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How One Chef is Getting NFL Players to Go Vegan

The Tennessee Titans made the playoffs this season for the first time since 2013. Their secret weapon? A vegan chef.

When Tennessee Titans outside linebacker Derrick Morgan went vegan, his wife, chef Charity Morgan (who trained at Le Cordon Bleu) quickly joined him, designing gourmet plant-based dishes for their family. Though teammates teased Derrick at first, other Titans soon saw how well he was eating and asked for the meals themselves. Before the end of the season, a number of Derrick’s teammates had become devotees of Charity’s delicious creations such as zucchini butternut squash lasagna and portabello steaks with chimichurri sauce. The players and team have seen the positive results, both in their improved performance on the field and in their faster recovery time from injury. VegNews spoke with Charity Morgan about her role in the Titans’ plant-based journey.

VegNews: How did Derrick become vegan?
Charity Morgan:
Last off-season, he hired a nutritionist and the nutritionist was like, “Hey, have you ever considered to just give up meat? It will lower your inflammation in your body, recovery will be so much faster.” [T]hose are all things he was very excited to hear because in the NFL, it’s a 100-percent-guaranteed-injury sport, so you’re always looking for ways to bring down inflammation and speed up recovery. He started with vegan snacks and then he said, “You know what? I’m just going to do this [veganism] wholeheartedly.” I said, “I’ll do it with you.”

VN: Did you see changes in his performance as a football player?
CM:
Yes, absolutely. Normally it would take these guys three to four days to get back to feeling remotely like themselves again, but when he started eating plant-based, recovery went so much faster. Every football player has inflammation (due to) the constant pounding of the bones and muscles every day.

VN: A number of the Titans are now eating vegan meals prepared by you. How did that happen?
CM:
At first they started teasing him, like, “Oh, Derrick and his plants, again.” But then when he would open up his container, all the guys at the table would stop and be like, “Wait! That looks so good. What is that?” It happened by me bringing meals, and they were like, “Can you ask your wife if I can be on the meal plan, too?” I started sending them to documentaries such as What the Health and Forks Over Knives, and I remember the guy who teased us the most on the team—Wesley Woodyard. His wife said, “We’re going to watch this What the Health.” After he watched it, his wife called me and said, “Wesley hasn’t eaten in 24 hours. He’s just eating smoothies. Can you help him?” I said, “Don’t tell him that you talked to me—I’ll fix this for him.” I sent him a free meal, and from there it was history.

VN: What does the food plan look like for a vegan playing professional football?
CM:
It doesn’t look any different—it’s just more meals. Because they burn so many calories, they’re eating heftier. I started asking the guys, “What do you normally eat? Give me five of your favorite recipes.” I make them what they’ve already been eating, but it’s a plant-based version of it. A lot of my guys aren’t big eaters. They usually have one or two meals that are their big meals and then between is a lot of snacking. I know it’s kind of unbelievable to think like that. They have two days they’re practicing twice a day, and the last thing an athlete wants is to feel heavy and weighed down as they’re on the field running and pressing up against other 300-pound athletes.

VN: Are there any foods that you’ve observed to be more helpful to football players in their recovery?
CM:
Yes. I snuck turmeric into almost every meal because we all know the science behind turmeric—it lowers inflammation in your joints. I would send them protein shakes that had the turmeric in it. Turmeric would probably be the No. 1 thing that I used a lot, almost in every meal.

VN: You’re seeing veganism growing among your husband’s team, but do you see it becoming a trend with other NFL players?
CM:
Yes. There is a whole new round of NFL players who are coming into the league, come March and April, after the draft. To have these guys that are embarking on lifestyles like this … it’s going to scratch the heads of the new rookies coming in. The Titans hadn’t seen a playoff game since 2013, but we went to the playoffs this season in 2017 because obviously there’s a correlation between eating right and performance.

VN: There’s always a group of people around a football team. Have you had to address any of their concerns?
CM:
I sent the general manager a meal, and he was blown out of his mind. He texted my husband and was like, “I cannot believe how amazing you guys are eating.”

Maya Gottfried is the author of Vegan Love: Dating and Partnering for the Cruelty-Free Gal and Our Farm: By the Animals of Farm Sanctuary. 

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