In the sport of MMA, nutrition has become almost as important as the actual training and conditioning that goes into a fight.
The science of weight cutting has also become an art form. With diet and nutrition gurus like Mike Dolce in high demand, athletes are becoming better fighters because they are becoming smarter eaters.
One fighter who has always had a different lifestyle when it came to the way he approached nutrition is UFC 129 main event fighter Jake Shields. You see, Shields grew up as a vegetarian, and has carried that into his adult life and into his fight life.
He’s not one to tell people they shouldn’t eat meat, but he does like to portray the positive side of being a vegetarian. The side that proves you can be a champion as well as a vegetarian.
“I’ve grown up this way, so it’s what I’m used to,” Shields told MMAWeekly Radio about his vegetarian lifestyle. “I feel great this way and I plan on staying a vegetarian. My whole life people trying to get me to eat meat, telling me I couldn’t be a top athlete like this.
“I love proving people wrong. I’m not trying to preach to people to not eat meat, but I just like to show people there is an alternative. If you’re an athlete and you don’t want to eat meat, it’s nothing you have to do.”
Several high profile MMA fighters have either been vegetarian or gone vegetarian over the past few years. Fighters like Jon Fitch, Mac Danzig, and, most recently, former “Ultimate Fighter” winner James Wilks have all given up any type of animal flesh, turning to an all vegetarian diet.
In other pro sports, several major athletes have also gone the vegetarian way. Milwaukee Brewers’ slugger Prince Fielder, NFL pro bowl tight end Tony Gonzalez, and several others have opted for a vegetarian lifestyle, and have continued to be successful in their given trades.
Shields has set the bar for vegetarians in MMA, considering he has spent his whole life not eating meat. Other fighters have called on him in the past for advice on how to make the move to a vegetarian diet, and he’s happy to share his experiences to anyone who asks.
“It’s good to be an example that you can do what you want. James Wilks just went vegan, I think last month. He just called me and I know more and more guys are doing it. I think that’s pretty cool,” Shields said.
“I’m starting a trend maybe.”
According to nutritionist and trainer Mike Dolce, who works with some of the top athletes in the sport, he says Shields is a testament to what vegetarians could accomplish as far as MMA goes. While he still believes that eating meat is beneficial when done the right way, Shields’ vegetarian lifestyle has worked out great for him.
“I’m actually more for vegetarian lifestyle than the average American lifestyle by far. And I’m more for a vegetarian lifestyle than I am the common trend amongst fighters, which is using bodybuilding science for their nutrition. In that aspect, I think Jake is really ahead of the curve,” Dolce told MMAWeekly.com.
“I think Jake and Mac are great examples, Nick Diaz, Nate (Diaz), they’re also vegetarians, so that being said, they are some of the top fighters in the world.”
Shields has also been active as a spokesman for PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), doing a commercial and print campaign for the group. He spoke out about the cruel treatment of animals by major restaurants like McDonald’s, and how he hopes to help even in a small way to try and end it from happening.
Still, while Shields’ convictions are strong and he’s not planning on changing any time soon, he doesn’t want to preach to anyone how they choose to live their lives or control their diets. But if someone is asking, Shields is happy to share his success story.
“It’s something I feel is the right thing to do, and I’m happy doing it,” said Shields. “I’m not the type of person to ever preach to people doing it. I think everyone’s got to make their own decisions, but I just try to be an example more than anything.
“Showing people that if you don’t want to eat meat and you want to be an athlete, you can still do it.”
Damon Martin is the lead staff writer and radio host for MMAWeekly.com.
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