Redskins safety D.J. Swearinger switched to a pescetarian diet last year and has noticed a significant difference in the way he feels and plays.
Every year, from the months of August to January – and sometimes February if you're lucky – the body of an NFL player is put to the test in virtually every way possible. Football is no longer a game of one-dimensional players -- it has evolved to prospects needing a wide range of physical tools to be considered for a starting role or even a roster spot.
With so much being demanded of the modern day player, fitness has become more important than ever before, and in many cases, that goes hand-in-hand with a healthy diet.
For Redskins safety D.J. Swearinger, a strict diet plan has been integral to ability to stay in shape over the past two seasons.
Last year, Swearinger committed to a Pescetarian diet, which prohibits him from eating any animal-produced foods outside of fish.
"I've actually been slowly heading that direction," the safety told Redskins.com.
The process started in 2015, when Swearinger eliminated all red meats from his diet, but still left room for chicken, fish and the occasional serving of turkey. He stayed on this meal plan for roughly a year, but decided to take things a step further the year before he joined the Redskins.
"In 2016, I put away the turkey, put away the chicken and basically stayed on the Pescetarian diet with fish only," the South Carolina product said. "And that's sort of something I've been on – basically Pescetarian, vegan. I eat fish every now and then, but mainly eat vegan stuff."
Swearinger's decision to commit to the Pescetarian diet was the result of a lot of research, reading about dieting and a desire to be healthy. The diet makes sense for Swearinger in that it not only helps him to stay in shape for football season, but there is a noticeable difference in how he feels on a day-to-day basis.
"For the most part, human bodies should eat plant-based fruits, veggies, plant-based things," he said. "Doing that, my body's been feeling better – more energy, not as drowsy as I once was in the past when I would eat red meat or my stomach would be hurting, never have stomach pains or anything like that. So, eating clean I feel the best I've ever felt."
Sticking to such a strict diet plan is hard, of course, and he admits that there have been times when he has broken the diet over the past year or two, but he has mostly been able to stay on track, thanks in part to his girlfriend.
"She's a health freak," Swearinger said with a laugh. "She's sort of the main reason that helps me stay on it. I've got a partner that does the same thing and we eat the same thing."
Being a Pescetarian puts a deal of stress on one's ability to cook and be creative in the kitchen, especially when it comes to getting protein.
The 26-year-old admitted that eating a healthy amount of protein as a Pescetarian is one of the biggest challenges, but he has been able to find several effective options that don't come from an animal. Swearinger will occasionally get his protein from well-known foods like almonds and other nuts, but more often than not, he finds himself turning to chia seeds and pumpkin seeds.
Foods like chia seeds and pumpkin seeds certainly aren't some of the most appetizing ones out there, but that's where another key element of his diet comes into play: smoothies.
"I probably drink about four or five smoothies a day," Swearinger said. "Smoothies are where I can get a lot of my protein...I put a lot of my almonds, a lot of chia seeds and the pumpkin seeds just to try to put it into something like a smoothie with fruit so I don't really taste the chia seeds or the other stuff."
Along with the protein sources, Swearinger will mix green vegetables and fruit into the smoothies to add some flavor while still keeping it healthy. Making four to five of these per day is a lot, sure, but he views his smoothies as a replacement for meals he used to eat.
"Usually, before this, I ate probably four or five times a day. But, it would be other meals, so the smoothies are just a substitute for the extra meals that I would eat if I wasn't vegan," Swearinger said.
In terms of the effects he has seen from the diet, his weight has expectedly dropped over the past couple years.
"In 2015, when I started it, I would be 210-215 [pounds] easily," the veteran safety said.
Since then, however, he has seen a gradual decline, slimming down to the 200-to-203-pound figure he has now. Despite what some might think, he believes that this drop in weight has put him in a better position in the long run.
"A lot of people, like when my parents or people see me, they'll be like 'Bro, you're small, you're little!'" Swearinger said with a laugh. "I'm like 'Man, I'm healthy.' That's the thing, I'm healthy. They're not used to seeing me so lean, so it's different for them, but I definitely tell them I'm healthy, I feel better, [and I] try to get them to do some of the things that I do, because it can only help you."
It is clear that Swearinger has experienced the positive effects of leading a strict but healthy diet. He is the leanest that he's ever been and the last two seasons have arguably been the best of his career. As a result, he doesn't see himself straying away from the Pescetarian diet anytime soon.
"During the offseason, I may eat a little sweets or something like that, but I don't see myself going back to the red meat or pork probably ever," Swearinger explained. "I feel like especially during the season, I'm going to stay my strictest on it. Offseason, like I said, I may do a little more towards the sweet side of things, but not towards meat or any chicken or anything like that.
"I'll definitely be doing this the rest of my career."