Venus Williams: My Plant-Based Diet Is About Being Healthy 20 Years From Now
Venus Williams is an inspiration to so many, for her stoic strength on and off the court, but some days, when she was in the middle of a stellar career, she barely felt like getting out of bed. In 2011, at age 31, she had to withdraw from the U.S. Open, suffering joint pain, hand swelling, numbness, fatigue, dry eyes and dry mouth. She said she felt "beat up."
Venus was eventually diagnosed with Sjogren's syndrome, a rare autoimmune disorder for which there is no known cure. In people with Sjogren's Syndrome the body's white blood cells meant to help fight infection instead target the body's moisture-producing glands create extreme dry eyes and dry mouth, as well as overwhelming fatigue, swelling, and joint pain and often problems with other organs or their central nervous system. Williams had been grappling with confusing and mysterious symptoms for years and thought she had asthma.
The well-known older half of tennis's super-star-sister-duo, Williams had to learn to cope with an autoimmune disease that stole her energy, her ability to play the game she loved and at times her ability to find hope. She told an interviewer at the time, that she was actually relieved to have a diagnosis, finally, since living with unexplained symptoms for years had left her drained. Williams tried everything to treat her disorder, including taking medicine, but in a last-ditch effort to get her life and health back, she switched to a vegan diet. That's when things started to normalize.
Her swelling and fatigue subsided, her vitality returned, and Williams credits going plant-based as helping her return to the sport she loves. Now, that vegan diet is so much more than just about eating, she says. It gave her back her strength, her health, and her hope. So now she eats this way for "every reason" and explains that her latest project, investing in a plant-based protein, was just the logical next step in helping others achieve their health goals as well.
Going Plant-Based Has Helped Her Regain Her Strength
“After being diagnosed with Sjögren’s Syndrome, I needed to find a way to fuel my body in a way that would mitigate symptoms of the disease and help me to return to the top of my game both on and off the court.
Williams, now 40, has made living a plant-based lifestyle a public part of her otherwise private persona. She shares little about her life other than a commitment to tennis, to plant-based eating, and to helping others achieve their best selves, through following their passions. Now the 7-time Grand Slam winner, owner of 4 Olympic Gold medals, and an entrepreneurial investor has thrown the full power of her fame behind a new vegan brand, to help others live their best lives and train to their fullest, with the benefit of a plant-based protein shake called Happy Viking. She is partnering with a leading beverage company, Dyla Brands, makers of Stur Drink Mixes & FORTO Coffee.
In an effort to find a protein shake that was plant-based nutritious, tasted great, and fit her busy schedule, Williams set out to create the world’s best tasting plant-based protein shake. She worked alongside top nutritionists and dieticians to help her refine and perfect her at-home recipe. Within a year of going plant-based, Williams made a miraculous recovery and returned to championship form, winning the Doubles Championship at Wimbledon followed by a Gold Medal at the Olympics in London shortly thereafter.
"I created Happy Viking because I want other people to have healthy, effective, and delicious options to fuel their bodies so they can strive towards being their best self in every aspect of their life,” said Venus Williams.
Built to provide clean energy to help build healthy muscles, bones, and bodies, Happy Viking is a delicious, balanced, and powerful blend made to "fuel your body and mind." Created by Williams and her team, it delivers what she calls "Complete Body Mind Macronutrients," (or CBMMs). Each shake has 20 grams of protein from yellow peas and brown rice, 9 essential amino acids, 5 sources of prebiotic fiber for gut health, and DHA Omega 3 and Oleic Sunflower Oil for brain food. We caught up with Venus at home in California, where the soft-spoken winner explained why this new drink was so important to her to share with the world.
The Beet: How did changing your diet help your autoimmune disease? Do you feel it was the thing that made the difference?
Venus Williams: Changing my diet is so much bigger now than when I started. It was first for inflammation and to treat my auto-immune disease, but now I eat plant-based for all the health effects. My disease is something I always lived with, but eating plant-based started out as part of taking care of myself, and now I do it for every reason.
I am not happy I had an autoimmune disease, but I am happy it opened my eyes to eating plant-based. Now it's about long-term health. It's about preventing long-term diseases and it's about being as healthy as I am now, 20 years from now.
The Beet: How does eating plant-based affect your training?
Venus Williams: This may be hard to understand, but my training is so extreme and I really only stop at failure. It's not a comfortable place. I do have more energy when I eat this way. But I never feel good when I push myself as hard as I possibly can.
I am training as hard as ever. I actually took three weeks off, to rest for the first time in my life and it made me feel better and now I think I have to work at learning how to do that. Usually, I work as hard as I can, but I think that rest and taking time off will actually help strengthen any limitations I have. Plant-based eating is part of training to my fullest and working with myself.
The Beet: What about your new plant-based protein lifestyle is particularly healthy?
Venus Williams: It's really obvious to me that living a plant-based lifestyle has helped me. Happy Viking impressed me so much and I want to continue to make plant-based eating a lifestyle choice, and help other people do it too, since going plant-based is what gave me the ability to get back on the court and do what I love. So that in itself is why it's so organically amazing. This is the real deal, and it led me to be able to do what I love.
The Beet: So this plant-based protein has made the difference for you as an athlete?
Venus Williams: Yes. In the morning I have an interesting routine and I don't do what most other athletes do. I don't eat before I train. So sometimes I will have a protein shake or fruit for a quick boost, in the middle of my morning workout, if I need it. I will do a 5- or 6-hour workout, in the morning. But generally, I go without food until lunch, and then I have a massive lunch. But I use the protein shakes for recovery. It's not just a protein drink, it's great for energy and for recovery. The amino acids are great for recovery. A protein drink is something that your body really does need. My favorite flavor? I've got to with chocolate.
The Beet. What tips or advice would you give someone who wants to go plant-based but doesn't know where to start?
Venus Williams: Educate yourself. First know why you're doing it. There are so many benefits to your health. I think most people should look into all the ways it will help you to have this healthy lifestyle and have all this energy. There is so much we could talk about that we probably don't have time for this conversation.
But there are a lot of benefits from it: Less inflammation in the body, less disease, more energy. And if you are the kind of person to go from zero to 100, then go for it. But otherwise, try cutting out meat and then dairy, and do it in phases. You can just ease into it. Some people start with one meal a day. So there are a lot of ways to get started. But know why.
The Beet: What do you eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner?
Venus Williams: What do I eat? Well, nothing in the morning. Because as I said I don't eat before training.
Then I have a massive lunch. It depends on my mood. But I love to have beans and rice and lentils. That's what I love... I am so hungry after training, and I have to go from the gym to the office and I order lunch so that it's waiting there for me. And when it gets there I am so hungry and happy to eat.
Some days I will have fried rice but generally, that is not enough protein, or I will have a Happy Viking shake for the protein or a super green shake. Something healthy.
Dinner is always a big question mark. Usually, it's something easy like sweet potato. I love soups, hummus. I don't like a lot of carbs. I don't eat a lot of carbs after training. I naturally seem to do a keto diet, and a lot of time I also do intermittent fasting, which know is hot right now. A lot of times I take my Happy Viking protein shake with me, so if I get hungry I can eat that instead of something unhealthy. But for dinner, it's always a question. Sometimes I just have a big salad, which starts with a lot of romaine lettuce and dressing.
The Beet: Who should try Happy Viking shakes and why?
Venus Williams: This protein shake is for people who are athletes, or for weekend warriors, or for someone who is looking for a quick pick me up, who needs quick energy, and since the protein is plant-based, it ends up being so much more than just a protein shake.
It's full of healthy nutrients like Omega-3s, ALAs, and probiotics which your body needs. So actually, if you are fueling your body with nutrients and healthy supplements, that makes you feel better. So I think that is pretty much everyone.
I am not thinking anyone would not raise their hand and say: "I want to do good for my body!"
The Beet: What is your mantra? Words you live by?
Venus Williams: I have to say it's always changing. I have had several mantras, I don't have just one. One we had when we were younger, when we were playing a tournament, I still love. It's this:
"Since you have to show up, why not compete?" I got it from Serena. We were playing a tournament and we were in a doubles match. And during the changeover, I asked are you nervous? And she said: "Since you have to show up why not compete?" I think it speaks to people who may be afraid to give it their all, since a lot of time you might be afraid of failure. But ... Since you have to show up, why not give it your best? She won that tournament, Ii the singles, I remember. And I thought: that's a great mantra.
Today, Williams has been primarily plant-based for nearly 10 years, crediting her diet as one of the ways she has stayed at the top of the tennis game. To purchase Happy Viking in either Triple Chocolate or Vanilla Bean, visit www.DrinkHappyViking.com or on Amazon.com. It will also be available in Kroger grocery retail stores nationwide in spring 2021.