Vegan NFL Player Griff Whalen: The Plantpower Underdog On The Advantage of Self-Belief

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“I get plenty of protein just from the plants that I’m eating, and I think there is a huge misconception about how much protein we actually need.”

Griff Whalen


What do you get when you combine Underdog with the spinach-chomping Popeye The Sailor Man?

Griff Whalen.

Currently serving up wide receiver and punt return duties for the Miami Dolphins, today’s guest is the only (to my knowledge) 100% plant-based athlete currently active in the National Football League.

But Griff’s unique nutritional protocol is only a part of a larger, more compelling narrative. An inspirational tale of determination, tenacity and self-belief.

The story begins with a scrappy kid from Ohio with an insane dream — to one day play professional football.

But at 5’11” and 190 pounds, Griff doesn’t strike the typical NFL pose. He’s quiet, studious and understated in a culture of brash egos. Undersized on a field of gargantuan colossuses. Merely fast on a field of lightning-footed Greek gods.

Griff, be serious. It’s just not going to happen.

Although a standout high school player, the phone wasn’t exactly ringing off the hook with scholarship offers to the big NCAA Division I programs. Undeterred, Griff enrolls at Stanford and joins the squad as a non-scholarship walk-on.

Expectations were low.

Nonetheless, Griff persists. Flouting his God-given limitations, he out-trains his teammates and competitors. He studies the game like his life depends upon it. And, most interestingly, he plies his erudite, scholarly nature to the white space — overlooked aspects of mental, emotional and physical self-development to gain that extra edge to enhance his performance both on and off the field.

It works. Defying the odds (a consistent theme with Griff), he makes the Stanford roster as one of only 8 true freshman to see action in 2008. Improving year by year, Griff closed out a very successful collegiate career as a starting wide receiver alongside storied quarterback Andrew Luck — his roommate and best friend to this day.

The 2012 NFL Draft comes and goes. Griff’s phone doesn’t ring.

But because luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity, he nonetheless gets picked up as an undrafted free agent by the Indianapolis Colts.

The dream becomes reality.

But before he can even celebrate his most implausible life-long goal finally realized — just four months after being signed, Griff breaks his foot and gets placed on injured reserve. A crushing setback that would end the career of most, Griff doubles down, using the off-time to his advantage.

Understanding that his career depended upon him identifying every conceivable means to overcome his injury and talent deficit, he turns his attention to nutrition and begins to keenly study optimal methods to enhance his body’s ability to recover from exercise-induced stress. It’s an inquest that ultimately lead him to adopt a plant-based diet — a radical vegan experiment he now credits as central to bouncing back in 2013 — shredded, stronger and faster — to make the Colts’ starting lineup alongside long-time pal Andrew Luck, the NFL’s $140 million man.

Currently in his 4th year with the NFL, today Griff finds himself heading into the 2016-17 season in a brand new city playing with a brand new team – the Miami Dolphins.

Exploring the hows and whys of Griff’s plant-based protocol, a big part of today’s discussion centers on dispelling nutritional myths related to athletic performance. But at its core, this is a conversation about conviction and resilience. It’s about the importance of coaches and mentors. It’s about managing time and setting goals. It’s about refusing to give up. It’s about going the extra mile to find that that performance edge.

And above all, it’s about the critical significance of believing in yourself.

We cover a lot of ground in this conversation, including:

  • Griff’s early years at Stanford University
  • the Andrew Luck regime at Stanford
  • taking a risk at making the roster in Indiana
  • Griff’s time on the injured reserve list
  • daily life of a professional athlete
  • the evolution to becoming plant-based
  • typical diet of the NFL
  • athletic performance benefits
  • Griff’s typical day in food
  • Product design with Evan Spiegel
  • the importance of coaches and coaching
  • managing time and setting goals
  • tools & techniques to activate the mind and body

I sincerely hope you enjoy this ball-toss with my favorite NFL athlete.

Peace + Plants,

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Plant-Based Resources Discussed in today’s podcast:

Notable People Discussed:

Related Podcasts You Might Enjoy:

Thanks to Jason Camiolo for production, interstitial music and audio engineering; Chris Swan for production assistance & show notes; Shawn Patterson for graphics; and Ana Leimma for the theme music.

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