By Marty Mulcahey | 25 January 2019
An intelligently structured nutritional plan is the foundation of any athlete's success; so, when an elite champion tries something new it raises questions. That was the case with two-division world titleholder Tim Bradley, famous for defeating a prime Manny Pacquiao in 2012 putting an end to the legendary boxers seven-year run of victories.
Over a twelve-year career, Bradley accumulated five world titles becoming a regular attraction on HBO, Showtime, and pay-per-per-view broadcasts.
Genial and generous with his time, Bradley talked with Fighting Arts Health Lab (F.A.H.L.) about when, how, and why he chose a vegan diet to prepare for some of the sternest tests in all sports.
F.A.H.L. - What was your introduction to veganism?
Tim Bradley - A naturopathic doctor (Steven Livingstead) who worked with a vitamin salesman my nutritionist knew. I was getting ready for a fight and really struggled making weight almost ending up in the hospital.
The doctor told me he could aid me with natural methods in a proper way, and I made weight easily following his program. From there I started learning for myself in-depth doing my own research.
Such as how to build testosterone without taking illegal supplements by eating brazil nuts. If you want to cut fats snack on almonds. Spirulina powder or pills have every amino acid you need. Stuff like that.
F.A.H.L. - What basic rules did you follow with your veganism?
Tim Bradley - If it had eyes or a mom I did not eat it (laughter)
F.A.H.L. - Did you only go vegan during training camps or did you completely change your diet.
Tim Bradley - It was only during training camp that I would adopt the diet because it made it easier for me to make weight. It also gave me an extreme amount of energy. Instead of taking a couple days to break down a piece of animal product, or meat, I would eat things like beans that would give me instant fuel. That absorb very slowly into the bloodstream. I would have consistent energy all day long. It didn’t take three days for me to digest foods.
F.A.H.L. - Was it just a physical boost?
F.A.H.L. - Did you seek outside advice from doctors or nutritionist before you went on the diet, what convinced you to try this?
Tim Bradley - Absolutely. I consulted with a naturopathic doctor, and he asked me if I ever saw great apes? I said yeah, and he told me, ‘You see how big they are, how strong they are, how fast they are, how agile they are? Their genetic makeup is very similar to ours and they are mainly vegan.’ I said say no more. It gave me unbelievable stamina, and that is why I was able to capture a lot of world championships. I was able to endure because I had the stamina to pour it on as they faded during the championship rounds. I got stronger as my fights went on.
F.A.H.L. - What time period in your career did you employ a vegan diet?
Tim Bradley - It began when I was training for the Junior Witter fight (Bradley’s first world title fight) in 2008. I was getting ready to fight for the championship of the world, and because it was in England when I arrived, I was pretty much only eating fruit every morning. I could not eat much of anything because the hotel did not have a lot of great choices for me. I would just eat fruit and porridge.
Toward the back end of my career I actually transitioned back to meat a little, I started eating very limited amounts of meat after the second Pacquiao fight.
F.A.H.L. - What precipitated that decision?
Tim Bradley - The reason I went back to consuming animal products is because I suffered injuries in the two Pacquiao fights. In the first fight I suffered a ligament tear on the bottom of my foot, and in the second fight I tore a calf muscle. After talking with some doctors they said I was not consuming enough or the right amino acids.
F.A.H.L. - Was that the only concern?
Tim Bradley - One of the things when you do become a vegan you definitely have to stay on top of is your iron intake. If you don’t you will feel tired and lazy at times.
F.A.H.L. - Did other boxers ask you about a vegan diet seeing your results?
Tim Bradley - Yeah, I talked to Andre Ward about it but he did not end up going on it. Andre Berto as well, there were a few other fighters who asked me about it. A lot showed interest but did not educate themselves further.
F.A.H.L. - What was your trainer Joel Diaz’s reaction?
Tim Bradley - In the beginning he thought I was crazy and not consuming enough proteins. He was surprised when he saw the change in me. He saw how my weight would drop but my energy stayed high. He was amazed I could consume so much food and still make weight. I would have vegan pasta all week before a fight and they asked me how I still make weight?
F.A.H.L. - What about variety did you get bored with the food?
Tim Bradley - At the end of the day if it did not taste good, I was not eating it. People think vegan food is bland but it’s not. It is rich food with vibrant colors, spices, and herbs. It was wonderful. It helped me stay away from salt. Because the food has natural sodium content in it you don’t need to add it. When I sweat it was like water.
F.A.H.L. - Did it cost more than a meat and potato diet?
Tim Bradley - It is not cheap. I had to purchase the finest food, and a lot of organic stuff. My grocery bill for a two-week period could be $500, it was expensive. I planned accordingly, wherever I was fighting I did my research before about vegan restaurants or Whole Foods Market stores and such. When it got to the point where I was making enough money, I brought my own vegan chef to camp who cooked breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Fighting Arts Health Lab - Bottom line, would you recommend a vegan diet for all fighting arts?
Tim Bradley - I would absolutely recommend it. One, you won’t have a hard time making weight. Two, they will have mental clarity and a lot of energy. If I was to ever come back, I would go right back to that diet and come back with vengeance. I felt best on the vegan diet, I really did.
Before starting any significant dietary change you should discuss those changes with your healthcare professional.