Veganism. It's a word with more baggage than an airport carousel. Everybody has their opinions formed on veganism long before the discussion even begins. It's like religion and politics—one's diet should just not be discussed.
The idea of veganism encompasses much more than just adding more veggies to your lunch. Some vegans abstain from all animal products, clothes and other manufactured goods included. So, to be labeled a vegan may be misleading for someone who wears leather boots while eating falafel. For such individuals, the phrase "on a plant-based diet" is much more accurate.
Professional athletes have long extolled the virtues of eating well. Both ancient and modern Olympians have long eaten vegan (veggies no dairy) or vegetarian (veggies with dairy) diets. Today's athletes take those virtues to the extreme, the same place they take the limits of their bodies and sport.
World-class athletes who eat vegan (a plant-based diet) are becoming more and more mainstream. New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady eats a predominantly plant-based diet. However, he allows for some delicious fatty salmon in the winter. World-record-holding rock climber Alex Honnold, the guy who scaled El Capitan with no harness, eats a plant-based diet. He only allows for the occasional mac and cheese. Formula One Champion Lewis Hamilton had already won four championships when he went plant-based in 2017. The following season, Lewis won his fifth championship.
Pro athletes switch to plant-based diets for health benefits like faster recovery time, less joint pain, increased athletic performance and lower blood pressure. And the list grows daily. And these athletes aren't obscure. Our list-topping plant-based athlete is one of the most accomplished and most recognizable names in American sports history. But first, some honorable mentions.
Top 10 Vegan Pro Athletes
Kendrick Farris is the first bodybuilder on our list, but not the last. The American powerlifted for Uncle Sam at the 2016 Rio Olympics and has been plant-based for years. One look at his bulky build should dispel any protein deficiency myths. This bodybuilder built his body on plant protein.
Australian sprinter Morgan Mitchell says her plant-based diet allows her to recover quicker and stronger while feeling lighter and unbloated. The former World Relay Champion was one of several plant-based competitors at the 2016 Olympics.
Canadian pairs figure skater Meagan Duhamel attributes her edge to a vegan diet. It's hard to argue with results: she's a seven-time Canadian champion, Olympic gold medal winner and two-time World Champ.
Olympic Gold medal-winning snowboarder Hannah Teter made the switch to veganism over animal cruelty and environmental concerns. She rides for animal rights and is a two-time Olympic medalist and former X-Games Champion.
Now, without further ado, your top 10 professional plant-based/vegan athletes.
10. Cam Newton
NFL player Cam Newton replaced Tom Brady in New England when the elder Brady left for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Tom left Cam the keys to his offensive engine plus tips on a new diet. Newton eats plant-based for faster recovery time. Newton gets the nod over Colin Kaepernick, whose veganism likely makes him even more controversial amongst NFL fans.
9. Tia Blanco
Tia Blanco is a world champion surfer and BeyondMeat Ambassador. She is the rare elite athlete who has never once eaten meat because she grew up in a vegetarian household. The surfer still shreds today while also sharing vegan recipes through her social media. Her vegan recipes are rich in carbohydrates, an alternative energy source to an arguably more delicious protein.
8. Nate Diaz
UFC Champion Nate Diaz shocked the world with his upset defeat of meat-eating loud-mouth Conor McGregor in UFC 196. Diaz says eggs and fish occasionally land on his plate, but he goes 100 percent raw vegan when training for bouts. The documentary The Game Changers chronicled McGregor's ironically diet-centric trash-talk before his defeat at the hands of a vegan.
7. Kyrie Irving
The NBA is truly America's most woke league. Irving is far from the only NBA star to go vegan—All-Stars Damian Lillard and Chris Paul have tried plant-based as well. (Lillard complained of losing too much weight; CP3 still eats plant-based.) Former four-time NBA Champion John Salley is vegan, though he could never ball like Irving. That's why Irving's on the list. He's the only plant-based NBA player who has hit a series-winning shot in the Finals.
6. Scott Jurek
Not every incredible athlete is a household name. Scott Jurek, despite his relative anonymity, is a world-class ultramarathon runner and Ironman. He's known as the Michael Jordan of Ultrarunning, but even that is an understatement. MJ only won 6 titles; SJ has 16. Jurek ran the Appalachian Trail on a vegan diet in 2015. Though the famed AT takes most hikers 4-6 months to complete, plant-fueled Jurek ran it in 46 days.
5. Patrik Baboumian
Again, another unrecognizable athlete who has accomplished humongous feats. Nobody outside of the weightlifting and vegan communities knows who Patrik Baboumian is, though they probably should. He's likely the strongest man who has ever lived and verifiably the strongest man ever recorded. The strongman weight-lifter attributes his fast recovery time to a vegan diet.
4. Alex Morgan
USWNT great Alex Morgan has been thrilling US fans of the Olympics and World Cup since 2010. She hasn't convinced Megan Rapinoe or Abby Wambach to go vegan yet. Still, Morgan's continued success with the National Team and Orlando Pride might do the (hat) trick. The two-time World Cup Champion has scored over 100 international goals since 2010. She became a vegan in 2017, scoring 36 goals in international competitions since.
3. Novak Djokovic
The Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) No. 1-ranked tennis player in the world Novak Djokovic wears the "world champion" label proudly but eschews the label "vegan." He doesn't appreciate the term's complications even though he is on a strict veggie-based diet. Whatever you call him, the Djoker credits his speedy recoveries to his pseudo-vegan lifestyle.
2. Carl Lewis
Carl Lewis is quite possibly the greatest advocate for plant-based diets the world has ever known. The nine-time Olympic gold medalist (!) set all of his personal bests after the age of 30 (!!) after switching to a plant-based diet (!!!). Lewis is one of the greatest Olympians of All Time, American or not. The sprinter's reliance on veggies is a powerful testimony.
1. Serena Williams
Serena Williams has laid her claim to Greatest American Athlete of All Time. As a singles tennis player, Williams has won 23 Grand Slams, one Olympic Gold, five U.S. Opens and 20 WTA tours. That's 73 titles in total. As a doubles team with sister Venus Williams, Serena won 23 titles, bringing her professional tennis titles net to nearly 100. Numbers like that are unmatched in tennis history.
It was her sister Venus who convinced Serena to go vegan. When Venus was diagnosed with auto-immune disease Sjogren's syndrome, both sisters switched to a vegan diet to reduce inflammation. Serena now owns a vegan clothing line in addition to a few plant-based-diet-fueled trophies.
Vegans may be annoying, but they also set records. If you're an athlete who wants to reduce fatigue, swelling and recovery time, then adding more veggies and carbs to your diet may be the move for you. Eating less meat and more greens has tons of benefits, from physical to mental health. But the beefiest use to going green might be becoming a champion, as so many vegan athletes have already done.
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