Fittest Guys in America
Special, exclusive interviews with nine of the 2008 MF 25
Mac Danzig - UFC Fighter
MF: Your path to being a vegan started when you cut out milk in 1999. And that was due to an allergy?
MD: I would always get these inner ear infections and never knew what the problem was. Sometimes allergies develop as you get older, or they can get worse. I was right out of high school and I was getting vertigo real bad from the infections. I did some research and found out that milk allergies can cause those problems, so I cut out all dairy products and I haven't had a single problem since.
What made you decide to stop eating meat?
When I was 16, I cut out beef and pork. I just got to the point where I wanted to minimize my intake of animal products. I knew about factory farming and the theories that meat wasn't safe, but I subscribed to the theory that if you were doing something athletic, you needed to have protein, so I kept eating chicken and fish. But then in 2004, I got to the point where I was sick of eating chicken. It started grossing me out for some reason. I was about a month out from a fight and I decided I was going to cut out all meat. I was working with a trainer who was vegan and he helped me make the switch. I won that fight and went on a 12-fight winning streak. And [not eating meat] made it really easy to cut weight for that fight.
Are you the only MMA fighter who's a vegan?
Yeah. Jake Shields is a vegetarian and he's very successful, but I'm the only one who's full vegan, as far as I know.
You've mentioned that you don't even eat that many vegetables overall. What do you eat?
Yeah, I do eat more vegetables more as I get closer to a fight because I need to feel my best. The rest of the time, I still eat them but I eat more grains, tofu, and fruit. Around a fight, I start eating more whole foods and vegetables, but as far as taste goes, it's a bit of a sacrifice [laughs].
Do you ever cheat with animal products at all?
You said it's easier to cut as a vegan. Is that because nothing you eat can turn to fat?
Well, when I'm not preparing for a fight, I'm eating my fair share of sugary foods, so that can turn to fat. I don't know what it is exactly. It probably has to do with the digestive process because it's a little easier with a vegan diet, and I probably retain a lot less water. What I'm eating doesn't have much sodium, so I don't retain much water. It only takes me three weeks to cut from 170 to 155. About three weeks out from the fight, I restrict to where I'm eating no junk food and watching the calories. Even though I'm training three times a day, I'll cap it at 3,000 calories a day. Two weeks out, it's 2,000 a day. One week out, I take it down to 1,800 a day and no sodium and then I only have to cut three or four pounds of water weight before the weigh in.
How did you get started in fighting?
I watched the first UFC and was a big fan. I was born in Cleveland and grew up in Pittsburgh with a brief stint in Virginia Beach. I had been watching the fights but never had a place to train. But then a guy moved to my area and he did jiu-jitsu and I started training with him. And then it just took off. I started fighting in amateur MMA fights within a year. Then in 2002, a friend and I decided to move out to California. We wanted to train at Team Punishment with Tito Ortiz. We actually ended up training at RAW instead.
So how did you get on The Ultimate Fighter show?
The show producers knew who I was and they wanted me on the show. They flew me to Vegas and interviewed me to make sure I wasn't completely devoid of personality. I knew [the show] was going be a great opportunity so I did it.
And you steamrolled everybody!
A lot of those guys were a little intimidated because they had a lack of experience. There are a lot of guys who've come out of that show that have a lot of potential but they're in the UFC now and fighting top level guys. They're good but it's like they're in there too soon, and that can hurt your career ultimately.
What is your weight training like?
I mostly just do body weight stuff and plyometrics. Pull ups and pushups. I've done Olympic weightlifting and sledgehammers and tire flips, but nowadays most of my training is just hard sparring. I have good genetics and I'm naturally athletic.
What do you think about the claims that soy protein is estrogenic and will make you grow boobs and cause your balls to fall off?
I think that's funny. From personal experience, I eat plenty of stuff with soy and nothing's happened. I know people who've taken testosterone and they've gotten gynocomastia from the extra testosterone. So if testosterone can make your body produce more estrogen, then wouldn't eating something that supposedly raises estrogen levels also raise your testosterone? My body would want to level it out. I never subscribed to the theory that you need 1.5 or two grams of protein per pound of body weight, and when I did some research on it I found that your body can only absorb so much. I shoot for 120 grams a day, which is less than a gram per pound.
You always seem to have a cool head, do you do anything for mental toughness?
I always make sure I train my hardest with the best people possible. If you feel like you haven't trained your hardest, you won't do your best. So that's a big mental edge for me. I also practice meditation and visualization to handle the anxiety of performing in front of a lot of people.
Who would you most like to fight in the world?
Just the best fighters. When my career is said and done, whether I become a champion and one of the best in the world or not, I want to be able to say that I didn't duck anyone and always fought the toughest opponents. I won't turn any fight down. I'd rather fight BJ Penn now than pad my record with a bunch of mediocre guys.
How about an animal abuser or a factory farmer?
[Laughs] This is just a sport for me. It's not about animosity and wanting to be violent. I wouldn't give those people the satisfaction of fighting me in my sport. If I had to take care of one of those guys, it would be in a back alley with a baseball bat [laughs].