“If we have salmon kabobs and steak kabobs, people are picking up all the salmon before the steak,” defender Ethan White said. “The way he eats, it’s rubbing off on us.”
MLS’s 2011 most valuable player is United’s most valuable eater. He sets the bar for soccer excellence — and then heads to the salad bar.
De Rosario, who will turn 34 next month, hasn’t consumed meat nor poultry in 20 years. He was vegan — no animal products whatsoever — for about 10 years before reintroducing fish into his diet in 2003.
“At my age, I need a certain level of fitness to keep up with the 21-year-olds,” the Canadian midfielder-forward said. “Being conscious of what you’re putting into your body is my main thing. You’re not eating just to eat; you’re eating because it has nutrients and you need it.”
Influenced by his West Indies roots and Rastafarian tenets that he embraced as a teenager, De Rosario eats a wide variety of natural foods. The core of his diet is “provisions” — root vegetables and fruits.
Soda and sugary beverages are out. Instead, he blends fruit smoothies and drinks coconut water and coconut and almond milk. On his Web site, derounited.com, he offers recipes for grilled tuna teriyaki with spinach salad and oatmeal with fruit.
“People look at me and say, ‘Wow, I can’t believe you’re a professional athlete and you eat like that,’ ” he said. “People have been eating like this for thousands of years. You start to integrate it into what you are eating and you think, ‘I can live off this and sustain a healthy and strong lifestyle.’ ”
The phrase De Rosario repeats is “going directly to the source” for nutrients.
Such eating habits are uncommon among pro athletes, who typically rely on meat and poultry for primary sources of protein. Those who have sworn off animal proteins compete mainly in individual sports, such as running and martial arts.
Olympic hero Carl Lewis and Pat Neshek, a veteran pitcher in the Baltimore Orioles organization, are vegan. So is Wade Barrett, De Rosario’s former teammate in Houston and now a Dynamo assistant coach. NFL tight end Tony Gonzalez experimented with a vegan diet before returning to small amounts of meat and chicken.
“I love it, but I don’t have the discipline,” United Coach Ben Olsen said. “He’s always taking care of his body. He is a great role model in how to look after yourself.”
De Rosario was brought up in Scarborough, a section of Toronto with a mosaic of immigrant cultures. His parents arrived in the 1970s from Guyana, a small nation on South America’s northern coast, and settled in a West Indian neighborhood.
Meat was considered a weekend food. De Rosario suffered allergic reactions to dairy products, and at age 14 he discovered he was lactose intolerant. More careful about his diet, “I starting reading and researching about organics,” he said. “You go to a natural grocery store and you learn there is a whole new world out there.”