How Derrick Morgan turned his Titans teammates vegan
Some of the world's best athletes have switched to plant-based diets, but until fairly recently, it was hard to find many NFL linemen or linebackers on that list.
Concerned about the wear and tear he'd accumulated over the first seven seasons of his pro career, he researched ways to improve his recovery. He eventually decided to adopt a plant-based diet ahead of the 2017 campaign.
"I was looking for a competitive advantage when it came to recovery and ways to lower my overall inflammation," Morgan told theScore.
Tom Brady, Venus Williams, Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard, and Colin Kaepernick have either completely ditched meat or incorporated more plant-based options into their diets for various performance-related reasons. There are also overall health benefits, as studies indicate plant-based diets reduce the risk of various types of cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases.
Still, giving up meat and animal products may seem impractical to many NFL linemen, a position where players average 300 pounds; Morgan, a linebacker, is listed at 6-foot-4 and 261 lbs.
Morgan managed to find the correct balance, ensuring he was getting the right amount of nutrients to maintain his blocks without losing strength. Though he was concerned about not getting enough protein, he discovered many plant-based dishes are packed with it. Within a couple of days, Morgan says he noticed improvements in the quality of his sleep and his recovery time after his workouts. Any lingering doubts about this new lifestyle were squashed.
It wasn't just a new lifestyle for Morgan - his family made the transition as well. And he was much better off than most players in his situation.
Morgan's wife, Charity Morgan, holds a culinary degree from Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts and begin to re-educate herself as a vegan chef. She discovered ways to prepare some of her family favorites with a vegan twist. Derrick said switching as a family made things easier, though his children weren't on board right away.
"(The kids' adjustment) was very difficult at first," says Derrick. "Consistency was key and eventually, their palates began to change."
As Derrick went back to work, Charity would pack him a couple of meals and a snack to keep him fueled throughout training camp. It didn't take long before his teammates noticed. Some teased him, but a faction within the locker room grew curious enough to begin peppering him with questions.
After the months he and his family had spent educating themselves, Derrick was happy to be a source of information.
Though Titans defensive tackle Jurrell Casey was skeptical about making the switch, he became convinced he'd be able to remain strong while improving his overall health.
"I thought I was going to get a little weaker," Casey told ESPN's Cameron Wolfe last December. "I thought I wasn't going to sustain my blocks. I thought, 'Will I waste all my training by doing this?' But I was good. The biggest thing is knowing what you're substituting your protein for."
As the conversation grew within the locker room, Derrick's teammates began soliciting Charity's assistance with meal plans and prep. Before long, a dozen Titans players were on board.
Derrick went on to lead the team in sacks (7.5) while setting a career high with 59 quarterback pressures in 2017, and the Titans clinched the team's first playoff berth since 2008.
In Year 2 of Derrick's plant-based journey, Charity is now preparing meals for 15 of his teammates and has hired a small staff to help her. Demand for her meals was so high that she had to turn down a few players in order to accommodate her existing clients.
Her Instagram page is filled with her latest creations. Derrick's favorites are the peanut butter Oreo cheesecake and the fried Brussels sprouts and buffalo cauliflower.
The Morgans also signed on as ambassadors for Beyond Meat, which produces plant-based meat substitutes and is best-known for the Beyond Burger.
Derrick missed three games this season with a shoulder injury, but he returned in Week 11. Entering their Monday Night Football matchup with the division-leading Houston Texans, the Titans are third in the AFC South at 5-5.
Conversations about meatless diets would have been almost taboo in an NFL locker room just a few years ago. But things have changed as athletes, in pursuit of any competitive edge they can develop, look to take greater ownership of their health and nutrition.
"There is a general overall awakening among athletes as to how important nutrition is in terms of performance," Derrick said.