As a professional athlete what I put in my body for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, are some of the most important decisions I make every day.

I must ensure I'm consuming sufficient calories to keep full and have the energy to perform at my peak while not overloading and slowing my body down. My career depends on it. So many people are shocked when they learn that I fuel my body with a plant-based -- vegan -- diet. I'm just shocked that it took me 26 years to gain the wisdom to do it!

A few months ago my wife and I sat down to watch a documentary, "Forks Over Knives." I thought I'd learn something, but I wasn't prepared to have my world rocked. I have long heard about the benefits of eating vegan, but I never thought I could eat a plant-based diet and maintain my weight for football. What I realized watching the documentary is that all the effort I have been putting in to get big and strong for my professional career was actually killing me.

I learned consumption of meat, eggs, and dairy are directly linked to the top killers of Americans. The very things we've been hearing since we were kids do our bodies good are clogging our arteries, giving us diabetes, making us obese, and are putting the current generation of kids on the path toward a host of chronic, preventable diseases that will end up shortening their lives and causing untold suffering.

Eating more plant-based meals is supported by Oakland-based Kaiser Permanente, which recently published a brand-new "Plant-Based Diet" guide in which it wrote, "Any movement toward more plants and fewer animal products can improve your health."

Prestigious health organizations like American Institute for Cancer Research recently say, "The research shows one thing very clearly: we all need to eat more plants and less meat."

I'm not alone in this awakening. Professional athletes from an array of sports are fueling with fruits and vegetables. Ten-time Olympic medal winner Carl Lewis proudly stated "My best performances were when I was 30 years old and I was a vegan." Smash hitter Venus Williams eats a raw vegan diet. And baseball legend Tony LaRussa loves animals so much he not only started his own animal rescue organization, but leaves them off his plate.

And speaking of animals, according to The Humane Society of the United States, if we all went meat-free even just one day a week, it'd result in a billion fewer animals confined on factory farms and sent to slaughter.

Most exciting is that it's never been easier to eat a vegan diet. You can replace chicken nuggets with chicken-free nuggets, which are available in the freezer section of most any grocery store, enjoy wholesome fare like lentil soup, vegetable pot pies, and loaded sweet potatoes, or get your protein boost with a hearty southwestern three-bean chili. I fuel with lots of legumes, which are versatile and easy to enjoy in favorite dishes.

Since embracing a plant-based diet, small injuries that had been nagging me: tendinitis, arthritis, and, muscle fatigue have gone away. My recovery time and endurance have improved after enabling me to train even more!

I can honestly say that being vegan is not the only most efficient way to be full-body strong, it's also the most humane; everyone wins. I hope everyone will join me in eating delicious plant-based meals that can help you feel great, help the planet and make a world of difference for animals.

David Carter is a defensive lineman for the Oakland Raiders.