Venus Williams: ‘I’m not…convinced we need as much protein as they say’

US Open Tennis 2017 - Day 3

Venus Williams won her second round match last night, under the lights of Arthur Ashe Stadium at the US Open. At the age of 37, Venus has been having an incredible year – while she hasn’t won a Slam in nearly a decade, she’s been in two slam finals just this year, the Australian Open final and the Wimbledon final (where she fell apart, sadly). Still, she’s back in the top-ten ranks and while she’s not really a favorite to win the US Open (her quarter is intense), she’s still a beloved and sentimental favorite for tennis lovers around the world. The New York Times had a great piece last week about how the conversation around “when is Venus going to retire” is pretty stupid considering that she’s been playing some of her best tennis this year.

Anyway, Venus chatted with Health/People Magazine at the US Open about her diet, dealing with Sjögren’s syndrome and more. Some highlights:

What tennis is like now compared to when she was 14, when she turned pro: “Oh my gosh, not only has the sport changed, but I’ve changed as well. Even the courts have changed. It’s so much more competitive now. I love change though… it’s important.

Her secrets to keeping her body competitive: “I don’t think it’s necessarily a secret. I think I’ve paced myself in terms of training. Of course, I train more because I’m a professional athlete. But with the amount of tournaments and the amount of training and also knowing how to push your body—and trust me, I’ve pushed my body a lot. But you have to know when to say when, too. And also, it’s very draining mentally to keep this level up, so I also like to take mental breaks. Those are just like some of the tips that have worked for me. I would love to keep playing even more.

Whether she takes a days off: “What is a day off? I don’t know. You know, this year I haven’t taken a lot of days off. But there is something to be said for letting the body recover, and especially letting the mind recover, and a lot of times you come back stronger.

What she does for mental breaks: “I believe tennis is meditation. You stand there in the zone and you’re hitting the same shots over and over, and over and over, so there is no better form of meditation that hitting serves, forehands, or backhands. But I like to dance. I spend a ton of my free time with my family, too, because I’m away a lot.

How much she sleeps: “In a tournament, yes, I sleep a lot more because I have to. You don’t want to just give away a match because you just couldn’t find a way to go to bed. I try to get at least eight hours. At home, I can stay up a lot more. But sleeping is important. If you want to go out there and train and push yourself to the limit, you have to be well rested. That gives me more energy. So it’s definitely a disciplined life, being an athlete. It’s all about discipline and getting the best out of your time.

Gym time: “I’m all about the gym life. It’s super important to prevent injury, but also to be strong. I live for abs.

How her diet changes when she’s competing:
“I eat a ton more during a tournament. Lately, I’ve been off the protein train—even vegan protein. That’s something new I’m trying. I’m not necessarily convinced we need as much protein as they say. And I still feel good. I think it’s all about how you feel and finding out what works for your body. I do shakes and smoothies—they’re easy and quick. I love it. Different varieties, green ones, pink ones, red ones, all different colors with lots of fruits and veggies.

[From People]

She’s been “off the protein train”? I’m not going to second-guess her, as I’m sure she has good people – doctors, dieticians, trainers, coaches – around her, helping her figure out what works best for her body and her health. I just thought that the verdict was already out: people need protein. It’s pretty important. And I find the sleep thing so amazing, I was thinking about that the other day – with the excitement, rush and stress of these huge tournaments, how can top players fall asleep so easily and stay asleep for eight or nine hours at a time? That fascinates me. When I have a hard workout, I can fall asleep pretty easily, but after six or seven hours, I wake up, even if I’m still tired.

Venus Williams attends the 2017 Lotte New York Palace Invitational

Rafael Nadal, Venus Williams  at the 2017 Lotte New York Palace Invitational at Lotte New York Palace

Photos courtesy of WENN, Backgrid and Pacific Coast News.

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34 Responses to “Venus Williams: ‘I’m not…convinced we need as much protein as they say’”

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  1. lala says:

    I can see what she means about the protein – people get a bit over-enthusiastic about it sometimes. i had a trainer who was pretty much obsessed with protein and was trying to get me to drink a smoothie with 90 grams of protein in it! and this was just for breakfast! Also eating 7-8 boiled eggs a day was encouraged, as snacks. It was nutty but as I’ve since learned, not that uncommon.

    • Bridget says:

      Everyone looks for the magic thing that you can eat an unlimited amount of, and that is going to be a “silver bullet” in terms of diet. As ou’ve noticed, some will tell you that’s protein. But the thing is, we consume so much of it already in the average American diet, we’re already eating protein heavy diets in the first place. We need to be better about eating veggies, but no one really wants to hear that.

      And I could not imagine eating 7 or 8 eggs. That sounds so unappealing.

      • Esmom says:

        Interestingly I just read about a huge WHO study this week that found that more veggies aren’t necessarily better — the outcomes were the same for people who ate 3 servings of fruits/veggies and those who ate 7-8 servings. I thought that was interesting. But I do think there are huge numbers of people who don’t even eat 3 servings, so we definitely need to work on that.

      • Bridget says:

        Your last sentence hit it on the head. A huge portion of people aren’t even close to 3 servings, and while the dietary difference between 3 servings per day and 7-8 may not be significant, the difference between 0 and 3 definitely is!

      • Originaltessa says:

        I think on the whole in the US, we eat far too much. No one should even need 7-8 servings of vegetables. That’s more food than you need. Small meals of protein, fruits and veg and a little carb and fat, and that’s it. It’s out of control how much food people consume on a given day.

    • derpshooter says:

      Ugh. That much protein could damage your kidneys if you did it everyday. There are going to be some ripped old folks on dialysis in a few decades….

      • lala says:

        yeah I didn’t follow any of that diet advice, my doctor friend was appalled when I showed her the meal plan. I’m vegetarian so I’m a fruit-veg-carb kind of gal :)

      • tty says:

        Yep, my friend went on a high-protein diet and was all crazy about it, I told her it would mess with her kidneys but she said it was BS. Not long after she started pi$$ing blood.

      • SHe’s absolutely right. You DON’T need that much protein. Elite athletes, people living in subzero environments…they need more, but the whole 20-30 percent thing is simply not true.

    • Betsy says:

      Is that what she means by “protein”? Here I was thinking, gosh, if I don’t make sure that I balance my carbs, fats and protein I get wickedly sleepy, but I eat a normal human serving of protein, not 90 g at one meal. Wow! That sounds insane to me!

  2. Karen says:

    I think she means she’s off the high protein craze if I had to guess. I doubt she’s protein free. Your body can only use so much protein, and for endurance-athletes carbs are much needed.

    • NeoCleo says:

      That’s how I interpreted it too.

    • Millenial says:

      Agreed. A lot of athletes and body builders espouse pretty high levels of protein per day — like, 1.2-1.5 grams per pound you weigh, everyday. But, most science shows the benefits after 0.8 grams/day are pretty negligible. I imagine she’s talking about the super-high protein diets.

    • tty says:

      Pretty sure that’s what she means. If you go to insta and look up any exercise-centered profiles, all of those people are eating protein powder on a daily basis. Athletes are obsessed with protein.

  3. polonoscopy says:

    I can sleep for ages. 10 hours, 12 hours, if I’m tired and my work is done, but when I have something important the next day…. No. Not going to happen. Too much stress. Although, Venus has been in this biz a long time. I imagine she feels less anxious than she did when she was a kid.

    Also, she looks fantastic. Not that that has anything to do with anything. But she does.

  4. Bridget says:

    Protein is in everything we eat as it is, so she’s fine. Likely what she means is that she’s not pushing to get vast amounts of protein in her diet. And because so many fad diets push high protein, it’s easy to think that’s what the bulk of our diets should be (which is untrue). Most Americans vastly overconsume protein and couldn’t tell you what a single portion should be. Yes, you need some, but as Venus is noting, other factors (both diet and otherwise) are important when it comes to athletic recovery.

    • Molly says:

      I’m always fascinated when regular women with regular lives are gulping down protein shakes with a bunch of powders and chemicals each morning. Unless you’re actively body building to gain serious muscle, no life of spin classes and yoga requires artificial protein consumption. Eat food and you’ll get plenty.

      • GiBee says:

        Haha, Molly you’re spot on. My spin studio and my pilates studio both have protein shake bars. I do one class a day of each and I see plenty of other regulars who get a shake after EVERY SINGLE CLASS. You just don’t need that much protein – especially when it’s hyper-processed whey protein.

        I’m about 80% vegetarian and I’ve never needed to supplement, and my guns are pretty built. Not Angela Bassett like (my dream), but then I don’t do nearly enough weights to get there.

    • jwoolman says:

      Yes, I was tracking food and plopping some moderate amounts of fruits and veggies into the vitamix. I counted up the protein in just the fruit and veg and realized that if I actually ate enough fruit/veg calories, I would meet my minimum protein recommendation for the day. So it’s not really that hard on a plant-based diet even without the legumes and nuts/seeds that would ordinarily replace some of those fruits and veg. Variety pretty much guarantees that you get all the amino acids needed within a few days for your body to make your own protein molecules after breaking down the food proteins.

      Americans tend to eat huge gobs of protein since they mostly fixate on animal foods (including dairy and egg). That’s been implicated in heart disease as well as the already mentioned hit on the kidneys. People who are very active need more protein than I do for muscle repair, but probably not the gobs and gobs that trainers tend to think is needed.

      Vegans should aim for about 9% to 12% of calories as protein and that actually already includes a big safety margin. So if you are much lower one day, you don’t have to stuff yourself with protein foods before you go to bed to make up for it. One reliable calculator said that a vegan woman with an ideal weight (not actual weight, but ideal) of 110 lbs should aim for at least 40 grams of protein per day. That’s not hard to hit and exceed, in my experience.

  5. littlemissnaughty says:

    I think she means the daily recommendations per kg body weight which I would assume are even higher for athletes? I’m not sure. But if you’re vegetarian/vegan, it’s not easy to reach those goals every day without supplements. I don’t think I ever have, to be honest.

  6. Fiorucci says:

    Her body looks great! She looks great in general, I like the floral dress and her big updo which she also had in her recent games I think. But her body is seriously enviable with the lean muscle. I agree protein is (lately) overrated. If you eat too much (especially chicken breast, squid or beef) you’ll be tired from the digestion of it.

  7. Harla Jodet says:

    I agree with Venus. I started weight training about 9 months ago and so did what I was told to do which was up my protein intake. Wow, my body did not like that! My digestive system went haywire and then pretty much shut down, I got bloated all over and pretty much felt awful all the time. Since then I’ve cut back on the “extra protein” ie, shakes, bars etc and went back to eating a sensible diet and have felt much better.

    • Embee says:

      Same here. I date a gym owner/bodybuilder and wanted to shed a few pounds. He hooked me up with a nutritionist who worked for him and it was like “lift heavy and MOOOOOAAAAR PROTEEEEEEEEIN”. I got puffy, felt awful/sluggish for months following that plan. Two months eating plant-based (mostly) and doing cardio and circuits and I felt and looked better than ever. But I do build muscle easily and carbs don’t make me fat.

      • GiBee says:

        Most big commercial brand protein bars are revolting, and I swear they’re one of the least healthy foods on earth.

  8. Katherine says:

    I feel the same way

  9. Jolo says:

    Eating no protein at all is practically impossible, rice and vegetables and pretty much everything contains protein. The only way to get a protein deficiency is if you are starving — literally. She most likely means she’s not considering it of utmost importance to eat a certain amount of protein each day 🤷🏼‍♀️

  10. Jordana says:

    She’s clearly not saying she’s eating ‘no protein’, and she’s not say it’s not important. However the over emphasis on ‘protein’ is actually detrimental to human health. Many plant-based eating athletes have discovered they perform better and recover faster on a plant based diet. Plant based eating is about whole foods; dividing food up into its macros (carb protein fat) is just not necessary. Eating a variety of whole plant food (ie unprocesses) will give you the right nutrients.
    Yeah, I’m plant based. I’ve seen amazing results. When I hear trainers or others talking about the ‘carbs’ and ‘protein’, it just sounds really out of date.

  11. PunkyMomma says:

    I’d be curious, too, to hear how she falls asleep when she’s in a competition. I would think all that adrenalin would keep you wide awake.

    As an insomniac, four hours of sleep is a good night for me.

  12. Cate says:

    Protein is important, but definitely some diets/trainers push it to an extreme. Most people have no need to supplement their diet with protein shakes AND bars AND weird protein chips, etc. I do have a smoothie with protein powder a few times a week (some days I am super busy and it is convenient), but I steer clear of all the bars and other high protein products. Eat whole, healthy foods and you’ll be fine.

    A friend of mine got into counting macros a while back and got her macros “done” and was told she needs to be eating 200g of protein every day. She is is overweight, but she is not THAT active (she works out, but not extreme weightlifting….more like Jillian Michaels videos at home). She was having a horrible time figuring out how to do it without eating a ton protein supplements. And of course with that much protein, she was “allowed” very little in the way of fat or carbs. Result is that she was unable to make the diet work for more than a few days at a time and would then fall off the wagon big time with cookies, chocolate, pizza, etc. No weight was lost.

  13. Elisa the I. says:

    2 years back I started to work out a lot and literally everyone suggested to eat/drink more proteine, which I did. After a few weeks my joints – especially in the fingers – were quite stiff in the mornings. I’m in my 30s, and I knew these symtoms from my OLDER relatives who are suffering from rheumatism. I was like “this can’t be it!” and asked Dr. Google. Well, in one of the sports forums there were comments that a too high intake of proteine may cause these symtoms. I reduced the proteines, and after 1-2- weeks the stiffness was gone. I researched a bit more on this back then and there are even studies connecting proteines and cancer.

    Low Protein Intake Is Associated with a Major Reduction in IGF-1, Cancer, and Overall Mortality in the 65 and Younger but Not Older Population

  14. Iamthatis says:

    Vegetarian mom of soon to be 4. 4 healthy uneventful pregnancies and extended nursing for them. Iron is fine. Protein is in most everything we eat. Children are all healthy (husband and one kiddo eats meat). I switched from a healthcare provider because she said I needed to double my protein intake. Are you kidding me?

    • LA Elle says:

      Veggie here too. Despite the idea of militant vegans, I’ve actually found meat eaters are much more critical of my dietary choices – with rare exception, vegans I know have a very “live and let live attitude” with the caveat of humane treatment of animals.

      I actually feel like adequate healthy fat intake is more important than protein.

  15. The Schnauz says:

    I think Venus is an inspiration. I just wish she’d discuss her Sjogren’s regimen more openly. There are degrees of Sjogren’s. For many, like me, it can at times be debilitating. It can also be life threatening. The treatment options for Sjogren’s are few and far between. So, anything that could potentially help would be huge.