Johnson’s diet transformation was not inspired by a low level of performance; the 2016 Pro Bowl athlete posted 15-straight games with over 100 yards from scrimmage last year, matching NFL great Barry Sanders for the longest single-season streak in league history. Ranked 7th in the NFL in rushing yards and second for rushing touchdowns, Johnson has earned his rank at No. 12 on the NFL Top 100 Players of 2017 list.
Despite suffering an injury late last season, his diet change was not related to doctor or nutritionist recommendations, either.
Johnson altered his diet based of off Netflix documentaries: “What the Health” and “Forks Over Knives.” The films report on the advantages of a plant-based diet and inspired Johnson to do his own research on the best dietary plan for him.
After learning about the dietary habits of society today, Johnson approaches mealtime in a new way. Because Johnson had lost too much weight completely cutting meat out of his diet, he consumes some animal-derived products, but has adjusted his approach to eating overall.
“It wasn’t as hard [to do] as I thought it would be,” Johnson told ESPN.com. “I thought it would definitely be hard just because, as Americans, we’re taught to eat a whole bunch of meat. It’s not even just eating meat, it’s the portions. What I’ve learned is that we’re taught eating like 24 ounces of steak is a manly thing, when really you’re only supposed to eat 8 to 10 [ounces] as a portion.
“We’ve learned that meat is bad for you,” he continued in the same article, “but it’s really where you get the meat from and how much you eat of that meat in each sitting, because most Americans eat lunch, dinner, supper and it’s always meat and it’s always a huge portion. We’re just learning about that stuff.”
Johnson explained that instead of eating fewer, large meals, he now consumes smaller dishes more frequently, about six per day.
The Cardinals running back, however, is not the only NFL player to find success in a plant-based diet. New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has long been an advocate for vegan eating, and Washington Redskins tackle Trent Williams, Detroit Lions running back Theo Riddick, San Diego Chargers tackle Brandon Mebane and more have all credited “What the Health” for their switches to plant-based diets.
Only time will tell if these meat-free meals are a passing trend or lasting strategy for high level competitors searching for success.