Justin Fields always loved eating macaroni and cheese and chicken tenders.
“Really just kids’ meals to be honest,” he said. “I wasn’t a fancy guy.”
But those meals are now passé for Ohio State’s star quarterback as he prepares for a season that is scheduled to begin in three weeks, against Nebraska.
Months ago, Fields went mostly vegan, adopting a plant-based diet that excludes meat and dairy products. Once in a great while, he might try fish, but usually sticks with tofu salads or tofu burritos, among the variety of meals prepared by the team’s nutrition staff.
“Of course there are going to be meals that don’t taste the best,” Fields said, “but you have to sacrifice your taste buds for performance on the field.”
Fields believes healthy eating will have an effect in his second season with the Buckeyes.
He said he feels faster and stronger, a boost for his running ability to complement passing precision from the pocket. He rushed for 484 yards and 10 touchdowns last season while ending up as a Heisman Trophy finalist and was lauded for his athleticism as a top high school recruit several years ago.
The motivation for the diet change came while living in suburban Atlanta with his family at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, when athletics facilities at Ohio State were closed. He followed his father, Pablo, who sought a diet in order to lose weight.
“He was kind of heavy,” Fields said. “So I just tried it with him, and it turned into a family thing.”
Fields described it as a 28-day challenge, or a body cleanse. As his stepmother and sister joined in, he was showing solidarity. He professed to have no reservations about trying new things.
“We had fun with it,” he added, “and I think many members benefited from it.”
He liked the results well enough that he plans to not only stick with the diet, but maintain it for the rest of his playing career. This week, he got linebacker Teradja Mitchell to try it and recalled hearing from other teammates who confessed the food wasn’t as tasteless as they expected.
The focus on good nutrition mirrors previous Ohio State standouts who made it a priority later in their college days.
Mickey Marotti, the Buckeyes’ strength and conditioning guru, pointed to running back J.K. Dobbins and defensive end Chase Young as two recent examples. Dobbins went as far as trimming his body fat from 12% to 8% last season while remaining 215 pounds.
“That was probably a little bit of motivation for Justin to do it,” Marotti said. “That’s hard, but that’s where you see your results get accentuated when you really diet the way you’re supposed to.”
Marotti added, “Everybody talks about it, but it’s hard to do.”
Managing a meal schedule involves thorough planning and assistance from the nutrition staff. Fields said a typical day of eating for him begins with avocado toast or a bagel spread with vegan cream cheese for breakfast, and various meals for lunches and dinner, all of which are supplemented by post-workout plant-based protein shakes and fruit, including bananas.
“I eat when I’m hungry, of course, and I try to eat more times throughout the day,” Fields said, “because the things that I eat might not have as many calories as meat or different carbs or stuff like that. I do have to eat more often. But the stuff that I’m eating is healthier. I feel great, and I feel awesome from it.”
Offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said last week that he observed a physical change in Fields at preseason practices.
“He’s leaner,” Wilson said. “He’s faster. He’s done a great job taking care of stuff. He’s a more complete player.”
Marotti considered leaner muscle to be one of the more significant advantages for Fields with his newly adopted diet. It’s a natural benefit for most players.
“I think obviously being healthier and being more efficient when you move, maybe a little twitchiness,” Marotti said. “He was always fast and powerful and strong. But leaner is always better. The fastest guys on our team for us and really everywhere I’ve been has always been the leanest guys. You could really break it down by position. Your fastest, most athletic lineman the majority of time is the leanest.”