We spoke with the professional tennis player to learn about her vegan diet, what she’s been craving during quarantine and more.

Alex Loh
December 01, 2020
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Venus Williams
Credit: Courtesy of Happy Viking

Venus Williams is a legendary tennis player. She’s won countless titles in both singles and doubles tennis and has four Olympic gold medals on her shelf. While those are all impressive feats on their own, Williams recently added a new title to her résumé: Entrepreneur. The professional tennis player just launched a plant-based protein company called Happy Viking.

We were curious about Williams’ new business venture, and her vegan diet and healthy lifestyle that help her manage her autoimmune disease, so we chatted on the phone to get all the details.

Why Venus Williams Went Vegan

Venus Williams wasn’t always vegan, but made the transition to a plant-based diet after being diagnosed with Sjögren’s syndrome, an autoimmune disease that includes symptoms like joint pain, swelling and stiffness. 

To help ease the inflammation in her body, Williams decided to try a vegan diet. She says that going plant-based wasn’t an easy transition, especially since she “went from zero to 1,000” when shifting her diet. She says, “It was such a long journey, and I feel like it’s a journey that I’m constantly on, trying new things and quite honestly making mistakes and eating the wrong things.” 

Through experimentation and listening to her body, Williams says she learned to limit her sugar and gluten intake. She also offers a key piece of advice for others looking to follow a plant-based diet: Educate yourself. (Check out our guide for starting a plant-based diet.)

What Venus Williams Eats in a Day

Williams says that although she spends five or six hours training in the morning, she doesn’t actually eat first thing when she wakes up. Instead, when she’s done working out, she has a Happy Viking shake alongside some fruit to fuel up for the day. (The Happy Viking shakes come in two flavors, chocolate and vanilla, and are available on Amazon. Buy them: Amazon, $35 for a pack of 12).

Williams says she loves to eat fruit because it helps her beat sugar cravings with its natural sweetness, but doesn’t aggravate her Sjögren’s syndrome symptoms. Williams says she especially loves summer fruits like cherries, watermelon and apricots when they’re at their peak. 

Williams also loves to snack on two other healthy options: kale chips and applesauce. While she enjoys the kale chips from a local restaurant, you could easily make your own with our air-fryer recipe. As for the applesauce, Williams says she enjoys it because there are so many “wonderful flavors” to choose from. (Although she says she does face the teasing of her mother, who often asks, “Why are you eating that baby food?”)

Williams says she’s also been craving Spanish food during quarantine. She says, “It’s all I want to eat,” and adds that she loves anything with some heat or garlic. (We think she’d love our Catalan Spinach Sauté!) 

Besides Spanish food, Williams also loves to cook portobello mushroom burgers. For her recipe, she adds a garlic aioli sauce that she says is “out of this world,” along with horseradish for an extra kick. (We think she’d love our Mushroom-Quinoa Veggie Burgers with Special Sauce). And if she’s cooking for non-vegans, she likes to make lamb chops (Try our Herbed Lamb Chops for a delicious dinner.)

The Bottom Line

As an elite athlete who is constantly traveling and working out, it’s important for Williams to fuel up on nutritious foods to nourish her body. Our nutrition editor, Lisa Valente, M.S., R.D., adds, “Williams is a top athlete with an autoimmune disease, so she has some very individualized parameters to help her fuel her body and keep her feeling good. It sounds like she’s worked hard to figure out what style of eating works best for her body.”

Valente adds that not everyone needs to follow a vegan or low-gluten diet; that’s just what seems to work for Williams. Valente says, “Many plant-based foods she enjoys, like fruits and vegetables, are anti-inflammatory. Most vegans can get enough protein through a well-balanced diet, but athletes do have higher needs, and that’s when adding a supplement or protein powder can be especially helpful. Otherwise, focusing on vegan, protein-rich foods like beans, nuts and tofu, in addition to a variety of plant-based foods, can help you meet your needs.”