Daniel Bryan is vegan, but don't call him Soy Boy. Well, you can, but you might regret it. Bryan is a WWE Superstar, a heavyweight champ who proves you can be meatless and still kick ass.
"I knew I wanted to wrestle when I was little kid. It took hold in me, captured my imagination," says Bryan. He'd wrestled for years, but went vegan in 2009, when he became part of WWE.
At the same time, he learned he had elevated liver enzymes "and all this other stuff -- skin infections and my cholesterol was really high."
The WWE folks were talking drugs. Bryan talked alternatives. "My doctor said, 'Try a vegan diet.'"
As Bryan discovered, "Meats, cheese, dairy and all that takes a lot of energy for your body to digest." A plant-based diet "is very easy for your body to digest." Rather than using his energy to fight infection, Bryan could use it in the ring to slam his opponent.
"My health is so much better. I'm bigger now than I was eating meat. My lifts in the gym are better. I'm in better shape. A lot of people thought you couldn't be a top-level athlete as a vegan, but people like Mac Danzig and Jake Shields are proving that's wrong. And it's better for me as a performer," says Bryan.
"The other wrestlers just think it's weird. They don't understand it." He just smiles. He didn't need meat to win the 2010 heavyweight championship.
In training, he eats "a lot of Asian food -- brown rice and vegetables, salad and protein shakes." On tour, Bryan packs a lot of his own food, including kale chips, which he makes himself. "My diet is very kale-heavy. It's so nutrient-dense. I stay away from fake processed stuff." His big indulgence is the occasional vegan cupcake.
Peta2 named Bryan most Animal-Friendly Athlete, but being friendly isn't what WWE is about. Wrestling fans have been known to chant, "Bacon, bacon, bacon," while he's in the ring. He shrugs it off. "I'm healthier than everybody else. All the omega-3s make me smarter."
Compassion is a cornerstone of being plant-based, so how does Bryan square that with trying to rip his opponent's face off? "The duality of man." A philosophical wrestling superstar? Must be the omega-3s. "I'm pretty much friendly and compassionate to everybody," says Bryan. "But not to people in the ring."
Though being vegan put him in touch with his compassionate nature, it also developed his badass side. Once looking like the hulk you bring home to mom, Bryan got a buzz cut and grew a beard and an attitude. Bryan, to use the wrestling biz term, is a heel.
What kind of heel? One who ditched his girl during Wrestlemania XXVIII before he defended his heavyweight title against Sheamus. Um, that might have been a miscalculation. Hey, even a Superstar can be off his game after a breakup.
He'll be back. He's already training for his rematch at Extreme Rules on April 29, preparing by "stretching, activating my hips, working my legs," and fueling up on plant-based protein and complex carbs. "Our lifestyles are grueling. I can't go back to getting as sick as I was. It's safer to stay vegan."
The work is physical, but also mental. "I'm visualizing everything that could happen in the match," he says. "I'm in there and I'm kicking him as hard as I can."
Chili-Spiked Tofu With Broccoli and Brown Rice
Plant-based protein, complex carbs, chili and broccoli come together for an Asian dish suitable for pro wrestlers and couch potatoes alike.
8 ounces firm tofu, cut into bite-sized cubes
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
3 tablespoons sriracha (Asian chili sauce) *
2 tablespoons sesame oil *
3 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari
1 teaspoon agave or brown sugar
1 cup brown rice
2 cups water or vegetable broth
1 head broccoli, chopped
1/2 cup fresh mint, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup cashews
In medium-sized bowl, mix together soy, chili sauce, sesame oil. Stir in sugar until dissolved.
Add cubed tofu, stirring a few times to coat. Let tofu marinate in soy-chili mixture while you make brown rice and broccoli.
In a large pot, bring water or vegetable broth to boil over high heat. Add brown rice. Cover and reduce heat to low. Let rice cook for 30 minutes, or tender and all the liquid is absorbed. Return lid to pot and remove from heat, allowing rice to cool.
In a large pot, steam broccoli until crisp-tender and vivid green, about 7 minutes. Drain and immediately rinse in cold water and cover with a handful of ice. This stops the cooking process and keeps the broccoli at its green and vibrant best. When broccoli cools, blot dry.
Toss broccoli with tofu and marinade. Gently mix in cilantro and mint.
Heat oven to 400. Roast cashews for 8 to 10 minutes, until golden and fragrant. Coarsely chop.
Fluff rice with a fork. Serve broccoli and tofu over brown rice. Garnish with chopped cashews.
Enjoy room temperature or chilled. Refrigerated, it keeps several days.
*Available at Asian markets, natural food stores and some supermarkets.