By Gray Caldwell
Broncos Magazine Associate Editor
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Walking into an NFL locker room, the last thing a person might expect to find in the defensive line section is a vegetarian.
But there is Kenny Peterson, sitting smack dab in the middle of the linemen's lockers, proudly adhering to a meat-free diet.
"It is rare," said Chris Baker, whose nickname in the locker room, coincidentally, is Hamburger. "We always tease him that he's sneaking meat in here and there. I've never seen somebody be that big and be a vegetarian."
But at 6-foot-3, 295 pounds, Peterson is quite serious about his diet.
It all started about a year ago when he read a book that recommended different diets for different blood types. As an A-negative blood type, Peterson read that he should take on vegetarian eating habits.
Luckily the transition was made easier by a decision he made months before that.
"I gave up steak a long time ago just because it made me feel heavy and groggy," Peterson said. "Then chicken started making me feel the same way. So I just eliminated both from my diet."
His diet isn't strictly vegetarian -- he still eats fish -- and he often eats meals prepared by the company LightLife, which makes a lot of soy-based products that are high in protein.
Peterson was introduced to the products by team nutritionist Dave Ellis before the season began. Fellow team nutritionist Brian Snyder said he carries a few of the soy-based meals in a cooler onto the team plane on road trips, "so (Peterson) always has an option."
The meals provide the protein that helps the defensive lineman maintain his playing weight, along with other sources like daily protein shakes.
The other secret?
"He's a hard worker in the weight room," Ryan McBean said.
But putting in extra work doesn't bother Peterson, because he believes in the diet. He said he can feel a difference already in his first full football season on the diet, and it all starts with the fact that he gets a full night of sleep -- no more restless nights.
"People have to realize we die from the inside out," Peterson said. "For the most part, with all the preservatives, toxins, steroids and pesticides -- all that stuff is just toxic. We just consume it, and I just choose not to really indulge in that too much."
So Peterson sticks with his fish-, vegetable- and soy-based diet. Even this Thanksgiving -- the first since he began his diet -- will have a bit of a different feel than normal.
"My mom, she's talking about cooking me some food, and I told her that they've got products where you can have soy-based ground beef, in a sense," he said. "She's starting to use that and ship me some food."
So while plenty of teammates give Peterson flak for not eating meat, McBean admitted that there might be an ulterior motive behind the mocking.
"We're kind of jealous, because we would like to have that type of diet, also," McBean said. "But we've been raised on beef and meat all our lives, so I'm not changing that at all for anything."
And Peterson doesn't blame them. He said totally changing a diet is a tough task, especially when it cuts out main sources of protein for big defensive linemen. But he is happy with his decision, and he knows he will be even happier with the results down the road.
"It takes a lot of discipline to do it because there is temptation," he said. "Sometimes I do miss going to Wendy's or Burger King and getting a Whopper with cheese and all that kind of stuff. But I think about the long haul of it -- what are the long-term benefits? When I turn 40 or 50 and this game is over with, I'll still be in pretty good shape because I took care of my body now."