While it may seem difficult for athletes to meet nutritional needs entirely from plant foods during intense physical training, believe it or not a variety of top athletes are, indeed, vegan dieters. Knowing more about these athletes and how they eat might make you consider vegan dieting yourself.
Winning 14 Grand Slam women's doubles titles and seven Grand Slam singles tennis titles (don't forget about four Olympic gold medals), Venus Williams knows what it takes to be a competitive, top-performing athlete. After being diagnosed with Sjogren's syndrome in 2011 and experiencing joint pain and fatigue, Williams began eating a diet packed with raw, vegan foods to fuel her body.
Ultra marathoner Scott Jurek (holding more than 15 ultramarathon titles) began following a vegan diet in college as a way to avoid chronic diseases including a family history of multiple sclerosis. Scott's diet, which may contain up to 6,000 calories per day, consists of favorites like blended smoothies with plant-based protein powder, greens, fruits, healthy fats (especially oils), plant-based energy bars, pasta with olive oil, toast with coconut oil, oatmeal with coconut oil, salads, bean tortillas, nut butter sandwiches, vegan sushi, and brown rice veggie bowls.
Downhill skier Heather Mills holds plenty of sports-related accomplishments. In fact, she's a 5-time world record holder. After a collision with a police motorcycle, Heather lost her leg and now uses a prosthetic leg during sporting events. After her surgery, she adopted a vegan diet to help her body heal, and she claimed it worked wonders.
Record-breaking weightlifter (and Olympic competitor) Kendrick Farris also follows a strictly plant-based diet. His body is not only strong, it recovers from events quickly. In 2016, Farris broke U.S. weightlifting records at the 2016 Olympic trials. You might find Farris eating beans, a black bean loaf, bean burgers, and lots of veggies.
Bodybuilder and personal trainer Jehina Malik carefully sculpts her body using only plant-based fuel. She's placed first in numerous bodybuilding competitions and received her pro card for professional bodybuilding in 2014. Malik may consume plant-based protein powder shakes with berries, soymilk, oats, and nuts for breakfast. She enjoys leafy greens, lots of other veggies, tofu, brown rice, quinoa, tempeh, and additional vegan protein shakes throughout the rest of the day, especially after workouts.
Olympic sprinter Carl Lewis has earned a wide array of athletic accolades, including winning ten Olympic medals (nine of them gold). Lewis switched to vegan diet for health reasons and to improve athletic performance, and it obviously paid off. He claims his best year competing was when he switched from a meat-based to entirely plant-based meal plan and says athletes don't need meat protein to be successful. While Lewis is no longer strictly vegan (although he is still vegetarian), at the time of his greatest accomplishments he was.
Guinness World Record holder (in marathon running) Fiona Oakes is a pro at fueling her body with plant-based foods. A major accomplishment includes running seven marathons in just seven days. Fiona began vegan dieting when she was a teenager and has peace of mind knowing no animal is abused because of her lifestyle and eating habits. Oakes is another example of how eating all plant-based foods doesn't negatively impact (and appears to improve) intense athletic performance.
Rock climber Steph Davis was the first woman to complete several intense climbs such as free solo climbing Diamond on Longs Peak and Salathe Wall on El Capitan. Davis enjoys fueling her body with whole grains (like muesli), vegan energy bars, nuts, beans, other veggies, lentil soup, brown rice noodles, and a variety of other plant-based, energy-dense meals and snacks.
Canadian figure skater Meagan Duhamel is a seven-time Canadian national champion, and she received gold and bronze medals at the 2018 winter Olympic Games. Duhamel holds the title Vegan Athlete of the Year (in 2016). A few of her favorite snacks include trail mix, homemade bread with apple butter, and granola just to name a few.
You may not think of a mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter as someone who follows a plant-based diet, but that just what MMA fighter Nate Diaz does. He's signed to the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) lightweight division and is ranked in the top ten. He claims meat slows him down, and he prefers foods like cauliflower or zucchini noodles with beans for protein.
Former bodybuilder and strongman Patrik Baboumian proves plant protein is just as effective as meat and dairy foods when it comes to putting on and maintaining lean muscle mass. Baboumian holds several powerlifting records and was named Germany's strongest man. He claims going vegan boosted his body mass and strength, lowered blood pressure, and increased recovery time. What does Baboumian eat to keep him going strong? He loves legumes (beans, peas and lentils), other veggies, potatoes, rice, nuts, and other nutrient-dense plant fuel.
You might be surprised to hear power lifter Alison Crowdus, a nationally recognized athlete, eats an entirely plant-based diet. Crowdus holds numerous U.S. records in bench press. After switching to a vegan diet in 2012, she noticed improvements in overall heath and recovery time. You might see her eating tofu, pea protein, sweet potatoes, brown rice, quinoa, veggies, and healthy fats (nut butters, avocados and oils).
Professional wrestler Austin Aries, who signed with World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), is in peak athletic shape and powered entirely by plants. He holds over 20 championship titles. If you see Aries chowing down, you'll probably find him with plant-based proteins such as lentils, as well as veggies and whole grains.
American surfer Tia Blanco boasts a host of athletic accomplishments including being a two-time world surfing champion. Blanco eats an array of whole plant-based foods including vegan smoothies, oatmeal, quinoa, tofu, fruits, veggies, and nuts. You might find her enjoying scrambled tofu with fruit and oatmeal for breakfast and veggies, grains, and legumes (or tofu) for lunch and dinner.
Former NFL defensive end David Carter had no intention of becoming a vegan, but that's exactly what happened after suffering from chronic pain and high blood pressure. He lost weight and increased energy levels after making the switch to plant-based foods. You might find Carter eating beans, flax seeds, fruits, veggies, plant-based protein shakes, and other whole foods. Since going vegan, he claims he sleeps better and doesn't suffer from tendinitis pain (or high blood pressure) as he once did.
Numerous athletes have made the switch to vegan dieting, and most claim doing so helped them feel and perform better. As long as your menus are well-balanced and carefully planned, vegan diets are just as healthy (even more so in many cases) as non-vegan alternatives.