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The NFL’s David Carter On How A Plant-Based Diet Made Him A Better Player & A Better Human

By July 19, 2015January 19th, 202433 Comments
Episode #160



It’s one thing to thrive on a plant-based diet as a skinny endurance athlete

But what about sports that place a premium on size, speed, agility, power, quickness and just plain brute force?

Is it possible to compete at the highest level of the NFL not as a punt returner, not as a quarterback or even a running back, but as a defensive lineman – a position where only the absolute biggest, baddest, strongest and fastest survive?

Meet David Carter — aka The 300 Pound Vegan.

Introduced to the game at age 5, David began his football career playing Pop Warner. He made waves at Fontana’s Kaiser High School in Southern California and went on to become a star player at UCLA. In 2011, he was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals in the 6th round and has since been a bit of a journeyman defensive linebacker, playing for the Dallas Cowboys, the Oakland Raiders and most recently the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Like most athletes, David grew up eating tons of meat, fully adhering to the conventional mythology that in order to become muscle you must consume muscle – the more the better.

But as his career matured, David became plagued by a variety of persistent, chronic injuries including arthritis, tendonitis, nerve damage and chronic muscle fatigue. Not surprising given the nature of his job, but nonetheless devastating — ailments he simply could not overcome that left him sidelined despite the best sports medicine and rehabilitative resources of the NFL at his disposal.

David soon realized that in order to continue playing, something had to change. He began researching the cause of his conditions, as well as alternative remedies to resolve them at the source. Heavily influenced by a series of documentaries that included Forks Over Knives and the holistic lifestyle habits practiced by his wife Paige, David arrived at a rather counter-intuitive conclusion for an athlete whose professional career relies entirely upon physical prowess and sheer brute force:

all the nutrition he had been relying on to maximize his size and strength was actually killing him.

Therefore, in February 2014, David made a rather radical and quite controversial decision: he adopted a 100% plant-based diet.

Criticism came swift from all sides. Trainers, coaches, friends and fellow players all chimed the familiar refrain: it’s impossible to maintain your weight and strength without meat!

But David has remained steadfast and confident in his decision.

Why? Because a battery of unexpected positive results came and came quickly. Eating entirely plant-based, David experienced more energy. His recovery time was profoundly accelerated. His stamina went through the roof. To the great surprise of his coaches, trainers and teammates, every single one of those nagging, persistent injuries mysteriously corrected themselves and ultimately vanished altogether. All his numbers in the weight room actually went up – this is a guy who can bench 470 and squat 660. Amazingly, he found himself quicker, more agile and responsive than ever. And perhaps most important to David, no living thing had to die in order for him to thrive.

I can honestly say that being vegan is not only the most efficient way to be full-body strong, it’s also the most humane; everyone wins.


Through football and his off the field advocacy for healthier lifestyles, animal rights and the planet, David is now devoted to a cause greater than his on field performance — being an example of positive change in the world.

There is quite a bit of feverish intrigue and anticipation about this episode. I’m happy to report this conversation does not disappoint. It’s a special exchange with an exceptional human being that explores:

  • a typical day in the life of the NFL
  • a peek into the typical NFL diet
  • the specifics behind his lifestyle shift
  • how he has weathered the criticism
  • what exactly he eats on a daily basis
  • why he spends his off-season in Costa Rica
  • how yoga and meditation inform his game
  • his commitment to animal advocacy
  • redefining the social norms of masculinity

I sincerely hope you enjoy our discussion & look forward to your thoughts in the comments section below.

Peace + Plants,

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Production, music & sound design by Tyler Piatt. Additional production by Chris Swan. Graphic art by Shawn Patterson.

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  • Brian Eck says:

    Really looking forward to this Podcast Rich….can’t wait to listen on my morning commute.

  • Rasmus Arme says:

    Another epic podcast. Inspiring.

  • Dave Campsall says:

    I’m new to your site, but I am really enjoying all the podcasts re: Nutrition. I’ve converted to whole foods and plant based diet about eight weeks ago and am feeling great. I really like how Mr. Carter corrected himself when he started to say diet but then corrected it to ‘lifestyle’. That is exactly what I keep telling my co-workers when they ask me ‘How long are you going to stay on this diet?’ I keep telling them that I am not dieting, I am changing my lifestyle. I don’t even care about weight, just living longer and most importantly LIVING BETTER. Great podcast as usual, I wish Mr. Carter success with his career. He is already a winner in my books.

  • Andrea Smith says:

    My favorite podcast so far! While I love learning from everyone, I was glad to hear about a vegan lifestyle from a weight lifter and his wife who is also building muscles! I related to them more than I do most vegans/raw foodist so it was nice to hear from them. David has a new fan and I wouldn’t mind having someone like him represent the KC Chiefs either!!

  • Tiffany Rose says:

    Awesome interview! Love hearing about David’s diet and workout. He’s a fierce machine!! And no animals harmed. Rad!

  • Tiffany Rose says:

    Great point Rich, by saying that being a man is actually taking care of and nurturing another being. It doesn’t mean killing. I love that.

  • Me says:

    “He did not need to eat any living thing”??? Wtf? Plants are not living? It is ignorance and dogma like this that piss me off with the plant based community. Also, there are no thriving omnivores out there? And finally, eating plants 100% is a new age experiment. Put a 1000 (senior) health conscious people in a room an ask how many of them been vegan for more than 50 years, you are lucky if 1 up their hand up.

  • Alicia says:

    Very interesting guest! I am rapidly becoming a big fan of your work.

  • Lara B Hewitt says:

    Same book that Paige read made me go from vegetarian to vegan as well! Amazing 🙂

  • Julie Moen Berg says:

    That was such a great podcast! I didn’t realize NFL players had an average lifespan of 56 years! Crazy. Between the 300 Pound Vegan and Concussion in the NFL, it is changing! I love this. Changing history, one person at a time.

  • Dadi Einarsson says:

    Brilliant interview. One of my favorites so far. I love how his story arcs from diet to compassion and touches on the issues of meat and masculinity. True masculinity is compassion.

  • Brilliant interview. This man is truly an example for many others, he should speak more and internationally about his transformation, the world needs that !

  • Dan says:

    Nice job. I loved the discussion and learning so much about transition from David. Paradox: another interview I loved was with Garth Davis about the need for less protein. David’s nutritional discussion was around getting enormous amounts of carbs AND protein. Okay,, which is it? I know David has a different sport, but football also requires endurance and power. Endurance sport need to burn fat and not rely on constantly replenishing carbs during events. But what about the protein disconnect.

    Love your show. We are trying to transition from Mediterranean to Vegan. Hard to do in Scandinavia. You have any sources for learning edible wild plants? Keep up the great work. Your book is on the way. Best. Dan

  • TonyB1969 says:

    A strong “defense” (gratuitous pun, indeed) of a vegan-based diet for building lean muscle mass for a 300+ pound NFL defensive lineman. The practical discussion of cost-effective food sources and associated benefits to recovery, performance, and inflammation-reduction was extremely helpful. Definitely worth a listen to those thinking such a lifestyle is onerous or bland.

  • For the research I’ve been able to conduct, 1 cup of peas contain 8g of protein, which is = to the amount of protein in 1 ounce of grass fed beef, which is about the size of a 1 Canadian dollar (steak). David’s story is interesting and I congratulate him on getting off the garbage foods, but some of the tech info in this interview seems a bit loose…

  • Anthony says:

    Another excellent interview Rich. I am always extra curious to hear the stories of plant-based athletes.

  • jdee33 says:

    One of my favourites too … David Carter’s empathy and compassion comes across so clearly in this interview. I love how he described the light bulb moment that led to choosing a compassionate way of life: he realized he could thrive on a plant-based diet, which led him to question our enslavement of billions of animals for mere appetite. I look forward to hearing more about this trailblazing athlete and advocate. Thanks Rich!

  • Duke says:

    Yes, but if you put 100 adventist (vegetarian) 70 year olds in a room and 100 ‘seefood’ (eat wahtever they see) eaters in a room and see who has the most health complications and longevity you will likely find the adventists (or any other Blue Zone type eating group) will be healthier. Its not just about longevity but quality of life at the end and avoiding disease. You basically designed a flawed science experiment in your comment here. Also, if you pay attention and dig a little deeper into nutrition science of the last 10 years, you will see its not a new age experiment anymore. Its science that is permeating the best Universities and doctors are specializing in Integrative Medicine (treating people with food changes and lifestyle instead of drugs). UC Davis, Stanford, Harvard, UCSF.

    Yes there are thriving omnivores. But there are also plenty that are dying or heart disease or diabetes. Outcomes that can be prevented with a plant based diet.. So your points are again not validating the argument you think they are.

  • Duke says:

    Its not just how many calories of protein, fat, carbohydrate you consume, but more importantly its how much you absorb and store vs. use that is important.

  • Duke says:

    We know that many athletic sports can be fueled entirely by carbs. Any type of sugar consumed after 1 hour intense exercise goes straight to replenishing muscle energy stores or it is used right away in the second hour. Some athletes want to be fat adapted which means efficient at burning fat during long (often all day or multi-day) competitions. But I would say its not clear at all if one way or the other is better. There may be genetic issues that make it different for different people. The protein issue is confusing. Some long distance African runners only eat 20-30g/day and maintain muscle while running long distances all their lives. Refer to Michael Greger videos on protein needs for some of the calculations involved in amount required for people wanting to build muscle. Also lookup Amino Acid Pool. (Protein can be recycled in the body after being broken down)

  • Duke says:

    Loved this Podcast. David is such a thoughtful beast of an athlete. Will follow his career.. Sounds like he has an edge in training and performance.

  • Jay Clair says:

    Never heard of the China Study mate?

  • Ok. I don’t understand what you are getting at.

  • Houston Wong says:

    loved this podcast. love how David advocates compassion (to other creatures) and health. so many things are inter-related!

  • Rebecca B says:

    I think this interview was critical to overcoming some long held myths. I loved hearing his food trials and resulting changes. I wasn’t surprised about his results going from the powders to whole foods, but it made me even more determined to adhere to this path. It would be great to have him back for updates. Maybe with Paige as well?

  • AmandaM says:

    Hi – I read your book Finding Ultra a few years ago. I just discovered your podcasts and I am LOVING them. I’ve listened to the David Carter and FullyRawKristina. Both fabulous. Thank you!.

  • Nick Bowles says:

    Another excellent podcast. Being from Australia, I’d never heard of David before. He sounds like a wonderful ambassador for the plant-based movement. It is always great to hear people who are attracted to a plant-based/vegan lifestyle for health reasons, but later develop a deep sense of compassion for animals. I wish David all the best for his future NFL career.

  • Mat says:

    Beyond awesome. Maybe there is hope for this strange species after all.

  • Adam Grey says:

    Fantastic interview. Now to get Barny Du Plessis on your podcast!

  • Dan Paulson says:

    Loved the conversation, loved both of your enthusiasm…cringed when you didn’t call him on the rice and beans = complete protein. The myth of incomplete plant proteins need to go away.

  • Fantastic interview Rich. Totally inspiring. Thank you David for sharing your story.

  • Tommy F says:

    David is an NFL player with his head screwed-on straight. Veganism, Compassion for Animals, Yoga and Meditation. Stellar human being!! I love the 300lb-Vegan platform he’s creating. I just hope he gets adequate playing time, to showcase his abilities and bring more attention to his platform. He might need to end up in Seattle though, where his mindfulness would be appreciated/tolerated in the lockeroom. He could be getting blackballed for being exceptionally different with his diet. The NFL has a long ways to go, before they truly understand the way nutrition really works in the body, for healing, strengthening and energizing. And David is still a bit new on his path, so he’s going to encounter obstacles as others aren’t as receptive to his code of Veganism.

    On a different note.. It’s frustrating that marquee players like Arian Foster and Tony Gonzales have abandoned their veganism. However, if they only did it for the health benefits, and weren’t called to the compassionate side of being an authentic Vegan.. then it’s not surprising that it didn’t “stick”.


  • Jenya says:

    David is awesome! So much respect <3

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