Before Jake Shields made his long-awaited UFC debut in the fall of 2010, he was already regarded by many as one of the top mixed martial artists in the sport.
Prior to first stepping foot in the Octagon at UFC 121, Shields claimed notable victories over Yushin Okami, Carlos Condit, Jason Miller and Dan Henderson en route to winning championship belts in EliteXC, Shooto and Strikeforce.
What is perhaps more impressive than Shields’ run in the sport—which dates back to October of 1999—is the fact that he has accomplished everything he has in athletics without eating meat.
“I’ve been a lifelong vegetarian,” Shields, 33, explained to Bleacher Report. “I’m a vegetarian and it’s always been a way of life. It seems normal.”
Aside from the fact that Shields was born into a home of vegetarians, he emphasized that there are also ethical considerations behind his diet.
“I personally don’t like eating animals,” Shields noted. “I’m not the kind of person that tries to preach to other people. But, for me, I don’t feel right about doing it. That’s the main reason why I stay vegetarian.”
Although some have assumed that Shields’ diet has, perhaps, held him back in the highly-competitive world of mixed martial arts, the UFC welterweight, who is to return to action against Yoshihiro Akiyama at UFC 144 in late February, doesn’t necessarily share that view.
“I’ve never eaten meat, so I can’t see the differences, but I think it definitely helps with my cardio,” Shields offered. “I know Nick Diaz and Nate Diaz say it makes them feel way better, having switched over. I’m guessing it most likely helped. It’s really hard for me to judge, having never been a meat-eater.”
“I know the guys that have switched all swear by it—they say they love how it makes them feel.”
While Shields is more than willing to give his take on his lifestyle when solicited, he also emphasized that he is careful to respect the views of others.
It’s really important to let people know that this stuff is out there and you have an alternative, rather than telling people what they’re doing is not right. You’ve got to be careful, I guess, about how you come across. You don’t want to come across as a guy that’s trying to force your beliefs on people—and I’m definitely not.
Moving forward, Shields, who has worked with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and given his time to help raise awareness of dog fighting in the past, insisted he has all but written off the prospect of more advocacy work in the future.
Really, I started fighting because I love it, but once you get in the spotlight, you are kind of a role-model. I’m not the kind of person that’s preachy, but I think that being a vegetarian and an athlete has been positive to a lot of people. I have people writing me or coming up to me every day, telling me that they’ve switched to vegetarian because of me. Not because I’m telling everyone to do it, it’s just the fact that I’ve shown that it can be done—you can be an athlete and a vegetarian.
“I like animals a lot," Shields continued. "I’ve helped with the anti-dog fighting cause—and I would definitely be willing to work with more causes that are for helping animals.”
Ed Kapp is an Analyst for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations were obtained first-hand.