Pro wrestler Austin Aries became a vegan two years ago and hasn’t looked back

Wrestlers and vegans normally are not paired together.

The sport’s intense focus on muscle mass leads to meat-eating wrestlers obsessing about protein. Austin Aries, a pro wrestler, pays attention to protein, as well, but finds it in plant-based sources.

“It’s about understanding that we have choices in the foods we eat,” said Aries, 35 , who recently convened a group of fans and vegans at Choices Vegan Cafe off Northeast 79th Street and Biscayne Boulevard to promote his plant-powered nutrition.

“A lot that is put out there by the corporate food system just isn’t very good for us. At the end of the day, it’s up to us to take the power back, inform ourselves, learn about the food that’s in place and maybe force corporations to have a little more social responsibility,” said Aries, who lives in Clearwater.

Becoming a vegan has not hindered Aries’ cardio or his physique. He is 5-foot-9 with a solid 210-pound physique and can work a match well, winning the TNA World title once and Ring of Honor title twice.

Aries began his quest for healthier eating in 2000, after a lifetime of eating frozen dinners and processed foods. He eliminated foods with preservatives, added coloring and chemicals — such as pesticides on produce, hormones in milk and antibiotics in meats.

Two years ago, Aries converted to a complete plant-based eating plan. Through information and documentaries, he learned that animal protein, especially dairy and meat, has been linked to cancer and other ailments. He eliminated dairy and eggs, as well.

Because of his busy travel schedule, Aries will often bring food with him on the road.

“On the road, I’ll always pack a package or two of pre-cooked lentils, nuts, vegan protein bars and powders,” he said. “As for my daily, it usually consists of a smoothie in the morning with banana, spinach and blueberry and veggie protein powder, then some kind of tofu or tempeh scramble with veggies. Later, I may have some type of rice and beans, salad with lentils, sweet potato, nut butter sandwich and another smoothie.”

Aries’ message resonated with those at the cafe, both pro wrestling fans and vegans.

Take Margarita Restrepo of Miami, who openly discussed the battle that she and her boyfriend fought over his advanced brain cancer. After he was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer, he switched his diet to a plant-based one.

“After three months on the plant-based diet, his tumor growth decreased 25 percent,” she said in an online story . “Incredibly enough, his doctors were astounded by the results and were curious about what we were doing. His cancer was very advanced, so the therapy, although very positive, was applied too late. Witnessing how much a simple lifestyle change affected the reversal of his disease, as small as it was, changed my whole perspective on food.”

After her boyfriend died, Restrepo felt compelled to do something in his memory. She started Naked Food Magazine online and has begun printing it and distributing it through Whole Foods.

Wellness consultant Ella Magers of and her friend, Anne d’Epagnier, a business consultant, are not pro wrestling fans, but they were intrigued to meet a vegan pro wrestler.

“I found Austin to be very personable and genuine, and his philosophies on veganism are very similar to mine,” said Magers, who has a fitness training certification from the National Academy of Sports Medicine and received wellness coaching certification through the University of Miami's Wellness Center.

“It was also great talking to someone who, like me, is fit, lives a fun and sexy life, and breaks the stereotypes many people have of what a vegan should be like.”