23 February 2011

Vegetarian and vegan MMA fighters, compassionate yet still tough as they come

Ultimate fighting machine Jon Fitch knows how to prepare for a serious match and his plan doesn’t include an ounce of meat. The lacto/ovo pescatarian is one of a growing number of mixed martial arts (MMA) fighters who have adopted vegetarian lifestyles and are raving about the positive changes.

“In every kind of testing to see where I’m at, strength, speed, conditioning, I’m either right at or well ahead of the best marks I’ve ever had at this stage of training,” Fitch said in a recent Yahoo Sports interview.

Fitch, 33, said he credits the dietary success to his wife, Michele, who became vegan two years ago. She was influenced by Skinny Bitch written by Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin who explained the benefits of a vegan diet. Fitch said he read Skinny Bastard by the same authors as well as The China Study by T. Colin Campbell , a research project collaboration between Cornell University, Oxford University and the Chinese Academy of Preventive Medicine.

The fighter grew up in a completely opposite environment, though, with Midwestern parents who had meat on the table at least three times a day. Fitch said he’d eat two steaks for dinner nearly every night but changed his habits in college when he could no longer afford the luxury of animal foods. The change in diet has been nothing short of miraculous for his career.

“The biggest thing is recuperation from training,” Fitch said. “I don’t have the days where I came in flat. It’s made for the best training camp of my career.”

Jake Shields is another MMA regular who eschews meat and is thought to be the catalyst for the veggie fighter trend. Shields grew up in a vegetarian family and said he’s never known differently. He faces the most important fight of his life 10 weeks from now and is packing away the veggies and fruits with a few eggs thrown in.

“I’ve got nothing to compare it to. The only thing is nobody can train as hard or as long as me and Nick Diaz, so that seems to indicate something,” Shields said.

 Diaz, 27, yet another MMA vegetarian, gave up meat as a teenager and says he shops frequently and eats constantly on a diet that includes organic food and no preservatives.

Since all of the men train hard daily and eat low calorie diets, they eat an average of six or seven meals each day in an attempt to keep enough weight on. Mac Danzig, 31, season 6 winner of “The Ultimate Fighter,” turned full fledged vegetarian seven years ago but considers an experience with a pig at age 13 as his real impetus to give up meat. After spending a day on a farm and seeing a truck full of pigs being loaded for slaughter, he made eye contact with one of the animals and said the moment changed his life.

“I don’t understand how anyone can have an animal in their life and know what is going on and contribute to it,” Danzig said. “You don’t need any kind of animal products to be an athlete in this day and age.”

Kathryn Lorusso
Kathryn is a former journalist and English teacher who now counsels and mediates teenage drama on a daily basis in the Dallas, Ft. Worth metroplex. Time away from school is spent cooking up new macrobiotic/vegan specialties, writing various blogs and newsletters and taking as many bikram yoga classes as possible.

Photo credit:cc:flickr.com/photos/jeremyandrews