
“I told him, ‘If this doesn’t work, I’m going to kick your ass’. I told him that because he’s going too far. He thinks he knows more than me, but he doesn’t, especially about nutrition. We have a good relationship, but I told him this better be right. We have a lot riding this year.”
Foster managed to prove all of his critics wrong by the impressive season he had after going vegan. Just four months after switching to a vegan diet, Foster was massing more yards and touchdowns than any other player in the NFL.
You’d think that Foster’s performance would end any criticism of his new diet. But then a new wave of criticism arose when Foster admitted that he’d eaten some chicken. This time, the criticism was from vegetarian advocates as well as fans who saw an opportunity to discuss his diet once again.
“I just like to eat healthy,” Foster said. “The whole vegan thing, a lot of people are really interested in my food. … I’ve had meat since I said I don’t eat meat anymore, but I like to stay with the plant-based foods, but every now and then, I’ll eat something.”
So, Foster eats meat occasionally. Nobody is perfect. If we were going to re-label his diet, we could call it a “flexitarian” diet. Or, even more simply, just a “healthy diet”. But it is pointless to get caught up in labeling diets. If we can learn anything from Foster, it is that we shouldn’t let other people’s opinions dictate how we eat. Foster did what he felt was best for him, despite all of the criticism, and he should be respected for it.