Venus Williams has added to her business interests by launching a new vegan food company called Happy Viking that is inspired by her own dietary regime, particularly her favourite post-workout shake recipe.
There’s so many myths out there you need to learn about. Vegans get lots of protein. There’s so many ways to do it. Venus Williams
Created in partnership with multi-brand beverage company Dyla Brands, the shake is the first product to be launched under the Happy Viking brand, and is a plant-based protein shake formulated to nourish brain and body health.
The shake is available in Vanilla Bean and Triple Chocolate flavours and features an innovative combination of Complete Body Mind Macronutrients (CBMM) designed to deliver optimal nutrition and promote post-workout recovery.
In 2004, Williams found herself in a battle against her own body, struggling with extreme fatigue, shortness of breath, and muscle and joint pain.
Her symptoms progressively grew worse until she could no longer bear it and in 2011, she was diagnosed with Sjögren’s Syndrome, an autoimmune disorder, which forced her to pull out of the US Open that year.
There is no cure for Sjögren’s Syndrome, which affects the nervous system and is identified by symptoms such as dry mouth and eyes, fatigue, and joint pain, but it can be treated with medication and lifestyle changes and Williams adopted a raw vegan diet to help manage her symptoms..
According to the Cleveland Clinic, following an anti-inflammatory diet may help alleviate symptoms of Sjögren’s syndrome, eliminating common triggers, such as red meat, dairy, refined carbohydrates and sugars, alcohol, and gluten.
No two bodies, however, are alike, so a change in diet may affect people in different ways.
In stepping away from the WTA Tour, Williams fell out the top 100 or the first time since 1996, but with the help of doctors and her sister, Serena, she transitioned to a plant-based diet that helped to alleviate symptoms of the chronic illness, and she returned to the match court within a year to win multiple titles and finished the season ranked at No 24.
“When I first started eating plant-based, it was for health reasons,” Williams said. “I couldn’t play tennis.
“I was thrown in the lifestyle by my wonderful sister Serena. I learned a lot about it. A plant-based lifestyle is what you need for optimal health and ageing well.”
Over the course of the last decade, Williams has worked with top nutritionists and dieticians to create a plant-based nutrition solution that fits into her busy, demanding lifestyle, something that Happy Viking’s flagship product she claims delivers.
“There’s so many myths out there you need to learn about,” Williams advises people looking to transition to a plant-based diet. “Vegans get lots of protein. There’s so many ways to do it.”
The Happy Viking shake delivers 20 grams of protein made from peas and brown rice per serving, all 9 essential amino acids and branched-chain amino acids, all 5 macronutrients, and brain-boosting ingredients such as DHA-Omega 3 and sunflower oil, all of which aid in recovery and prebiotic fibre to help digestion.
“I learned so much about the food system and how it can affect your body and your health,” Williams told Fast Company. “As an athlete if I’m not at optimal performance, someone else will be.”
While Williams no longer follows a strictly raw vegan diet, she still leaves animal products off her plate and has introduced some cooked foods, lentils now being one of her favourite post-workout meals.
“That way of eating was just hard to maintain for long periods of time,” she said. “Sometimes you just need something more substantial — some rice, some potatoes — after a workout.”
Nowadays, the 7-time Grand Slam Champion, 4-time Olympic Gold Medalist and entrepreneur is expanding her business empire by helping others to ‘find their inner viking’ through plant-based nutrition, and she sees the Happy Viking brand as having ‘endless possibilities’ in terms of future product launches.
She has spent years quietly building up her business interests, with a 13-year-old clothing and skincare line, EleVen by Venus Williams, as well as V Starr Interiors, a commercial and residential interior design firm in West Palm Beach, Florida.
To accomplish all this, Williams does what she is known for on the court: She plays to her strengths.
She says that building strong teams and delegating tasks to colleagues so she can focus on what she is good at has helped her run her businesses, adding that she loves to focus on the creative aspects of her work and the design elements, delegating other areas to her employees.
Another key skill: multitasking, which she honed studying online for a BA in business administration from Indiana University East while also competing on the tennis circuit; she completed her degree in 2015.
“I made the mistake of taking accounting over the summer, which is when there are a lot of tennis tournaments,” she says. “My eyes literally got so dry and my vision got blurry because I was studying and training so much.”
Eventually, she dropped the class and took it a semester later.
The pandemic has been a reflective period for Williams, who says that down the line she wants to give back to her community.
“I love teaching tennis,” she says. “I actually love teaching beginners. So if I can help young people use their skills or become confident and healthy . . . that’s what’s next for me.”
Until then, Williams has some advice for anyone who feels overwhelmed—by lockdowns or any aspect of life.
“I have a good rule for when I feel overwhelmed or I’m panicking,” she reveals. “If something goes wrong, I have 10 minutes to feel it and then I shut it down.”
Williams launched clean mineral sunscreen EleVen in May, a reef-safe formula that dries to a sheer matte finish and works on all skin tones.