Is LeBron James vegan?

He’s an exceptional basketball player who has won a host of NBA awards and two Olympic gold medals. He has been voted onto the All-NBA First Team more than any other player in history. And he’s often compared to Michael Jordan when it comes to the title of greatest basketball player of all time. But is LeBron James vegan?

No, LeBron James is not vegan. He has never made any statement about animal rights and he doesn’t follow a plant-based diet either. He generally stays away from red meat, but he does eat other types of meat and he consumes other animal products as well.

LeBron promoted McDonald’s for half a decade

Junk food chains and other manufacturers of unhealthy products learned a long time ago that they could make more money by convincing the public that their unhealthy products weren’t that unhealthy. They discovered multiple ways to do this, and one of those ways was to link their brands to professional athletes and sports in general.

Of course, McDonald’s denies that this applies to them. They claim that their investments in the Olympics since the ‘60s, their investments in basketball since the ‘70s, and all their other investments in sports have nothing to do with making money or brand building. The chain, known for targeting children with their ads, having playgrounds in their restaurants, and including toys in every kids’ meal, also called it “a real stretch” to say that McDonald’s is partly responsible for the growth of childhood obesity.

Regardless of their claims, the fact remains that the company that killed 11 million animals for Big Macs alone paid top dollar to make a Super Bowl ad with Michael Jordan and Larry Bird competing for a Big Mac in 1993. The ad performed so well that they hired LeBron for a remake in 2010, together with Dwight Howard. At the time, LeBron said: “McDonald’s and I make a great team … We share many of the same core values.”

LeBron continued to make ads for McDonald’s and also promoted them in other ways for five years. But in one interview he temporarily forgot that he was supposed to promote them. When listing bad habits that he had when he was younger, he said: “I ate McDonald’s my first couple years in the NBA. I didn’t stretch. It didn’t matter. I was 18 and I could do whatever I wanted to.” Reporters picked up on it and asked him when he had last eaten at McDonald’s. Realizing that he had accidentally been honest, LeBron did a 180 and answered: “Every day. Every day. Every day. I had it this morning. Egg and sausage McMuffin. All day.”

Although it made people laugh, it also raises a serious question. Why is it considered normal in our society that professional athletes who are already multi-millionaires still knowingly promote brands that kill innocent animals and negatively impact the health of children?

LeBron’s 2 months of paleo

In the summer of 2014, LeBron wanted to lose weight. He decided to do that by following a version of the paleo diet for 30 days, but he ended up following it for 67 days. He described his diet as follows: “I had no sugars, no dairy, I had no carbs. … All I ate was meat, fish, veggies and fruit. That’s it. For 67 straight days.” He lost a noticeable amount of weight, but he wouldn’t say exactly how much.

For the record, LeBron’s description of the nutrients isn’t accurate. When he says “I had no sugars” he’s only referring to added sugars. And when he says “I had no carbs” he’s overlooking the fact that vegetables and fruit are both high in carbs.

The paleo diet is named after the Paleolithic era because it’s supposed to represent what people in that era ate. However, experts on prehistoric diets deny that our ancestors actually ate like that. Obviously, our ancestors didn’t eat the processed food we eat today, but they did eat grains and other sources of carbs that are excluded from the paleo diet. And while the paleo diet is heavy on animal products, our ancestors actually ate mostly plant-based food.

Amanda Henry, a paleobiologist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, said this about our ancestors: “There’s been a consistent story about hunting defining us and that meat made us human. … Frankly, I think that misses half of the story. They want[ed] meat, sure. But what they actually live[d] on is plant foods.”

An upside of the paleo diet is that it eliminates a lot of junk food, and as LeBron has demonstrated, it’s certainly possible to lose weight on the paleo diet. However, that’s possible on any diet as long as we consume less calories than we burn.

Years after LeBron had followed the paleo diet, his trainer, Mike Mancias, was asked about it. He said: “As far as paleo goes, that was a one-time trial. … About a month before the season started, we started eating regular again.” Later in the same interview he was asked if there was a specific diet trend he wasn’t a fan of. His answer was the paleo diet. He explained: “[LeBron] needs the extra carbs because of all the minutes he plays. I would not do paleo in-season.”

LeBron and plant-based diets

So, LeBron is not on the paleo diet or any other low-carb diet. According to his chef, Glenn Lyman, LeBron loves a big breakfast and can’t help but devour stacks of his whole-grain French toast. Whole-grains are a healthy source of carbs.

LeBron is also aware that plant-based food can provide us with all the protein we need. He consulted with long-time friend Arnold Schwarzenegger when he founded the sports nutrition company Ladder. Arnold is one of the producers of The Game Changers, a documentary that makes the case that plant-based diets are optimal for athletic performance. And on the Ladder website, plant protein is listed before whey protein.

Nonetheless, LeBron hasn’t made the switch to a plant-based diet himself. He usually avoids red meat, but he hasn’t cut any other animal products out of his diet.

One of LeBron’s friends, fellow NBA player Chris Paul, was an additional executive producer of The Game Changers. He adopted a plant-based diet in 2019 and has been outspoken about the health benefits. He mentioned in an interview that he sees so many health problems in the black community, particularly in the inner cities, and he wants to help people with his knowledge about plant-based diets. According to him “the biggest thing is we want to try to continue to get this knowledge to kids.”

Chris mentioned that he had dinner with LeBron and fellow NBA player Russell Westbrook shortly after he had adopted a plant-based diet, and that LeBron and Russell “gave him hell” for ordering plant-based food in a steak restaurant. Chris laughed about it, so it can’t have been that bad, but it shows that LeBron still has some resistance to cutting out animal products.

Hopefully, LeBron adopts a plant-based diet in the future and stops contributing to other forms of animal exploitation as well. It would not only benefit himself and the animals, but it would also allow him to educate children in the same way that Chris is doing. Given that LeBron has opened an elementary school and considers that his most important professional accomplishment, it seems like a logical next step.

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