Career-high snaps at 30? Vegan lifestyle helping Eagles' Jenkins

PHILADELPHIA -- Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins was in the middle of one of his ultra jam-packed days, and he was starving.

It was June and he was sitting in a small conference room in a hotel in downtown Philadelphia, just outside a larger conference room where he would be meeting with some of the top public defenders from around the country to discuss bail reform. He had raced over from the Eagles' practice facility following a hectic morning -- it was the same day the Eagles were dealing with a media crush following their cancelled trip to the White House -- and barely had time to change from his uniform to a suit, let alone squeeze in a meal.

"I just had a burger. I can get you one of those," a friendly face across the table said.

"I have some cheese and crackers in my purse," offered another as she started rummaging through her things.

"I don't eat meat and I don't eat dairy," Jenkins responded with a polite laugh, "so I'm good."

Jenkins hadn't really planned on becoming a vegan. But when his trial diet netted what he found to be remarkable results, there was no going back.

The 10-year vet played a career-high 112 snaps in an overtime loss to the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday (99 on defense, 12 on special teams). He has not missed a game in over five years in an Eagles uniform, and is the only member of the original secondary who has not succumbed to injury this season.

He credits his diet in part for his ability to recover quickly and maintain a high level of play in the twilight of his career.

The decision to go vegan had nothing to do with football. It started last July after Jenkins watched the documentary "What the Health?" on the negative effects of consuming animal products. Never one to just take someone's word for it, he decided to run a little experiment to challenge some of the film's findings.

"I wanted to see how I was going to feel," Jenkins said. "I set it up to fail, quite frankly, because I’m going to do it during training camp, I’m going to go cold turkey -- no meat, no dairy. I was like, ‘There was no way I’m going to have enough energy or protein to keep up.' In all actuality, I felt great, lost a few pounds, speeds were great, my strength was up, my recovery was really good. So I said, if that’s the case, I’ve got to stick with it."

What a normal day's diet looks like for Jenkins

Breakfast -- plant-based smoothie and a hash brown

Lunch –- veggie dog or burger from the Eagles' cafeteria

After practice –- personalized smoothie

Mid-afternoon snack –- french fries

Dinner -- Chinese food: rice, steamed broccoli, vegetable spring roll and edamame.

Jenkins had one of his best seasons as a pro in 2017, earning Pro Bowl honors while helping the Eagles to their first-ever Super Bowl championship. So, yeah, he wasn't going to change course after that kind of year.

Jenkins will turn 31 on Dec. 20, and he's showing few signs of slowing down. In fact, in some areas it's just the opposite. According to Jenkins, he was clocked at 21-plus mph while tracking down Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott during a long third-quarter run in Week 10 -- the fastest time he's registered since joining the Eagles in 2014.

“I didn’t even tell anybody about it for a long while until everybody started realizing my plates didn’t have meat on them. They were clowning me for a little bit, until I was the old guy still running past everybody -- like Jalen Mills,” he joked as the cornerback walked by his locker stall.

“Oh, relax. Fire,” Mills said.

“Then a couple guys would pull me to the side," Jenkins continued, "like, [whispers] 'Hey, you know, tell me about the diet, I’m thinking about it.'"

Jenkins' understanding is that some red meat encourages inflammation. Eliminating it, then, allows for quicker recovery -- key in a sport where players' bodies are dealing with regular trauma. And dairy, he realized after cutting it out, just didn't agree with him.

He shouldn't be mistaken for a health nut. Jenkins called french fries "my No. 1 most consistent food that I eat" and isn't exactly measuring portions or counting calories. The no meat/no dairy thing simply produced results.

Jenkins identifies the three main keys to his regimen as diet, strength training and sleep. He credits former Eagles coach Chip Kelly for introducing some of the methods he relies on, like continuing to lift heavily during the season. The custom smoothies that Kelly brought to Philly still await Jenkins and his teammates just outside the locker room as they come in from practice. And while Jenkins has ditched the sleep monitor Kelly asked his guys to wear, he has made proper sleep (seven hours minimum, up to 10 approaching game day) a priority thanks to Kelly's teachings.

“I learned a ton from Chip, to be honest," Jenkins said. "He’s by far the best sports performance coach I’ve ever been around, like teaching you how to get your body to peak at the right time during the week and your cadence and all that kind of stuff. I learned a ton from him from that standpoint.”

Jenkins has played in every game during his five years in Philadelphia, so obviously something is working.

He misses mac and cheese and hot dogs the most, though he found a company called Beyond Meat that he says makes killer burgers and dogs. There is some discipline involved, like the kind he showed on that June day when he stayed hungry because the food available just wasn't a match, but the results have been worth it.

“He had probably one of his best seasons last year, so at that point, he's [gotta keep it going]," said fellow safety Rodney McLeod, who recently became a pescatarian -- someone who does not eat meat but does eat fish -- but hasn't followed Jenkins to the full-out vegan diet. "I think it’s added on a couple more years to his career just by doing that."