While the words “vegan” and “athlete” used to be considered mutually exclusive, today we’re seeing more and more professional athletes make headlines as they switch to a plant-based diet.
Why are these plant-based athletes making the switch? While there are many environmental and ethical reasons to choose plants over beef, athletes in particular may be interested in the health benefits that come from eating a plant-based diet. Nutrition science shows time and again that eating a whole food plant-based is best for our bodies -- including our athletic performance and recovery. A plant-based diet, rich in foods like spinach and berries in particular, is linked to reduced inflammation and muscle soreness in athletes, which is key for faster recovery times.
But what about protein?
A big concern, particularly among athletes, is that you can’t get enough protein on a plant-based diet. A valid worry since protein is vital for building, preserving, and repairing the tissue and muscle in our bodies. The good news is: you can absolutely get all the protein you need with plant-based foods. (In fact, Americans are generally eating way too much protein, which can have adverse effects on our health, leading to kidney disease, kidney stones, cancer, and osteoporosis.)
Once you move beyond your protein anxiety, you can take advantage of all the benefits of eating a whole food plant-based diet, including the freedom to eat a large quantity of nutrient-dense foods that boost your energy, stamina, recovery time, and strength.
Still not convinced? Don’t just take our word for it. These ten pro athletes have not only succeeded in the big leagues but have accredited their athletic growth to their plant-based lifestyles.
Making waves in the racing world since elementary school, Ryan Reed is taking on NASCAR full-force now as a pro driver. Living with Type 1 Diabetes, Ryan is a huge advocate for health and awareness. Having a hectic lifestyle makes eating a balanced diet hard, so Ryan turns to MamaSezz ready-made meal delivery when he’s on the road. Coming off of a big win in Daytona in 2017, “Ryan is not only living out his dream of being a racecar driver, but also educating millions.”
Photo Credit: @dancopenhaver
This US Rowing National Team Member has already walked away with several titles, including two US Rowing Elite National Championship titles, and is an Olympic Hopeful for 2020. Now blogging and training, Copenhaver has said veganism began for her in 2012 when a friend asked what she was giving up for Lent. Since switching to a plant-based diet she’s noticed she doesn’t get sick, can maintain her weight without sacrificing the quantity she eats, and she’s still getting faster.
Arguably one of the world’s best Ultramarathoners, Scott Jurek has been competing on a plant-based diet since 1999 and is now a New York Times Bestselling author. Originally from Duluth, Minnesota Jurek holds numerous winning and record-setting titles all over the nation and world. Scott has even broke the US record for miles run in a 24 hour period (165.7)! Plant-based nutrition and veganism has been an important part of Jurek’s journey, one that he explains his transition into in his autobiography, Eat & Run. Each chapter even ends with one of his favorite vegan recipes!
Venus and Serena Williams have been household names for years, paving the way for young female athletes all over the world. But, did you know they follow a plant-based diet? When Venus was diagnosed with an incurable autoimmune disease called Sjogrens Syndrom in 2011, her doctor encouraged her to eat go vegan. To show support to her sister, Serena made the switch as well. After a brief recovery period, the duo qualified for the 2012 Olympic games where together they won their third doubles Olympic gold metal.
At 6’5” and 300 pounds, NFL Defensive Lineman David Carter has played for both the Cardinals and Cowboys and touts his plant-based diet as crucial to his success. Carter says it’s fine to be machismo on the field, but when it comes to eating, you need to have compassion for your body. He is now a public speaker and both he and his wife serve on the staff of Vegan Outreach.
Photo Credit: @benguernsey
Breaking many boundaries in the cyclo-cross racing world, Molly is the only transgender athlete to compete in a UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup. Cyclo-cross racing is like bike racing, but on intense tracks where you at times need to carry your bike over rough terrain. Biking every day for four or five hours, Cameron now also runs two bike businesses out of Portland, Oregon. 100% plant-fueled Cameron has big plans for future races.
Currently an MLB pitcher for the Philadelphia Phillies, he’s been playing professionally since he was drafted in 2002 by the Minnesota Twins. Due to an unorthodox pitching delivery, batters have a hard time tracking the path of his pitches and has therefore resulted in his 462 strikeouts. Since the year he was drafted he has been vegan and has said it has contributed to some major career successes.
Climbing as a sponsored professional since 1996, Steph Davis has become a voice for not only veganism, but simplicity, travel, and love. Incredibly inspiring, she lived out of a van (still does on occasion) in order to pursue her dreams and advocates for women climbers everywhere. She regularly shares plant-based recipes and tips on her blog. Oh, she also skydives and base jumps off cliffs in a wingsuit, like a flying squirrel.
An outspoken vegan bodybuilder, Torre has been competing for nearly a decade and has been plant based for over two. Throughout his years, Torre has obtained four different Pro Cards with prominent bodybuilding organizations, and many top-three and winning placements. Torre has said that being vegan is not normal in a bodybuilding environment, but that has only fueled him to do more. He loves inspiring others to achieve their dreams and aims to Live In Freedom Everyday.
This young pro surfer, vlogger, and entrepreneur from Costa Rica is not only killing the game in her career, she’s also doing it plant-based. She’s been vegan for five years and said she was seeking a healthy athletic diet: “I want to fuel my body with the best food so that I can stay energized and strong. The vegan diet has definitely sustained me and made me feel really good!” This 2020 Olympic hopeful regularly shares her food habits and plant-based tips on her YouTube channel and advocates for the environment while she wins competitions.
If you're looking to make the switch to whole plant-based foods, here are some helpful tips to keep your game plant-powered:
Eating a wide variety of fruits, vegetables and legumes at every meal will help get you the diverse rage of vitamins and nutrients your body needs to fuel itself. Increasing diversity will also help you naturally consume all required proteins.
If you’re WFPB and exert lots of energy in your workouts, don’t be afraid to eat many meals throughout the day. Centering your meals around calorie dense items such as potatoes, quinoa, lentils, beans, squash or grains while adding nutrient-dense items like leafy greens and other colorful veggies can give you the fuel you need. Don’t worry too much about counting calories either; you’ll be filled up by volume before you consume too much.
As a plant-based athlete, be prepared! Find cornerstone foods that you can always have on hand in case you’re in a pinch. Set yourself up for success so you have a wholesome solution when hunger strikes. We’ve got some plant-based recipe ideas here.
By Monica Brown
Your nutrition questions answered.