Think athletes need meat for muscle? Think again! These successful vegan athletes are actually plant-based and at the top of their game!
It is now becoming common knowledge that athletes don’t need animal protein to build and maintain muscle.
As a consequence, plant-based diets in the sporting industry are rising in popularity and vegan athletes can be found in almost every discipline.
From football stars to tennis pros, more and more celebrities are going plant-based to fuel their sporting success.
Keep reading to learn about the vegan athletes proving the myths about vegans and protein wrong!
1. Lewis Hamilton
This one may not come as a shock to some vegans, as the racing champion has his own chain of vegan fast-food restaurants, Neat Burger.
Hamilton is an outspoken supporter of animal rights, having made the plant-based switch in 2017 after watching the Netflix documentary What the Health.
Prior to watching it, he claimed he was “on a mission to go vegan” as “animal cruelty, global warming, and our personal health is at stake”.
He credits his vegan diet as the reason for his sporting success and changing his energy levels for the better.
Speaking to Men’s Health magazine, Hamilton explained: “I have more energy; I’m so much more productive. I wake up feeling way better, clearer in thought and fresher in my body.”
He also revealed that since going plant-based: “I recover quicker; I sleep better. My skin cleared up. I have fewer allergies. There are just so many impacts.”
“I’m physically in better shape than I’ve ever been, and I’m more successful than ever right now, and my plant-based programme has played such a big role in that.”
2. Scott Jurek
Ultrarunner Scott Jurek proves that you don’t need meat or dairy to excel in athletic performance.
He ran the entire length of the Appalachian Trail in a record-setting 46 days, eight hours and seven minutes.
He’s also won the 135-mile Badwater Ultramarathon, the “world’s toughest foot race,” twice; the 153-mile long Spartathlon in Greece three consecutive times.
Not to mention that he’s taken first place in just about all the ultrarunning world’s most high-profile races. All whilst abstaining from animal products!
Speaking to No Meat Athlete, Jurek explained: “A lot of people assume that one needs to eat animal products to gain a lot of muscle mass or sufficient muscle mass for even power sports, and that’s definitely been proved false time and time again.”
3. Tia Blanco
Vegan surfer Tia Blanco’s sporting career changed for the better after switching to a purely plant-based diet in 2013.
Just three years later in 2016, she became the first surfer to win back-to-back gold medals post-1996 at the World Surging Championships aged 19.
Having been brought up in a vegetarian household, she told Men’s Journal about her transition to veganism: “When I was 11 or 12 I started to get the questions — ‘Why are you vegetarian? Meat is good for you!’ ”
“And all I could say was, ‘Shoot, I have no idea.’ Then when I was 15, I watched the documentary Glass Walls and read The China Study, and then it became quite clear to me why I wanted to be vegetarian and why I wanted to adopt a vegan lifestyle.
“After doing my research, I chose to go vegan and have been dedicated to a vegan diet for  years now.”
The vegan athlete is vocal about her passion for veganism on her social media platforms and recently posted about celebrating World Vegan Day with a plate of plant-based goodness.
4. Dotsie Bausch
American Olympic silver medalist Dotsie Bausch is a thriving plant-based speed cyclist and passionate animal lover.
Throughout her career, she also achieved eight US national championships, two Pan American gold medals and a world record.
After retiring from competitive sport, she founded Switch4Good – a non-profit ‘rattling accepted norms around dairy and health.’
She admitted to OMD that she was worried a plant-based would impede her performance, explaining: “I found, however, the switch to plants had the exact opposite effect—I felt like it became my secret weapon.”
“I could breathe better during training and literally ride circles around my teammates who were many years my junior.
“What’s more, my recovery time decreased immensely. I didn’t have to spend nearly as much time resting from the gruelling workouts as I used to, which meant I could train more often and get stronger, faster.”
5. Alex Morgan
FIFA Women’s World Cup champion and Olympic gold medalist Alex Morgan is now a fierce proponent of a plant-based diet for peak athletic performance.
Furthermore, Morgan was named PETA’s most beautiful vegan celebrity of 2019 alongside fellow athlete Kyrie Irving.
“I never thought it was possible I could be playing at an elite level as a professional athlete with a plant-based diet. Then I realised it wasn’t detrimental at all.
“I am passionate about giving animals a voice. I adopted a vegan diet because it didn’t feel fair to have a dog I adore and yet eat meat all the time.”
6. Novak Djokovic
Multiple time Wimbledon champion and current world number one tennis player Novak Djokovic follows a plant-based diet for optimal athleticism.
At the age of 34, Djokovic should be nearing sporting retirement, but he is still at the top of his game. We think it’s his vegan diet keeping him strong!
Speaking during a press conference, he explained: “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.
“The slaughtering of animals and farming and everything, that’s obviously also a huge impact on climate change which maybe people don’t talk about as much.
“It’s more than a performance reason for me, it’s a lifestyle, it’s something I’m really proud of.”
7. Hannah Teter
Olympic gold medalist Hannah Teter went vegan after watching Earthlings and being shocked at the horrific treatment of animals.
The snowboarding champion cut out animal products completely and is now one of the fearsome vegan athletes changing the face of the sports industry.
“My plant-based diet has opened up more doors to being an athlete. It’s a whole other level that I’m elevating to. I stopped eating animals about a year ago, and it’s a new life. I feel like a new person, a new athlete.”
8. Morgan Mitchell
Sprinter Morgan Mitchell was just 21 when she competed in the 2016 Olympics in Rio, two years after switching to a plant-based diet.
She appeared in The Game Changers documentary alongside other vegan athletes including Dotsie Bauch and Scott Jurek, discussing the positive impacts a plant-based diet has had on her performance.
When asked what her teammates thought of her diet by Great Vegan Athletes, she explained: “After running PB after PB on my vegan diet I don’t think they could argue at all. There is still banter sometimes but you just have to shake it off and laugh.”
But eating vegan isn’t just about the health benefits for Morgan, “People often ask me ‘What if the vegan diet fails and you start running slower?’, ‘Will you ever eat meat again?’ or ‘Don’t you miss meat?’.
“I just have to reiterate the fact that 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 because without them we wouldn’t have life.”
9. Patrik Bouboumian
Those familiar with The Game Changers documentary and vegan veterans will recognise Patrik Bouboumian.
In 2011, he became Germany’s strongest man – the first-ever vegan to do so. He also won the 2012 European Powerlifting Championships in Finland, beating strongmen from across the continent.
Bouboumian is impossibly strong and watching him power lift could convert any meat-eating gym-goer to veganism.
In 2013 he told his followers: “This is a message to all those out there who think that you need animal products to be fit and strong. Almost two years after becoming vegan I am stronger than ever before and I am still improving day by day.
“Don’t listen to those self-proclaimed nutrition gurus and the supplement industry trying to tell you that you need meat, eggs and dairy to get enough protein.
“There are plenty of plant-based protein sources and your body is going to thank you for stopping feeding it with dead food. Go vegan and feel the power!”
10. Venus Williams
One half of the successful sister tennis duo Venus Williams has been fuelled by plants since 2011. The tennis pro went plant-based after being diagnosed with Sjogren’s Syndrome, an autoimmune disease.
Sjogren’s Syndrome causes joint pain and fatigue, which could have ended her tennis career. However, a vegan lifestyle allowed the tennis champion to manage her disease without medication and allowed her to continue playing the sport she loves.
Speaking to Health Magazine, she explained: “I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, and I wanted to maintain my performance on the court.
“Once I started, I fell in love with the concept of fueling your body in the best way possible [through raw, vegan food]. Not only does it help me on the court, but I feel like I’m doing the right thing for me.”
Venus is a vocal advocate of how a plant-based diet can fuel the active lifestyle of a professional athlete. In fact, she says other athletes even come to her for advice on cutting out meat.
Moreover, she launched her own vegan protein brand, Happy Viking last year to help aspiring vegan athletes recover after workouts and maintain muscle.
She has even inspired her sister Serena to adopt a plant-based diet during her tours. Now she fuels herself with meals such as oats with strawberries, toasted Ezekiel bread, and brown rice with hemp and chia seeds.
We love this pair of plant-powered super sisters!
11. Nick Kyrgios
Controversial sportsman Nick Kyrgios’ impressive sporting prowess is actually fuelled by a plant-based diet.
However, unlike many athletes whose primary motivation for being plant-based is their health, Kyrgios is also vegan for the animals.
The Australian tennis star was inspired to go vegan after the devastating fires that ravaged Australia in 2020.
In a blog post, he explained: “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.”
12. Kane Richardson
While many sportspeople are turning to a plant-based diet to help them achieve their goals, Australian cricketer Kane Richardson is proudly vegan for the animals.
In fact, Richardson said he didn’t care if his performance was negatively impacted by going vegan because his motivation for being vegan was to alleviate animal suffering.
Kane told the BBC: “I never really thought about if it would impact my cricket because I didn’t care to be honest.
“It’s my job but there’s bigger things out there in life. I thought ‘I’ll make do – if my body changes, I’ll figure it out’. For me it wasn’t a performance thing.”
The top sportsman initially went vegetarian in 2014 but cut out all animal products in 2016 after watching vegan documentaries on the meat and dairy industries.
To ensure he performs on the pitch, Richardson’s plant-based diet includes plenty of legumes and tofu, with the star saying he ‘eats a lot’.
13. Chris Paul
American basketball pro Chris Paul has credited his plant-based diet for reducing inflammation and muscle pain.
The NBA veteran ditched animal products back in 2019 in a bid to improve his performance, but soon realised that eating a plant-based diet was lifelong commitment after witnessing how his body changed.
“Years ago, I probably wouldn’t have even gone outside to run around with my kids and all the other activities because my body would be aching,” he told GQ.
“Now, with the constant lifting and making sure that my body is always ready, it’s been a good lifestyle change for me.”
To help keep him in top shape, Paul’s diet is filled with vegetables and protein-packed foods such as JustEgg scramble and Beyond Meat sausage patties. Howeve, he finds a healthy balance by enjoying vegan cookies and churros as a treat.
“There are so many different foods that you’re able to eat… The biggest thing when I went plant-based is it opened me up to the diversity of foods that you can have,” he explained.
14. Mady Villiers
England’s Women’s Ashes star Mady Villiers went vegan in 2019 after watching an online lecture on veganism that left her feeling shocked at how little she knew about where her food came from.
She soon noticed a positive change in her physical performance, and started to feeling “a lot more refreshed”.
“Becoming vegan hasn’t impacted my game at all in any way, shape or form, if anything, I feel better,” she said.
Mady added: “I recover a lot quicker; I didn’t expect these benefits to happen.”
15. Chris Smalling
Roma defender Chris Smalling originally dabbled with veganism to make things easier for his vegan wife, but soon discovered that eating a plant-based diet helped him stay healthy and injury-free on the football pitch.
Speaking about his journey to veganism, Smalling told The Telegraph: “My wife is vegan and has been for a few years. She’s often tried to persuade me. She cooks a lot at home and half the time I was eating vegan anyway. I wasn’t fully vegan. When we ate out, I would have what I normally have.”
“After a while I started to cut out red meat, because red meat causes quite a lot of inflammation and I had a lot of tendinitis in my knee, which many footballers get. Red meat causes a lot of that inflammation and when I was cutting that down, the tendinitis started to go. It used to be a problem in terms of warm-ups, because getting going was a bit of a nightmare. My tendinitis has got better and better.”
According to the vegan athlete, this change led to cutting out meat from his diet altogether, and eventually going fully vegan.
Discussing the impact his diet has had on his match performance, he said: “Since [turning vegan], I’ve played a lot of games,’ he said. ‘Normally the second day after a game would be the worst. I would feel very tired, but I felt like I was recovering very quickly. In terms of the vegan diet there were a lot of factors that helped with that and I was able to keep banging out games without being too sore.”
16. Héctor Bellerín
One of the most famous vegan athletes is Arsenal defender Héctor Bellerín who has been vocal about the benefits he has enjoyed on a plant-based diet.
Initially, Bellerín dabbled with a plant-based diet to get a feel for it and to see how it impacted his performance on the pitch, but soon found himself sticking with it after noticing his recovery time improving.
“At first, it was all about trying it. How it tastes, how it feels, and how it helps, but I think it does way more than that, and now I see myself totally dependent on this particular diet. There is no denying that I love it more than anything else on my table” Bellerin told The Players’ Tribune.
“For me the most important thing is that inflammation in my body after games and the speed that my body recovers compared to before. I’ve always had little problems in my ankles when I played very hard games, they’d get very inflamed and stiff.
“Now I don’t even have to strap them to play any more. It doesn’t just make a difference in your body but I strongly believe that with what we’re doing to the earth [it’s] paying back the earth too.”
Were you surprised by any of these vegan athletes?
If so, check out our article revealing 15 plant-based celebrities you didn’t know eat a plant-based diet. You’ll be shocked!