James Wilks was born in England. He began training in tae kwon do and jeet kune do, and obtained a college degree in Business and Land Management before moving to the US in 2000 to improve his martial arts skills with Erik Paulson. Wilks has a black belt in tae known do and Brazilian jiu-jitsu. He won his first professional fight in The Ultimate Fighter 5 against Roman Mitichyan. He also won the Gladiator Challenge welterweight title, then went on to tape The Ultimate Fighter 9. He joined The Ultimate Fighter: US vs. UK for Team UK and defeated Che Mills and others. In 2009, he debuted with the UFC at the TUF 9 Finale and beat DaMarques Johnson. Wilks eats a vegan diet and was the subject of the film The Game Changers about the value of the vegan diet for serious athletes. After suffering serious injuries including a fractured spine, he announced his retirement from fighting in 2012. He still trains students, including military personnel. Wilks is married and has 2 children. He has over 100K followers on social media. Wilks is 6 feet 1 inch tall and weighs about 170 lbs.
James Wilks’s Diet
Wilks decided to try a vegan diet after learning that ancient gladiators were often vegetarians, and also because his father suffered a heart attack. Vegans eat exclusively plant-based foods and avoid all animal products, including meat, milk, and eggs. Many celebrities follow a vegan diet, including Ariana Grande and Liam Hemsworth, and also muscle-bound folks like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Kai Greene. Wilks sticks to plants for ethical and environmental reasons as well. He says switching his diet had a major positive impact on his health, and that any serious athlete should consider it.
- Medium Fat 30% 30%
- Medium Protein 30% 30%
- Medium-High Carb 50% 50%
Eat For Recovery
Wilks said he never gave diet much thought as part of his recovery plan. He tried the Paleo diet first, but it only made him feel worse. Then he read about the vegetarian gladiators, and decided to give that a shot.
Wilks often has oatmeal for breakfast, jazzed up with things like banana, seeds, and beet powder. He might also toss those same ingredients into the blender and turn them into a smoothie (along with some peas for extra protein). Breakfast alternatives include bean chili or cottage pie made with lentils instead of beef.
Wilks’ advice to bodybuilders or other athletes who worry about getting enough protein is to eat things like lentils, peanut butter and tofu. Plant-based protein powder is another option.
Wilks’ switch to 100% plants came gradually. Meat went first, followed by dairy, and eggs a few months after that. He says a gradual change can help anyone considering making the switch to not feel deprived.
Black Mark for the Honey Bees
Wilks has been accused of not being a ‘true vegan’ due to the fact that he sometimes eats honey from a neighbor’s beehive.
What to Eat
What to Avoid
Wilks on Plant-based Foods
‘Plant-based foods are inherently loaded with antioxidants too, which aid athletes in recovery.’
Wilks on Protein
‘All protein originates in plants, and the idea of animals being the middlemen really resonated with me.’
Wilks on the Evolution of his Diet
‘At first it was for health and athletic performance, but it also became about ethics and the environment.’
Wilks on Protein
‘The whole protein myth is complete nonsense. Plant-based foods have plenty.’
Wilks on His Old Meat-eating Diet
‘I was so stuck eating lean turkey with brown rice and broccoli…I eat such a wider variety of foods now.’
Wilks on the Economics of Veganism
‘A lot of people assume it would be more expensive but actually it’s cheaper.’
Wilks on a Vegan Diet
‘If someone wants to be the best athlete they can be, they need to fuel their body with the best diet available, and that is a whole-food, plant-based diet, period.’
James Wilks’s Fitness Routine
Push & Pull
Wilks does compound exercises, like squats and deadlifts to hit all the major muscle groups of the body.
Mix It Up
Wilks likes to run outdoors and do stair sprints. He will also engage in high-intensity interval training.
Work All the Angles
Wilks says while gym workouts tend to be push-pull, most sports require rotational exercise and athletes need to take care to focus on that as well.
Wilks exercises most days, alternating hitting the gym with other types of exercise, like running outside and his old standby, jiu-jitsu. He also chases his kids around.
Wilks sometimes does sprints on the treadmill rather than the stairs. He is a fan of the curved treadmill that doesn’t require electricity.
Strike Up the Bands
Wilks carries resistance bands when he’s on the road. He uses the bands plus hotel room furniture to do exercises such as seated rows and Bulgarian squats.
A James Wilks Weekly Routine
Full-body routine: squats, deadlifts, rows, etc.
Stair sprints: 20-30 secs, restarting every 90 sec no matter how long it takes to get to the top.
Treadmill sprint: 10-15 sec
Resistance band/bodyweight training
Jiu-jitsu: 5 min rounds/20-30 min total
Table tennis: up your hand-eye coordination & speed
Saturday & Sunday
Longer run (3-4 miles) & play with kids
Sauna before a resistance routine to warm up muscles
Steam room after to relax
Wilks on the Effect of his Vegan Diet on his Fitness
‘My strength increased. I put 20 lbs. on my dumbbell benchpress in only 2 weeks and my endurance improved. Running is much easier now. I have more energy and recovery is better too.’
Wilks on Jiu-Jitsu
‘It’s a great full-body workout, it burns a lot of calories, and you use all kinds of muscles.’
Wilks on Exercise While Traveling
‘There’s a lot of stuff you can do with bodyweight.’
Wilks on the Nitty-gritty of Fitness
‘As an athlete, you want your endothelium, the inner lining of your arteries, to be as healthy as possible…More oxygen means better performance, whether it be strength or endurance.’
James Wilks’s Supplements
James Wilks’s Lifestyle
While recovering from an injury, Wilks spend his extended rest time reading up on nutrition and recovery, which was how he learned that many Roman gladiators were vegetarians.
Help for ED
One of the topics of The Game Changers was erectile dysfunction. Wilks says he believes his plant-based diet improved his function, but he couldn’t be sure since he never had it scientifically measured.
Take Everything With a Grain
Wilks says he originally learned a lot about diet through magazines and the like, which led to a lot of misinformation. But even reading studies can be tricky since about 2/3 of research is industry-funded.
Wilks on the Mental Health Benefits of Steam Rooms
‘It gets all the sweat out. I just feel very relaxed afterward. It puts me in a better mental state, with better clarity.’
Wilks on Research Studies
‘Industry studies are 4-8 times more likely to have a conclusion in their favor for their product.’
Wilks Defending the Vegan Diet
‘You think I made claims in the film that I couldn’t back up?”
Wilks on ED
‘I’d love to put Viagra out of business, just by spreading the world on plant-based eating.’