Prince Fielder ate nearly half a bagel in a single bite. It was an impressive display in quick consumption by the 270-pound slugger who was snacking before going out to practice in the Arizona sunshine. After all, he’s still consuming a lot of calories even though he’s no longer eating meat.
The 23-year-old All-Star has been a vegetarian for a month now, a drastic change for someone who once loved steaks and even starred with his dad, Cecil, in a triple cheeseburger commercial for a fast food chain when he was a kid.
“I feel a lot better. Just more energy, I don’t eat as much as I used to,” Fielder said of the switch. “I can actually feel when I’m full. It’s helped a lot with that.”
Even so, Fielder likely has some challenges ahead.
Tara Gidus, the team nutritionist for the NBA’s Orlando Magic, said that Fielder will encounter some struggles as he works to stay on the diet.
“It’s always a concern to just make sure you’re getting enough protein. It’s not difficult to get enough protein with a vegetarian diet, but it does take a little bit more careful planning than someone who is eating a lot of meat,” Gidus said. “The other concern with athletes, especially professional athletes, is that they have a lot of meals provided to them. ... He needs to make sure that whatever meals are provided for the team, there’s always something for him to eat and not just a side of mashed potatoes or something.”
Gidus said none of her current players is a vegetarian, but assistant coach Patrick Ewing is and she saw him avoid chicken pasta one day in the locker room, opting for another choice.
Current pro athletes have tried meat-free diets with varied success.
Tony Gonzalez, the All-Pro tight end of the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs, initially went vegan, shunning all animal products. He later came off that diet a little.
The team’s nutritionist persuaded Gonzalez to add a few servings of fish and chicken each week to help him maintain his 247-pound frame, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Center Nakia Sanford of the WNBA’s Washington Mystics is a vegetarian, while forward Jerry Stackhouse of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks calls himself a “flexitarian,” occasionally choosing fish and seafood instead of other meats.
“There’s a history of diabetes in my family. I didn’t want to wait until I retire and my metabolism slows down and find out I have a problem,” said Stackhouse, who said his brother is a chef and helps him make good choices. “My wife is on the program too. She’s a real big label reader so she keeps us straight. I like the result. She looks like she did when she was 20.”
Fielder’s decision on Feb. 2 came on a lark after he kept seeing how engrossed his wife, Chanel, was in one of several recent best-sellers that have exposed the unsavory side of how animals are treated and meat is processed.
Fielder couldn’t help but read the book himself, as did Stackhouse.
“I was kind of like, ‘What is this?’” Fielder said. “I grabbed it just because the title interested me and the way they were talking, it was pretty straightforward.”
Fielder, who previously ate, well, everything (virtually all of his meals had meat in them), said that his wife does eat fish, but was a vegetarian in the past. Fielder’s two young children are on a vegetarian diet with dad.
“Once I met her, she started eating meat but she never really liked meat anyway, so once I read (the book) I was like ‘You know, I don’t want to eat meat anymore.’ She was like, ‘OK, that’s fine,’” he said.
Chanel cooks for the family as Fielder has begun branching out in his vegetarian choices after relying mostly on soy protein and wheat gluten burgers at first. He even says he enjoys tofu, something it took time for him to like.
“You can (prepare) it any way you want it and it tastes like anything you make it taste like,” he said. “It’s not bad to me, because you can put garlic on it, I’ve even had it with some cheese in between.”
Fielder’s decision clashes directly with Milwaukee’s culture and such attractions as the Brewers famous racing sausages and the thousands of fans who flock to Miller Park to tailgate early on weekends.
But when the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel first noted that Fielder had become a vegetarian last month, the Internet message boards lighted up, with one popular Brewers site getting over 100 comments in less than 24 hours.
Fans mostly supported Prince’s decision to eat a field of greens, with observations like “I have to think cows are pretty enthused about this as well. However, I’d hate to be the nearest cow when Prince puts up his first 0-20 stretch” to “Maybe now they’ll finally get veggie brats in more places in (Miller Park).”
One even noted that baseball covers are made of animals, too.
“I think you should express your anger by hitting them as hard as you can with a bat.”
And in the end, that’s what Fielder has done so well early in his young career. He already set a franchise record with 50 homers last season to lead the NL.
“A lot of players will take a year like Prince had last year, 50 home runs, and be satisfied with ‘I’m a 50 home run a year hitter.’ That doesn’t satisfy Prince,” Brewers manager Ned Yost said. “Prince wants to be the best defending first baseman. He wants to be the best base runner. He wants to be the best clutch hitter. He wants to be a nice power hitter and most of all, he wants his team to win.”
And now Fielder is the model for vegetarian baseball players, too.
“I guess I am,” Fielder said, laughing. “I just wanted to be a little cleaner and it makes me feel a lot better, so I’m going to stick to it.”