Pat Neshek: Willing to take the heat for his vegan diet

  • Article by: SARAH MORAN , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 17, 2009 - 10:47 PM

The Twins' relief pitcher says he feels better, physically and mentally, when not eating meat or dairy.

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Twins pitcher Pat Neshek

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Minnesota Twins relief pitcher Pat Neshek missed much of 2008 when he had a partial tear in an elbow ligament. Now he's out for 2009, recovering from ligament replacement surgery. But Neshek is working to stay in a positive place mentally and keep his body in shape through rehab, training and eating well so he'll be ready in 2010. He talks about the difference a healthful lifestyle makes and what his teammates think about his vegan diet.

Q You've always loaded up on fruits and veggies through juicing, but you started making major dietary changes after meeting your wife in 2004. Why?

A I was doing things on a minor league budget of $20 a day and traveling all the time, so the best place to find food was next door to the hotel at the McDonald's. When I first met her she was like, "I can't believe you eat that stuff!" That off-season we lived together, and she was like, "Why don't you try this out and see how it feels?" I noticed when I got on the treadmill I didn't get tired as quick, and I started noticing more results. That motivated me to read more and see how some foods would help me feel better.

Q When did you become a vegan and why?

A The main reason I became vegan was the book "The China Study." It basically changed my life. After the 2007 season I had read so much I decided to become a vegan and get rid of all the animal products -- meat and dairy. At first, it was basically just for the health benefits -- I was intrigued by the 2005 season when I cut a lot of that stuff out and got a lot better. It really changed my career, and I thought, "This might be something that helps me take my career to the next level." And it wasn't the main reason, but I like knowing everything I eat was served in a humane way.

Q Do you take any heat from your teammates for the way you eat?

A I get that all the time. Like Gardy [manager Ron Gardenhire], he'll make fun of me and stick a hot dog in my face and say, "You want to eat this?" A lot of guys are curious. Most of the time, there's a lot of guys that make fun of you.

Q What's a typical meal?

A I'll have a granola and fruit smoothie in the morning, and for protein I'll throw a rice protein substitute in my smoothie. My wife, she's an excellent cook, so that's the main reason I can pull this off. I just got my blood work back and everything checked out perfect. I think you have that in the back of your mind that maybe you're missing something [because of eating vegan]. It's pretty neat to know you don't have to use animal products and can still function -- most of my results had improved.

Q How important is a healthy lifestyle to being a professional athlete?

A This game, for me at least, is very stressful, and being our relief pitcher means I'm coming in late in games and during close scores. It's really tough mentally. You have to get your sleep and take care of yourself and all that stuff -- it's not a cakewalk. It's 220 days out of the year we're playing, and if you're not ready, somebody else is going to take your job.

SARAH MORAN

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