Austin Aries is another one of those athletes that are starting to fill up our news feeds with their stories. You know the ones: strong, powerful, successful who are (gasp) vegan. The former WWE wrestler, who grew up on brats and beer, cut meat out of his diet in 2000 and six years ago, went entirely vegan. How’d he do it? What did he learn?
His new memoir, “FOOD FIGHT: My Plant Powered Journey from the Bingo Halls to the Big Time” shares his journey from growing up in the midwest to joining the WWE ranks and his rise to fame … along with his journey into a vegan lifestyle.
We got to chat with him about all things vegan and yes, ask the popular question: but where do you get your protein?
Vegans, Baby: You were brought up in the midwest. How did that shape your diet? What did you eat growing up?
Austin Aries: I grew up just outside of Milwaukee in Waukesha, Wisconsin. Obviously, Wisconsin is known for dairy, cheese, beer, brauts and burgers. My grandparents had a small far and that was around me, too. I had the typical midwest diet — beer, brauts and hot dogs. Around that time, there was also the push to microwave stuff, heating up and serving frozen pizzas, things like that.
VB: What brought you into the world of pro-wrestling?
AA: I started watching wrestling when I was four. It kind of grabbed my attention and when I saw wrestling on TV, it captivated me. I was an athlete as a kid and played baseball and football. I became a fan [of wrestling] and followed it closely from that time on. I never thought about getting into it necessarily, but after my attempt at college and looking for direction, as fate would have it, it presented itself and I didn’t look back.
VB: What was the catalyst in your switch to become vegan?
AA: It really was a journey and is what my book chronicles. All these seeds that were planted as I was discovering myself. [For example] I had this moment with one of the livestock on my grandma and grandpas farm and connecting to the livestock at a deeper lever … and then having to disconnect when dinner was served that night. My book chronicles these seeds and how it eventually took hold. Before wrestling I was doing some traveling and trying to find myself. I met this guy and he said red meat and pork aren’t good for you, so that was a seed that was planted in far as thinking of food in terms of health and questioning the food and diet. I started to think of it in those terms instead of I don’t like the way food tastes, can I afford it?, how quick can I get it? In 2000, I stopped eating meat and began to learn more about food and making it more of a priority. I kept peeling back layers and almost six years ago cut all dairy and eggs, right after the launch of “Forks Over Knives.” For me it was that little nudge. I had been teetering back and forth and watching that was enough to put it away for good.
VB: How has your life changed since you went vegan?
AA: If you embrace the plant-based community, the vegan community, they are very welcoming. I realize that with what I do with my career, it provides me a platform to spread this message and maybe plant some seeds for other younger kids out there who may look up to me a as professional wrestler or people in general who are curious about a vegan lifestyle. Can you be an athlete? Can you build muscle? I’m an example of a healthy, successful, athletic vegan athlete.
VB: Of course, we have to ask the Million Dollar Question: but where do you get your protein?
VB: Can you give us an example of what you eat in a day? What is your workout routine?
AA: If I’m at home and not traveling (it can be a little different when traveling and a set of circumstances I had to learn how to navigate) I’m usually a big fan of the Vitamix, the Cadillac of Blenders. I like to start my day with a smoothie (a banana, maybe a 1/4 or 1/2 cup of steel cut oats, frozen blueberries and spinach, a scoop of plant-based protein powder and a sprinkle of healthy fat like chia seeds of flax seeds, and cinnamon and cardamom for flavor). I blend it up and get my day going with some complex carbs, fruits, antioxidants and greens. It packs a lot of nutrients and calories right off the bat. I’m a fan of tofu scrambles and I make a tofu scramble with a couple of pieces of sprouted grain toast and grapefruit, then some nutritional yeast to sprinkle on that. It’s always delicious. I found black salt — its got the sulfur taste – and it’s good for your egg stuff. The lentil pasta they are coming out with now is phenomenal. You can eat a nice plate of pasta and not have all the carbs. I might do a pasta dish and lentil burgers. For convenience, you have all your various Beyond Meat and Gardein meatless products. They are a little more processed and quick, but delicious. I really enjoy food and I love realizing that there isn’t really anything I miss that I used to eat or crave now that I can’t replicate the flavor. From BLTs to Ruebens, to baked ziti and pizza. The question is what don’t I eat? Animals. Animal secretions. Animal byproducts.
VB: What is your workout routine?
AA: My workout is always evolving and that’s the important thing. When it comes to working out, I don’t know that is important to adhere to a certain routine as long as you are doing something. I’ve been doing wrestling going on 17 years and it’s listening to my body and working out the things that feel good. Doing work and maintenance with stretches and foam rolling is as important. Just doing something, being active, if it’s yoga, weight training, I try to do a little bit of everything and work with different trainers and different times. I’m a big fan of aqualogics, stuff you can do in pool, basically resistance training in the water. I think like anything else, variety is the spice of life and it keeps your muscles guessing and keeps you engaged so you don’t get bored doing the same thing.
VB: What made you want to write this book?
AA: I think that over the course of my career and my journey with a plant-based diet, I realized people have a lot of the same questions or the same preconceived notions. This was my opportunity to answer those questions and share my story. I’m a normal guy, I started out as a normal guy in the mid west, a cheese-eating , bratwurst- eating midwestern kid, to being a plant-based pro wrestler. More importantly, [I wanted to] plant some of those seeds that were planted for me and help open some eyes and have people look at their diet and food choices differently.
VB: If you could offer one piece of advice for people who want to go vegan but are concerned about staying in shape, what would it be?
AA: Get yourself the tools and knowledge to be successful. If you are trying to hammer a nail in with a butter knife, you might give up kind of quickly. Give yourself the tolls and education so you can make the switch. I always tell people to go slow unles you have that “aha moment” and the convictions, people are more successful with the gradual journey. The reason I use “plant-based” as opposed to “vegan” is because if I tell people to implement more of a plant-based lifestyle, they don’t have to attach it to a label They feel it is more inclusive and can encourage them to take those steps. Sure, it would be great if they came all the way and went vegan, but I don’t want to leave anyone out because they are not as vegan as I am. My message is raising awareness and showing how everyone can benefit from being more plant-based — the environment, our health, consciousness, animals. I don’t care if everyone becomes 100 percent all of the time, but what I do know is I was raised to live the other extreme where every meal I ate meat, dairy, eggs and most other people do, too, because that is how they are raised, that is society. This is so off base, so misguided. If we can find a balance and move towards a plant-based lifestyle, the better off we are all going to be.
VB: What’s next for you?
AA: I don’t know! It’s wide open. There are a lot of cool opportunities for me.
VB: What are your recommendations for docs/books/etc for those interested:
AA: “Forks Over Knives” was very impactful for me, “What the Health” I can’t recommend that one enough. I’m trying to tell my friends and family just to watch it. Robert Cheeke and his book, “Shred It” is really just a wealth of knowledge as a vegan body builder. I always enjoy following him and what he is up to. Social media has exploded, too. There are so many accounts I enjoy following like Bad Ass Vegan.
Photos: Lee South