Venus Williams & Charity Morgan On How to Start a Plant-Based Journey
When a world-class tennis player and a celebrity chef get together, aces are served, and in this exclusive conversation that took place during Happy Viking's event at Dumbo House last week, those aces happen to be tips on how to start a plant-based diet.
Venus Williams and Chef Charity Morgan spoke to The Beet's Editorial Director, Lucy Danziger, about how to approach going plant-based, where to get your protein, and what to do if you don't want to give up your favorite meals. (That's simple, Charity explained: You make them over as vegan versions!)
For plant-based protein, laced with 60 superfoods and vitamins and minerals, Venus was explaining that her latest venture, a protein powder from Happy Viking, makes it even easier to start a plant-based lifestyle. With the type of pea and rice-based protein that you can take anywhere and whip up when you need a snack, a meal, or to refuel after a tough training session (of which she has many), Happy Viking solves the problem of making sure you get all the nutrients your body needs, without having to always have a brain bowl and perfectly balanced dinner every day.
Venus created Happy Viking – first as a shake and now as a protein and functional ingredients-packed powder – which makes it easy to whip into a smoothie or mix with your favorite plant-based milk, to get your nutrients anywhere. For Venus is solved a problem in her life, because she had always worried about getting enough nutrients, superfoods, and protein on the go, as she launched her various fashion and beauty companies and continued to train and play tennis at the highest level.
Happy Viking is now a brand that allows everyone and not just professional athletes, to use for all their plant-based nutrition needs. Charity Morgan, the chef made most famous by her appearance in The Game Changers, the documentary about athletes going plant-based for the sake of their health, recovery times, and overall performance, whipped up unique recipes to use the protein powder in delicious and easy-to-down flavored shakes. (The chocolate mint shake she made with the chocolate powder was the first tray empty at the gathering, where about 75 people came to hear Venus and Charity speak.)
Venus Williams, a top tennis player in the world, went plant-based for her health
Williams has been vegan for ten years, having made the switch when she was diagnosed with Sjögren's syndrome, an autoimmune disease that leaves you fatigued and has varying symptoms, most of them painful and too debilitating to allow you to train at the highest levels. Because she was willing to try anything to get healthier going plant-based was worth trying.
"Everyone told me to give up. I was 31 and they just said, go ahead and retire." But the athlete was not ready to just throw in the towel, she said. Venus spoke about the struggles she faced, and hard it was just getting out of bed some mornings, due to her illness. When a doctor suggested she try going plant-based she had nothing to lose. So she cut out meat and dairy, and in a matter of weeks she felt stronger, and in just a few months she says she felt unstoppable. "I wanted to get to the root of the problem," said Willaims. But she won't call herself vegan, since she is not 100 percent strict about it. Instead, the tennis star refers to her plant-based diet as "chegan" because sometimes she admits that she'll slip up. "I'm just keeping it real," she said.
Vegan chef Charity Morgan agrees that it's better to not set yourself up with labels or expectations, but instead, just try to eat more plant-based gradually, and add in a plant-based meal or two a day, then see how much you love the taste. Morgan, who is married to Derek Morgan, a former Tennesse Titans linebacker for nine years, served as Executive Producer for the popular documentary about plant-based athletes, The Game Changers, and knows exactly what plant-based athletes want to eat. Her husband ditched meat and dairy in 2017 to help his career, and Charity made the switch at the same time and began prepping meals for their new diet, as well as his teammates, who noticed how he was faster at practice, and his game improved. They too wanted to eat this way to boost performance.
The meals that Charity shared with the Titan teammates quickly became famous all over Nashville and she started preparing an assembly line of dishes for them to take back home. She became the go-to chef for these players, turning vegetables into hearty meals that were robust enough to feed guys over six feet tall, and some over three hundred pounds. Charity cooks any kind of cuisine –Italian, American, or whatever her clients like – but she is especially inspired by a mix of soul and Caribbean food, she says, from her Creole and Puerto Rican background. "When it comes to football players I mostly serve classic American dishes like vegan burgers and chicken nuggets and deep-fried mushrooms."
When I started, I asked them what they wanted, she explained, but after a while they just trusted her to cook delicious food. "It's easy to cook for these guys when they really didn't know what they were eating," she explained. "I had a player tell me he doesn't eat tofu so I called his wife and asked if he was allergic and she said no, he just doesn't like the taste. So knowing that, I marinated the tofu in all kinds of rubs and spices and sliced it real thin, like it was bacon, and added it to his Caesar salad, and he couldn't believe how much he liked tofu."
The best tips to going plant-based, from Venus Williams and Charity Morgan:
1. Start slowly and add a meatless Monday, then a vegan taco Tuesday, and keep going. If you are eager to start all at once you can do that too, but don't set yourself up for high expectations, just be kind to yourself and if you mess up, say "that's chegan" and move on.
2. Eat what you love but make it vegan. Charity mentioned dozens of recipes and they are all in her book, Unbelievably Vegan: 100+ Life-Changing Plant-Based Recipes: A Cookbook, coming out this January, which will make it even easier.
3. Lose bad habits and connect back to where food comes from. “Children are so much easier than dealing with y’all," Charity said. "We have all these habits, and things we don’t think we can live without, but kids are so connected to animals and nature. I had this one kid tell me that an apple comes from the grocery store and I thought to myself, I have a lot of work to do.
"But, if you take your children to farms or gardens and when they learn what it takes to grow one piece of fruit or vegetable, they feel connected. Children’s brains are like sponges so when you make that connection it’s so much easier to help them eat more plant-based.“
4. To get a guy, like an athlete to go plant-based, make it measurable. "I see lots of resistance," Charity says. "Athletes want results that are measurable. They don’t care what they eat as long as their stats stay the same or you get better, or you’re better on the field.
"I got into being a chef for athletes because the first season I started cooking, my husband and his closest friends (four guys) would eat my food and the rest of the guys would sit back and look at them and be naysayers. And Derek would say, 'I have to prove to them that I can do this.' Derek takes naysayers as his fuel, so he went from defenseman to a linebacker and everyone thought he could never do that. That year, Derek had the most tackles when he went vegan.”
"And all the guys who sat back watching wanted to sign up. Before the next season, I had 200 guys on my roster who wanted to eat plant-based, so the resistance was there [at first] but this is how I meet people."
5. It’s all about just trying something. "After they eat my meals they usually say 'if I could eat like this every day I would be plant-based,' Charity says. "So at that point, I would just make what they love and it got to the point of trust. So after making them 3 or 4 meals they would just tell me to make whatever they want." So find what you love to eat and make that!
6. Have a backup plan. If you can't always eat plant-based, then Happy Viking protein powder allows you to get 20 grams of complete protein, and the equivalent of a full cup of vegetable and fruit phytonutrients, according to Venus.
Along with the protein and nutrients, there are 2,800 mg of MCT oil (for brain health) and 32 mg of DHA omega-3s, plus 1 billion probiotics for gut health in each serving of Happy Viking. Venus says she often skips breakfast most days but knows that she can catch up with her nutrient requirements with a shake either after her morning practice or whenever she needs to refuel.
7. Make it affordable with plant-based proteins like rice, beans, and other hacks.
"It's expensive to eat healthy, and having access to food we should naturally be eating is an issue," Venus says. "I love the opportunity to be able to condense these nutrients in one meal so if you don’t have the opportunities to afford healthy meals at least you know you’re getting it in Happy Viking powders that will last you throughout the day. You’re getting more for your value." Happy Viking costs $54 for a large container of powder, which works out to just under $3.50 per serving when you buy it on the company's subscription plan.
Watch Exclusive Videos from the Event with Venus and Charity
Venus pointed out that not only does she love the flavor of Happy Viking, and the fact that everything is dairy-free, but she also loves that each shake includes essential minerals that help boost mental toughness for when she's in the court, like DHA and Omega 3s, or as she called them "brain foods."
Check out the video for the entire conversation and find out everything about how to eat more plant-based, what Williams and Morgan eat in a day, how to cook like a celebrity chef, and more. Follow The Beet's Instagram for extra exclusive content from the event.
20 Athletes Who Went Vegan to Get Stronger