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Lean, Mean and Green…Vegan Fighter Mac Danzig Packs a Punch

Editor-in-Chief August 7, 2007

Lean, Mean and Green…Vegan Fighter Mac Danzig Packs a Punch The MMA Digest

With a name like Mac, the average person may snicker and think fast-food burgers are a part of Mac Danzig’s meal plan. But Pride FC veteran, former 155 pound King of the Cage and Gladiator Challenge champion, Mac Danzig, has broken the mold dietary-wise by becoming a successful vegan mixed martial artist. While the visage of a pacifist hippy-like individual may appear among minds of the masses at the mention of the term “vegan”, the 27 year old Danzig has carved his own path and along the way shattered stereotypical images. The lightweight fighter’s success evidences a fighter can be successful without the consumption of animal products.

Despite his success as a vegan competitor in MMA, the concept that meat was pivotal to a fighter’s performance was also an ideology that Danzig subscribed to early in his career. “I use to think that I needed chicken and fish as a source of protein in order to train properly”, recalls Danzig, a 6 year veteran of the sport. “I subscribed to that theory for a while and then when I finally decided to cut everything out and I was doing it right, it felt really good and I didn’t lose any strength at all–I feel like I recover quicker so it’s been good.”

For Danzig, his 3 years of leading a strict vegan life has been made much easier by the consumption of The Ultimate Meal, a vegan supplement based in brown rice protein. “The Ultimate Meal is a shake–it’s a powder that has everything in it”, explains Danzig. “A lot of the stuff is naturally occurring, they don’t add a whole lot of generic vitamins and things like that, it’s like a full meal if you read the ingredient list and it’s powdered and pulverized and all you do is add water, banana and apple to it and you blend it and that’s pretty much what it is.” The meal is based on brown rice protein, but at different times Danzig will also consume brown rice protein independent of the supplement. As rice protein is processed enzymatically, Danzig feels it is much better than soy, and is thankful that in this day and age such offerings are available to vegan athletes. “6 or 7 years ago it was really hard to be a professional athlete and be serious about training and be strict vegan”, recalls Danzig. “The only protein supplements were soy, but in soy there is too much fiber in there and the protein content is like 50 percent sometimes.” The excess fiber in soy doesn’t allow Danzig to absorb all the amino acids, which is a big part of the reason he focuses on incorporating brown rice protein in his diet.

Thus on a typical day when training, Danzig will have The Ultimate Meal twice a day as a shake with banana, apple and water mixed in it. For carbohydrates purposes, a great deal of brown rice is consumed by Danzig throughout the day. One of his meals is brown rice with either tofu or some sort of vegetable, usually peas and corn. Another meal is often based around vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, carrots and some tofu. During times when Danzig is feeling a bit worn down from training, he will continue consuming greater amounts of complex carbohydrates in the form of brown rice. While some may shy away from carbohydrates, Danzig feels that they are a great asset to his system. “A lot of people try to stay away from carbs and stuff like that, but I eat a lot of brown rice and just good clean complex carbs and it works for me”, illuminates Danzig.

After putting so much energy towards training, Danzig likes to relax during the breaks in his day and keeps food preparation simple. “I don’t eat a whole lot of pasta, but that’s just personal preference—it’s just kind of a pain to make it and I’m kind of lazy”, explains Danzig with laughter. “When you’re training twice a day you don’t feel like spending a whole lot of time, you want a quick fix, so I just steam some rice or whatever; and The Ultimate Meal has really helped me out a lot and saved me.” Along with the time saving benefits, the supplement has helped Danzig physically in speeding recovery time and psychologically in knowing his body is getting essential nutrients.

Another staple in Danzig’s diet is Clif bars, which are consumed 2 or 3 times in between meals when training hard. The bars provide some protein, but are mainly devoured by Danzig because they are a good source of carbohydrates and ensure that his energy level stays up throughout the day.

Traditional thinking could lend one to feel that strength-wise Danzig would suffer from the switchover to the vegan diet. The same concept was initially shared by Danzig, but proved to be contrary. “I thought I’d lose some strength or something but the only thing was I did lose weight initially, but didn’t lose any strength”, the lightweight clarifies. “The diet is actually one of the main things that help me cut to 155, I don’t think I’d be able to do it without it.” Not losing any muscle, it was the loss of water retention as a vegan that has made the cut down to 155 for Danzig a much smoother ride.

Once a cut has been made, the fight day meal plan is pretty straightforward for Danzig. He always reaches for oatmeal in the morning because it’s a good source complex carbohydrates, is easily accessible, and has become somewhat of a tradition for the lightweight competitor. Aside from the oatmeal, consumption of a couple of vegan energy bars and often a fruit will be a part of Danzig’s diet the day of competition. “I eat real light because the night before I’ll usually have eaten a whole lot and carbed up after I cut weight”, Danzig clarifies. “So the day of the fight I’m not eating real heavy, just light meals with complex carbs, that’s it.” Like a well-fueled machine, Danzig’s mentality is to just eat clean during the day to ensure he runs clean during the fight in the evening.

The same philosophy of eating as clean as possible to run at optimal efficiency is set in place by Danzig throughout training leading up to the fight. That naturally leads to certain foods being omitted from his diet. Danzig realizes a vegan diet can be extremely healthy, but if done improperly can also be extremely unhealthy. Having a sweet tooth, Danzig indulges in soy ice cream and other treats of the sort when he’s not in training mode. But those types of food are axed from the meal plan while training as well, as is sodium as fight time approaches. “I make sure I stay away from a lot of refined sugars, and the main thing I stay away from, especially getting closer to fight time is sodium”, says Danzig. “I do that (cut out sodium) because it really makes your body retain water”. While the sodium amplifies water retention in Danzig, the refined sugars tinker with his blood sugar and hinder his energy levels. “Once I start getting back into training after splurging for a while and I’ve been eating a whole lot of sugar, I notice getting fatigued, not in training so much but in different points of the day”, Danzig comments. “It messes with your blood sugar, and when you’re blood sugar is messed up it’s pretty bad, it’s hard to wake up and force yourself to get going and everything.” The negative effects of the refined sugars have led Danzig to avoid them during serious training for fights, and he has reaped the rewards in training and competition.

The vegan lifestyle is one that appears rather difficult to the avid meat eater, but Danzig maintains that difficulty and ease simply stem from desire. “I think a lot of people are just not use to it”, comments Danzig” “And other people ask, ‘How can you do that? How can you eat like that?’, but it’s really not that hard, it’s just whether or not you want to do it.”

Part of Danzig’s desire to pursue a vegan lifestyle originates from working at an animal sanctuary from the age of 18 until 20. The influence of working at the sanctuary for farm animals run by vegans drew Danzig to lead a vegan lifestyle for a while, but he reverted to meat eating when he halted working there and pursued training. “Once I stopped working there and started training and wasn’t around that environment, then I went ahead back to eating the other stuff”, recollects Danzig. “Not because I wanted to but because I thought I had to.” The desire to be vegan had been strong in Danzig—for years red meat, pork and dairy were eliminated from his diet. However, in the mind of Danzig, chicken and fish however still were essential to an athlete’s diet. Finally jumping that last mental hurdle, Danzig decided to give a shot at something he believed in strongly. “I basically I got sick of eating it and thought I’m going to try it and I did”, says Danzig. “I lost a good amount of weight and was able to fight at 155 and I felt really good so I stuck with it.”

Realizing since our digestive systems are equipped to handle a vegan diet, Danzig feels in today’s society there’s no need to contribute to the meat industry.While not proselytizing his beliefs or displaying a hint of haughtiness regarding his personal morality, Danzig simply feels that unnecessary suffering is being dispensed towards animals. “In this day and age I don’t see any reason to contributing to a really awful industry that causes too many problems”, explains Danzig. “It’s horrible what the animals have to go through on a daily basis, it’s just awful–they’re born and raised in really nasty conditions and it’s better not to contribute to that whole thing.” Not expressing superiority in his viewpoints, Danzig freely admits that if he was living in a situation where he was in the wilderness where he was required to hunt and kill he would do so. Danzig however assures us that he would not feel good about having to conduct such an act, and would respect the animal he was killing go about it the right way. But being in what he feels is a luxurious position of not having to kill for his food, Danzig is most content avoiding adding to the damage done to animals in the meat industry. “I just don’t see in this day and age a real reason to contribute to that when you can be really healthy and not eat that sort of thing and not cause a lot of suffering”, comments Danzig.

As the sport of mixed martial arts at times lends itself to some brutal imagery, Danzig has been confronted by some on having such compassion for animals while inflicting punishment on humans inside the rings and cages he fights in. “That’s been argued to me a couple of times before, but that’s the difference–if somebody just grabbed me and a bunch of other people and herded us up and forced us to fight each other that would be one thing”, says Danzig with laughter at the thought of such a bizarre act. “But the animals don’t have a choice in the matter, I have a choice and the guy standing across from me in the ring, he’s got a choice too.” Danzig feels such an argument against him is a flawed one that would likely emanate from the mind of an unkeen observer of the sport. For Danzig, fighting is simply a sporting event between gentlemen who respect one another greatly. “We might beat the crap out of each other but we’re going to give each other a hug afterwards and it’s all good, it’s a sport”, asserts Danzig. “So anybody that would use that as an argument doesn’t understand the whole sport anyways.”

Danzig clearly understands the sport real well as seen by stellar record and performances, as well as the 2 gold MMA belts he has earned in his career. Furthermore, his courage in sticking to his beliefs and molding his own way to success are admirable. Danzig has reaped rewards from his stance too–his vegan diet which has kept him in peak shape to train and fight hard, and allowed him to be a strong contender in a highly entertaining and action packed 155 pound division. Vegan or not, Mac Danzig is a tremendously talented competitor with loads of determination, and is destined to continue to have a bright future in the sport.

Lean, Mean and Green…Vegan Fighter Mac Danzig Packs a Punch The MMA Digest

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