Mushroom burgers and tofu: Trent Williams hopes vegan diet helps body, performance

RICHMOND, Virginia -- Washington Redskins tackle Trent Williams does not sit in the cafeteria and gaze at teammates’ trays or get wistful as he smells what’s being cooked. When Williams sits down to another vegan meal, he’s not fighting an urge to push his plate aside and dive into one that includes meat.

He's happy with what's on his plate.

“Temptation is something that comes along when you’re doing something you don’t want to do,” Williams said. “It’s a choice. There’s no temptation. No one is policing me saying I can or can’t eat meat. It was a decision on my part.”

One that he’ll keep doing. Williams touts the Redskins’ offensive line as Hogs 2.0, but Hogs 1.0 were full of beer-drinking, meat-eating players. Williams, though, keeps looking for an edge, and this offseason that included altering what he eats. There’s a family history of diabetes, but there’s also a desire by the five-time Pro Bowler to play a long time and find any way to maintain an advantage. There has been no drop-off in his performance during camp.

How much longer he continues eating vegan remains uncertain. Williams’ month doing so ended Sunday, and he’s debating if he should stick to it or, per the advice of his nutritionist, add fish a few times a week.

“I’ll never go back to eating like I used to,” Williams said.

Williams started on this path in part because of a documentary called “What the Health.” But, he said, he was already contemplating a change. When he decided to do it, he went (pun intended) cold turkey.

“I set a date that I wanted to do it, and before that day leading up to it, I binged on everything I thought I would miss,” Williams said. “Barbecue, Mexican food, a good steak. All the stuff I had eaten a lot.”

Here’s a look at Williams’ typical meals now, compared with the past:

Breakfast: A smoothie, with fruit and kale. Williams adds a vegan protein supplement given to him by a nutritionist. He’ll usually have two smoothies, totaling between 20 and 24 ounces. That suffices until lunch. In the past, Williams ate what he called a typical breakfast: a big omelet, maybe a waffle.

Lunch: Lately, he has been eating pasta with mushrooms or spinach and sometimes tofu. If he wants something with more substance, he’ll add french fries. “Something that sticks to my stomach a little longer,” he said. That holds him through the 3 p.m. practice. Before, Williams was like most of his teammates at lunch, eating a variety of food -- but always something with meat.

Dinner: Lately, he has had a lot of stir-fry vegetables or various forms of pasta, topped with vegetables. He goes heavy on the carbs to maintain energy and to help stay hydrated. But his favorite meal so far: a portobello mushroom burger. “That was pretty good. Actually, it was real good,” Williams said. “It had a lot of flavor.” After meetings, he’ll down another smoothie, around 20 ounces. Dinner before his new diet? Meat.

“[Before], sometimes I’d eat lunch and feel it in my stomach for hours,” Williams said. “Sometimes, I’d feel sluggish. Sometimes I wouldn’t eat breakfast before 1 p.m. games because I knew it would make me sluggish. Now I eat breakfast and my body burns it the right way.”

Williams consulted with Redskins nutritionist Jake Sankal. Teammate Jordan Reed tried a vegan diet in the offseason but stopped because he felt he was losing too much weight. That was an issue for Williams early on as well. He played last season at 323 pounds, but he dipped below 310 after going vegan.

“To be honest, I was scared to get on a scale,” Williams said. “I didn’t want to scare myself out of it.”

But he said he now weighs right around 320.

“He’s in a good spot weight-wise, as good a weight as he’s ever had around here,” said Redskins coach Jay Gruden, who has lost 22 pounds on his own altered regimen of improved diet and exercise. “We will see how it goes, but he’s in contact with Jake.”

The hardest food to give up, Williams said, was cheese and dairy in general. It has forced him to closely scan ingredient lists, and it’s why he now eats kettle chips as a snack rather than Cheetos or Doritos.

He did indulge one time, celebrating his 29th birthday on July 19 with a burger.

“I tried to treat myself, but it ended up hurting,” Williams said. “It tasted good going down but sat in my stomach all night. During my workout [the next day], I could feel it the whole time. It took longer to digest than it used to.”

Teammates pepper him with questions, wondering if they should try it, as well, including safeties D.J. Swearinger, Will Blackmon and DeAngelo Hall, who is looking for any help in recovering from last season’s torn ACL. Guards Arie Kouandjio and Isaiah Williams joined Williams over the last month.

“You feel an overall difference with your energy,” Williams said. “I just feel better. ... If it keeps me healthier, why not?”