football Edit

Jordan Johnson adopts meat-free lifestyle

UCF center Jordan Johnson is proud to be a plant-based student-athlete.

That may come as a surprise for an offensive lineman who needs to maintain a higher weight, but the Jacksonville native is actually part of a growing trend of athletes who are forgoing meat and adopting a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle.

Johnson currently identifies as a vegetarian (no meat) but is strongly considering becoming a full-fledged vegan (no animal products).

"I'm probably going to (go vegan) soon, probably within the next couple weeks," Johnson said. "My older brother (Kaleb Johnson) is a vegan. He's been in the NFL, currently a free agent in his fourth year. He went to Rutgers. He's been influencing me, telling me I shouldn't really be eating meat. It's not good for me. You don't need meat to be big and strong, which is what the stigma is. I identify as vegetarian right now, or a plant-based athlete. I just feel like meat gets such a good rep, but it's really not as good as everybody makes it seem."

After cutting out meat three months ago, Johnson says he quickly saw positive benefits, feeling quicker and a lot more energetic. Beyond health, he had moral reasons for going to a plant-based diet.

"I felt like meat is not a healthy decision," Johnson said. "I felt like slaughtering animals is wrong. The more I thought about it, eating meat is kind of weird even though I'd been doing it for 20 years of my life. Looking back on it, we really eat dead corpses if you think about it. I don't want to judge anybody. I'm definitely not a judgmental person. I'm not going to look at somebody differently because they eat meat. I was a guy who ate meat for 20 years, but I don't plan on eating meat in the future."

He says the coaching staff was initially concerned about keeping up his protein intake, but those fears were allayed after creating a diet plan with UCFAA's nutritionist, Trish Kellogg.

"She's a wonderful woman," Johnson said. "She knows a lot about nutrition. I'm speaking with her constantly and making sure I'm getting what I need."

What's a typical day's worth of food look like?

"I do a lot of protein shakes," Johnson said. "They have them for us any time we want to go in there and make them on our own. I still eat eggs, but if I go vegan I'll end up cutting eggs out. As of right now, my breakfast consists of a couple eggs, maybe some potatoes, maybe some grits and always a bowl of oatmeal with like a scoop of protein just to make sure I'm getting in that protein that I need in the morning. That sustains me until after practice. After practice I'm having like some rice and green beans, always a vegetable. Some peas. They have sugar snap peas for us. Dinner is much of the same of what I had for lunch, a lot of rice."

Johnson says the recent opening of the Garvy Nutrition Center has been extremely beneficial as the chefs there can tailor meals to each individual student-athlete. A year ago, his breakfast and lunch options would have been much more limited.

"The Garvy Center has been working wonders for me because I'm a vegetarian and it's allowed me to be a vegetarian," Johnson said. "It's allowed me the resources that I need. Back during football camp in August, we had a snack at the end of every day and they made sure to have something for me that didn't have meat in it."

The hardest foods he had to give up were chicken wings and some of his mother's pasta dishes.

"I don't want to be mistaken that I don't like meat," Johnson said. "Meat still tastes good, but I just don't think it's right for me."

While Johnson hasn't been able to convince any of his football teammates to join him, he's certainly not the only vegetarian or vegan athlete on campus.

"A lot of the girls on the rowing team are vegetarian," Johnson said. "Many of them are international students who in their cultures don't grow up eating meat. I talk to them. I post a lot about it on social media and they comment on it, giving me tips. It's very helpful. I love the family around UCF."

And he's not alone in the football world either.

"When I did research on it, I learned that a lot of best people are actually vegan or vegetarian, like Arian Foster," Johnson said. "The year he was the leading rusher in the NFL, he was a vegan that year. Tom Brady has dabbled in veganism. The best guys in the league are eating healthier and watching out for their bodies."

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