The idea of veganism hindering athletic performance is quickly becoming outdated. And nowhere is the evidence more compelling than in the growing number of elite vegan athletes. Traditionally, meat has been seen as the best source of protein and a key part of a balanced diet but vegan athletes are finding that their plant based diet not only reduces inflammation in the body but helps prevent injury, too. Don’t believe us? Take it from the vegan athletes we’ve collected here.
Perhaps the greatest footballer who ever lived, ‘Alien Boy’ sought the advice of a nutritionist before becoming vegetarian during the football season and a vegan in the off season. The Barcelona forward and Argentina captain has scored over 695 goals for club and country and continues to excel, so much so that he’s been joined by numerous footballing contemporaries including Hector Bellerin, Sergio Aguero, and Fabian Delph.
UNITY co-founder and former Arsenal and AC Milan player went vegan gradually, after club nutritionists extolled the virtues of a plant based diet to him. Having never been a fan of chicken, he began cutting down his red meat consumption, substituting it for fish, before cutting out all animal products. He continues to play in football’s top flight and credits his diet for being a big factor in his continued performance.
Another footballer and now a World Cup (and Olympic gold) winner, Alex Morgan is a striker for Orlando Pride and the US national team. She’s also a vegan athlete. Morgan told Reuters that she went vegan “because it didn’t feel fair to have a dog I adore, and yet eat meat all the time.” She subsequently found that her energy levels in games and training improved thanks to the new diet. Scoring 5 goals in the US’s route of the Thai team on the way to world cup victory is certainly testament to that.
VEGAN HEAVY HITTERS
A former heavyweight boxing champion seems an unlikely candidate for veganism, but in 2016 David Haye told The Telegraph that his plant-based diet had made him stronger than ever. “I’m now fitter than I’ve ever been. I punch harder than ever. I’m more determined. I’m faster…” he said. Having cut out animal products in 2014, Haye returned to boxing before being beaten by Tony Bellew, but credits his diet with his ability to return at all.
Less a lifestyle choice and more a career saving change, the 16-time Grand Slam winner and plant-based athlete was advised to avoid dairy and gluten after suffering several mid-match crises, caused by an imbalance in his gut. Spotted by a nutritionist who happened to be watching on the television, the nutritionist contacted Djokovic and explained that he may be allergic to gluten. Switching first to a plant based diet that included fish, he now owns a vegan restaurant in Monaco.
Venus Williams won 7 grand slam titles in her career, including five wins at Wimbledon. Regarded as one of the greatest to ever play the game she is credited, along with her sister Serena with ushering in a new era of athletic and powerful tennis. Diagnosed with Sjögren’s syndrome- an auto immune disease that is also incurable, doctors recommended a switch to a plant based diet. The raw vegan diet helped her return to form after being forced off the court in 2011.
VEGAN ATHLETES DRIVEN TO SUCCEED
A five time Formula One World champion, Lewis Hamilton is arguably the world’s fastest vegan athlete. Having changed his diet in 2017, Hamilton went entirely plant based and in 2019 after commenting that he felt happier and healthier, said he wished he’d gone vegan sooner. A former Men’s Health cover model and known for his fitness off the track, Hamilton’s plant based diet hasn’t been detrimental to his physique.
At one point in his life ultra marathon runner, writer and podcaster Rich Roll was drinking gin and tonics in the shower, working 80 hours a week and surviving on junk food. After feeling out of breath climbing the stairs, he decided he needs to change. Exercise and a ‘whole food’ plant based diet saw him become a vegan athlete capable of running incredible distances, as well as losing 22kg and putting on lean muscle.
Nate and Nick Diaz
Anyone still convinced that vegans aren’t as strong or tough as meat eaters would do well to steer clear of California based brothers and notorious UFC fighters Nick and Nate Diaz. The younger of the two, Nate, shot to fame outside the sport fighting the UFC’s biggest crossover fighter Conor McGregor. granted, Diaz is what he calls an ‘on and off’ vegan, but credits his plant based diet as vital to his success. “If anything, meat’s going to slow you down.” He told Men’s Journal.
Colin Kaepernick’s name has become synonymous with political activism regarding systematic racism in the US, after he kneeled in protest during the national anthem. The Quarterback, who played for the San Francisco 49ers at the time, is also a vegan, stating in 2016 that he ate a plant-based diet in the off season. Kaepernick was rebased from his contract in 2017 but has since become the face of Nike’s Just Do It campaign.