Tony Gonzalez is considered by many (including me) to be the greatest tight end ever to play in the NFL. He attributes his success and his ability to perform at such a high-level for so long (it's his fourteenth season) to his mostly plant-based diet. In fact, in 2007 Tony went completely vegan after reading The China Study, but after losing too much weight he incorporated some clean meat back into his diet to maintain his strength and weight.
Tony is now on a mission to educate people about their health and wellness, and the benefits of eating a more plant-based diet. He recently launched a line of protein powder, called All Pro Science, which he created from his own personal protein batch (pea, brown rice, and hemp protein with flax seed).
I talked to Tony about everything from the fateful flight where the passenger next to him first told him about The China Study, his philosophy on food, and even Otis Spunkmeyer cookies. Yes, back in 1994 as a freshman basketball player at Columbia University, I guarded Tony (he also played basketball in addition to football at Cal) in the Otis Spunkmeyer classic at the Oakland Coliseum.
MBG: Is it true that you first got exposed to eating a more plant-based diet after sitting next to someone on a flight reading The China Study?
TG: Well, it’s sort of true. The meal service came around and I ordered the shrimp salad for an appetizer. The guy sitting next to me said he’d have the shrimp salad but without shrimp. Then when the entrees came around he opted for the vegetarian dish. Then the dessert tray came with cookies and milk, and he opted for the fruit. So after that I asked him if he was a vegetarian and he said he was a vegan. I had no idea what a ‘vegan’ was at the time, but then we started talking and he mentioned The China Study and suggested I pick up the book. I like to read and since he said the book changed his life, I figured it’d definitely be worth reading. So I went out and read it.
With all the scary statistics on the short life spans of pro football players, and your bout with Bell’s Palsy, was choosing to eat a more plant-based diet completely a health choice for you?
Absolutely. This was completely a decision about health. For me it was finding an edge – becoming as healthy as I could be. At the time I was going on my tenth year in the NFL, so in NFL-terms, I was getting up there in age. I was hurting so bad physically and I remember saying to myself, if I could just play more two more years it would be awesome. Now I’m going on year fourteen so it definitely worked. At first, I tried going vegan but I lost a lot of weight – I lost ten pounds immediately. I wasn’t getting enough protein, I wasn’t doing it the right way. I then reached out to Colin Campbell, the author of The China Study, who got me in touch with Jon Hinds, a bodybuilder who is a vegan (or pretty close to being vegan – he might eat some wild fish). Jon and Colin were extremely helpful and helped get my diet on track. Also, the more I read about eating healthy -- the more you eat organic, local, cutting down your meat intake – it’s also better for the environment.
Going 100% vegan is hard…. What was the hardest/easiest thing for you once you went for it?
I’m one of those people, if I decide to do something, I do it, so it was pretty easy for me to get started. I felt so great, I had so much energy, I felt like my body went through almost a detox stage.
It was difficult from the standpoint of losing weight and losing strength. Football is my livelihood and maintaining weight is important, so that was pretty scary. Once I started to really educate myself about eating a more plant-based diet, but incorporating some clean meat into it – some wild fish, free-range chicken, grass-fed beef (I rarely eat beef, if at all) – I was able to get back that strength.
So what do you eat now to get protein?