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Why Venus Williams Won't Count Calories

If you've seen Silk's new commercials for their 'Do Plants' campaign, you may already know that Venus Williams teamed up with the dairy-free milk company to 'celebrate the 'power of plants.' "Strong is very good," the tennis star says in the badass TV spot as she sets up a serve, right before refueling with some protein-powered vanilla soy milk. We sat down with the tennis legend to talk about her favorite smoothie combo, why she'll never count calories, and how she handles sexist comments towards female athletes.

Shape: You've said before that you believe in the power of plant-based eating. What does a typical day of eating look like for you?
Venus Williams (VW): Sticking with a mostly vegan (or "cheagan"—cheating vegan), plant-based diet works for my lifestyle. I travel the world, so I need to make adjustments, of course, but I always travel with a blender, or I'll pick one up wherever I am. I don't like a lot of food in the morning, so I always make a smoothie. Then, I have a huge lunch since I'll have been training for hours and hours by that point. It really depends; it could be a big bowl of lentils or my favorite thing is a Portobello sandwich. And I know it's a little bit strange, but I always eat my salad after my main course! When I was in India they had so many delicious vegetarian options, and in China all I ate was pineapple since it was so sweet. But I always like to have massive amounts of fruits and vegetables—that's when I feel my best in terms of energy, especially with my autoimmune disease. (Williams has Sjogren's syndrome, which can cause joint pain, digestive issues, and fatigue.)

Shape: Can you share your go-to morning smoothie recipe?
VW: One of my favorites is what I call a gingersnap. It has ginger to taste (it can be strong so be careful!), strawberries, orange, pineapple, baby kale, and I usually go for almond milk. It actually tastes like a gingersnap cookie! I also love adding things like flaxseed or chia or mecca to my smoothies. (Learn more about her snacking habits here.)

Shape: How many calories do you typically consume when you're training?
VW: I never count calories. Counting calories is stressful and intimidating, so I avoid it! I know that if I'm eating something that's a treat, I don't need to count it because I mostly eat healthy and am conscious of what I'm putting in my body.

Shape: When sexist comments were made a few months ago by Raymond Moore about female tennis players, your sister Serena served up a pretty epic response. As someone who has personally fought so hard for women to receive equal prize money in tennis, what was your initial reaction to that?
VW: In a lot of ways, I felt empowered by it because you know what you're fighting against. If you don't hear those sort of sentiments and don't know that people feel that way, you can be lulled into a false sense of security. So I thank the people who let us know what they're thinking. Now we know exactly where we've got to go to really become equal.

Shape: This equal pay issue is getting so much more play now due to the disparity in soccer. What are your thoughts on that?
VW: Women's tennis has been around for a very long time—we're talking about the 1800s. But women's soccer hasn't had such a long history, so now they're right at the beginning of really trying to make things equal. We need to continue not only to advocate for women but to have men advocating for women. That's a process, but it's most certainly possible. They're on the right path, and I imagine that at some point women's soccer will be right where women's tennis is.

Shape: It's that time of year for the ESPN Body Issue. You participated two years ago. How did that experience affect your body image and body confidence?
VW: Everyone is always working on their body and trying to make it the best that they possibly can. That's what I do every single day, mostly for performance, but also just for me. It was eye opening. You get to see so many body amazing bodies of all types, and you come to appreciate everyone—not just for what they look like—but for what they're accomplishing with their bodies. As an athlete and as a woman, I get my confidence from playing sports because it shifts your focus from what your body looks like to what your body can do for you. That's what we all should be doing. It shouldn't be about looking perfect.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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