LOS ANGELES, Oct 28 (Reuters) - When Suns point guard Chris Paul first heard about plant-based diets upon arriving in Los Angeles a decade ago the native of barbeque-loving North Carolina was anything but tempted.
"I was like, nah, I'm cool off this," a smiling Paul told Reuters in an interview. "I'm from the south, and we eat every piece of the pig you can find."
But when the 36-year-old perennial All-Star finally took the leap he was astonished by the impact it had on his health.
"It has been life-changing," said Paul, who joins U.S. women's soccer team striker Alex Morgan, Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields and Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton in going vegan.
Reduced inflammation has cut down on his recovery time between games during the grueling NBA season, which Paul hopes will end with the Suns back in the Finals after coming two wins short of a championship in July.
"Playing as many games as I play throughout the course of a season, everything is about recovery. How fast can my body recover?
"And being plant-based, the recovery changed just like that," he said, snapping his fingers.
Other health issues, like his chronically clogged sinuses, also improved once he made the switch.
"The more I dive into it, the more my body has changed. I'm grateful," he said.
Paul felt compelled to share his experience with those in his orbit and counts his brother, a business manager, and team mate Jay Crowder among those who have followed his lead in ditching meat and dairy.
Now Paul, one of the all-time great floor generals and an influential voice on issues of racial inequality, has bigger ambitions. He plans to introduce plant-based foods to communities that have never really had the option.
"If you live in a neighborhood and on the corner all you have is soda and fast food restaurants, then that's what's affordable and that's what's accessible," he said.
To change that, Paul has invested in plant-based shake company Koia to put their drinks in vending machines on the campuses of historically Black colleges and universities (HBCU).
"First and foremost, they have to be introduced," said Paul, who wore HBCU apparel during the NBA Bubble and who is perusing a communications degree at Winston-Salem State University, an HBCU.
"To go on to these college campuses and to try to educate kids is a great place to start."
The younger someone is exposed to plant-based options, the better, he said.
"I didn't learn any of this until I was 33, 34. But better late than never," he said.
Paul, who has previously invested in plant-based meat substitute company Beyond Meat, hopes to be part of a broader systemic shift in how people think about food.
"More people are going to start to see the benefits."
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