Redefining Masculinity: NFL Star Takes the Lead

When I hear the term “macho,” sports immediately come to mind, specifically football and the collection of modern day gladiators that play in college and the National Football League (NFL).  These athletes have spent most of their lives honing their skills while simultaneously fortifying their bodies in preparation for physical distress, wear and tear.  One athlete in particular has drawn some criticism in the past few months, not because of his performance, or lack thereof, but because of his lifestyle choice and potential consequence of that aforementioned lifestyle choice.  Arian Foster, pro-bowl star running back of the Houston Texans, announced that he switched to a vegan diet via Twitter in early July.  A vegan diet is one which is strictly plant-based – no eggs, dairy or seafood, which are common for individuals adhering to a vegetarian diet.  Numerous studies referenced in a recent review by Claire McEvoy and colleagues in Public Health Nutrition indicate reduced health risks – coronary heart disease and Type 2 diabetes – and improved overall health status.

Many critics are concerned with his body’s ability to overcome the physical tolls to play professional football.  But Foster appears prepared and has been working with the Texans’ dietician, Roberta Anding.  Anding emphasizes a diet full of healthy, high-quality calories to replenish Foster’s body with the adequate nutrients he needs to perform at the highest levels.  While vegetarian athletes are rare, Foster is not alone.  Notable football pros Ricky Williams and Tony Gonzalez reportedly were vegans as well, in addition to other vegan athletes Serena Williams and Mixed Martial Arts fighter Mac Danzig.

So will Foster’s muscles recover without access to animal derived food products?  Will he perform as well on the field as he has in past seasons?  We’ll witness it soon enough as the season kicks off this week, but if his preseason games offer any foresight, he should produce comparable numbers.

Will Brinson, senior blogger at, alludes to a larger question for us to ponder – are men any less masculine for consuming a healthy diet full of fruits and vegetables?  As a man and sports fan, I constantly see the same stream of commercials marketing the same messages, specifically, “real men” eat like men.  Acceptable choices include double cheeseburgers with bacon, grilled steak burritos, pizzas and fried chicken.  And I find it tough to resist those messages, both because they are played over and over and have seeped into my sub consciousness, but also because I have enjoyed those foods in the past.  But as a public health professional and health coach, I have become more aware of my diet.  I don’t eat fast foods as often as I once did, but I still indulge on occasion and in moderation.  I encourage each of you to question, understand and reflect on the choices you make with the sincere hope that you’re empowered enough to define and redefine your own values as they relate to your health and well-being.

If you have any questions or comments or would like to share your own experience in redefining values, send me an email at

Ramon P. Llamas, MPH, CHES

View posts by Ramon P. Llamas, MPH, CHES
Ramon holds a Masters in Public Health degree with an emphasis on health promotion and health education from the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine and a BS in biological sciences and biomedical engineering from the University of California, Irvine. He is a member of the Men's Health Caucus of the American Public Health Association. His background includes health promotion at the US DHHS in Washington, DC and Director of Programs for Men's Health Network.

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