These twelve sports stars prove that you can have a plant-powered diet and still be at the top of your game.
Think you need meat to build muscle and stamina? From boxing to surfing, fencing to football, these twelve sports stars prove that you can have a plant-powered diet and still be at the top of your game, busting the myth that you need animal protein to build bulk and gain strength. In fact, for many of these athletes, a plant based diet has given them a competitive edge.
Remember these names next time someone tells you athleticism and a plant-based diet are incompatible because .... protein deficiency. No excuses to ditch the meat for a healthier planet and body.
One of the all-time greatest Formula One drivers, Lewis Hamilton is passionate and outspoken about his veganism and his compassion for animals. Lewis became vegan in 2017, saying that “as the human race, what we are doing to the world … the pollution, in terms of emissions of global-warming gases, coming from the amount of cows that are being produced is incredible. The cruelty is horrible and I don’t necessarily want to support that and I want to live a healthier life.” Showing his commitment to plant-based living, Hamilton has a rescue dog who is also vegan, opened his own chain of vegan burger restaurants, Neat Burger, and was the co-producer of vegan documentary, The Game Changers.
Tennis legend and former world no.1, Venus Williams, switched to a plant-based in 2011 after being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, to help control inflammation levels. The seven grand-slam winner, who prefers to call herself a "chegan," (a vegan who cheats), stated that “Plant-based definitely changed my life”. She co-founded Happy Viking, launching a line of plant-based superfood protein powders. She isn't the only vegan holding court. Her sister, Serena, is also known to follow a plant-based diet, as did fellow female tennis champ, Martina Navratilova, at the height of her career.
World number one tennis player and winner of 37 titles, Novak Djokovic, has spent longer at the top ATP spot than anyone in tennis history, with 355 weeks as number one, well over Federer’s 310. The Serbian tennis pro ditched meat and dairy which were causing his asthma to flare up. He credits plant-based eating with a better ability to focus on the court and a faster recovery time between workouts. In the 2018 vegan documentary, The Game Changers, which he also co-produced, Djokovic stated, “It’s a lifestyle, more than just a diet because you have ethical reasons as well. Being conscious of what is happening in the animal world, and you know, the slaughtering of animals and farming and everything. There is obviously a huge impact as well on climate change.” In 2016 Djokovic also transferred his passion for vegan food into the opening of a vegan restaurant, Eqvita, in Monaco.
Australian Olympic sprinter, Morgan Mitchell, went vegan at the age of 19, in 2013. Just two years later, at 21, she competed at the 2016 Rio Olympics running the 400m. After that she switched to 800m, rapidly improving to her current personal best, and competed in the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. When asked about her diet, she stated: “the life of an animal and the wellbeing of the environment means more to me than any amount of money or the career path I wish to take.”
Australia’s devastating bushfires in 2019 spurred the controversial Aussie tennis star to make a lifestyle change. In 2020 he wrote in a post on Athlete’s Voice, “I don’t eat meat or dairy anymore. That’s not for my health, I just don’t believe in eating animals … Seeing the footage of these animals suffering with the fires only reinforces why I’ve chosen this diet. When I see these terrible photos, I can’t comprehend eating meat.” It's served him well. So far the world number 13 has won six ATP Tour singles titles, including the 2019 Washington Open, and reached ten finals.
Soccer player Alex Morgan won a World Cup as co-captain, competed at the Olympics and has inspired droves of young women to kick a few balls. The striker, who plays and captains for San Diego Wave FC of the National Women's Soccer League, was only 22 when she played at the 2011 World Cup, the youngest player on the US World Cup roster, and one of the most prolific goal scorers in US soccer history. Having ditched all animal products from her diet in 2017, Morgan says she feels stronger physically and has more mental clarity, optimising her performance and recovery.
One of the most well-known US football players, the quarterback has been vegan for several years, due to ethical and health concerns, explaining the diet change has helped him recover from a series of injuries. The NFL star and activist even dropped a Ben & Jerry’s vegan flavour, ‘Change the Whirled’. He's one of a line-up of plant-based NFL stars, including Former Tennessee Titans linebacker Derrick Morgan, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who is a vegan for "most of the year," Tyrann Matthew of the Chiefs and Cam Newton, star quarterback for the New England Patriots who starred in PETA’s 2020 Built Like a Vegan campaign (pictured at top of the story).
Hong Kong fencer Vivian Kong was the 2018 Asian champion, and represented Hong Kong in both the 2016 and 2020 Olympics. Kong became the first fencer from Hong Kong to win a World Cup title when she won the FIE Women's Épée World Cup in Havana, Cuba in January of 2019, earning her a number 1 world ranking. After suffering a knee injury, she switched to a plant-based diet to assist in a faster recovery, and discovered other benefits too. “I am recovering a lot faster, I get muscle pain but it goes away really quickly. I have become so much stronger after turning vegan.”
Named one of the greatest runners of all time, vegan ultramarathon runner, Scott Jurek, has taken first place in nearly all of ultrarunning’s elite trail and road events. He ran the entire length of the Appalachian Trail in a record-setting 46 days, eight hours and seven minutes; won the 135-mile Badwater Ultramarathon, the 'world’s toughest foot race,' twice and the 153-mile long Spartathlon in Greece three consecutive times. For almost three decades, Jurek has been vegan. Prompted by a family history of chronic illness he credits the longevity of his career and his lack of injuries and recovery time, to his diet. If you’re a runner, check out his website for some great tips on running better and fuelling your body with plants.
Two-time International Surfing Association World Champion, Puerto Rican-born, Californian surfer, Tia Blanco, has been named one of the top 50 women surfers in the world. The twenty-five year old was raised vegetarian before turning vegan in 2013, keeping to a plant-based diet to fuel her daily training regimen, which can consist of surfing eight hours a day. Blanco proudly shares her holistic and vegan lifestyle on her social media with her 470k fans.
Gotta eat a pound of flesh to err, pound flesh? Heavyweight boxer, Bryant Jennings, who used to be a vegetarian before switching to a strict vegan diet in 2015 for health reasons, doesn't think so. “I just thought healthy eating, clean eating was much better. And it really has been great for me,” he was quoted in the Guardian in 2019. He has a record 24 wins from 28 fights, and credits his vegan diet with giving him extra mental clarity and keeping him feeling young. He’s not the only boxer in the ring to have switched to a plant based diet. Former heavyweight champion and British boxing superstar, Anthony Joshua, as well as Timothy Bradley, David Haye and Cam Awesome, prove that a plant based diet can keep you ripped, fit and in fighting form.
Aussie-born NBA basketball player for the Brooklyn Nets, Kyrie Irving, switched to a vegan diet in 2017 after watching the Netflix documentary What The Health, saying it improved his mood and energy and that his "entire body feels great". He's not the only one to play ball. He joins other vegan NBA stars like three-time NBA champ JaVale McGee, LA Lakers’ DeAndre Jordan and Phoenix Suns' Chris Paul who credits his switch to a vegan diet as instrumental in helping him return to the NBA All-Star game for the first time in four seasons. Irving, along with 13 other professional athletes, is also an investor in Beyond Meat.