15 Elite Vegan Athletes Who Prove You Don’t Need Meat

These vegan athletes are stunning examples of how going plant-based isn’t just helpful for performance; it can actually make all the difference between winning and losing

By Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi

There’s a widespread misconception that elite vegan athletes simply cannot exist – after all, they need loads of animal-based protein to increase their muscle size and responses, right? Wrong! A growing number of elite, professional athletes are actually cutting dairy, eggs and meat out of their diets for various reasons. 

And well they should: whilst meat does indeed provide protein, it also makes the body highly acidic, which leads to inflammation. Not good when your muscles are trying to recover after a challenging match or training session! Vegan athletes report more energy, quicker recovery times and better performance than their carnivorous counterparts.

In fact, the smash hit film The Game Changers beautifully illustrates all these points.

Directed by Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker Louie Psihoyos and executive produced by James Cameron, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jackie Chan, Lewis Hamilton, Novak Djokovic, and Chris Paul, The Game Changers tells the story of James Wilks — elite Special Forces trainer and The Ultimate Fighter winner — as he travels the world on a quest to uncover the optimal diet for human performance.

Showcasing elite athletes, special ops soldiers, visionary scientists, cultural icons, and everyday heroes, what James discovers has permanently changed the perception of veganism and sport.

In short, the move makes it crystal clear that a vegan diet isn’t just better for your overall health and that of the planet, but it even gives the best athletes in the world an edge over their competition.

Don’t believe me? Just check the list of A-list athletes who have changed their diets to become more plant-based, or even fully vegan, with stunning results.

These Elite Vegan Athletes Prove You Don’t Need Meat

Elite Vegan Athletes

1. Venus Williams

Probably the most famous American tennis player in the world, Venus Williams holds four Olympic gold medals, and has won the prestigious Wimbledon women’s singles title five times. She decided to go vegan when she was diagnosed with Sjögren’s Syndrome in 2011 and doctors recommended this change to her diet in order to relieve some of her symptoms such as extreme fatigue and joint pain. Ever since, Venus seems more driven and powerful than ever!

Image: Wikicommons

Elite Vegan Athletes

2. Lionel Messi

Messi is considered one of the greatest football players of our time, and so far, he’s won 32 trophies for Spanish club Barcelona. The prolific goalscorer holds the records for most official goals and is an inspiration for his colleagues when it comes to plant based living. After a poor performance in the 2014 World Cup, Messi decided to see if his diet could make a difference in his performance, and he consulted a nutritionist to make some changes. Today, he places great emphasis on organic whole foods, especially fruit, nuts and vegetables, and he has seriously curbed his meat consumption – tough for an Argentine – but it seems to be working!

Image: Wikicommons

Elite Vegan Athletes

3. Lewis Hamilton

MBE Lewis Hamilton is one of the best known vegan athletes. He’s considered the best racing driver of his generation, being a four-time Formula One World Champion for Mercedes AMG Petronas. The car champion recently shared a social media post where he was urging his fans to go vegan, like him.

In his Instagram story, the athlete posted a video containing slaughterhouse footage with the caption if you can’t bear this with your eyes, don’t put them  in your mouth.” Surely his 6.8 million followers will have been strongly affected by his advice, and it’s nice to see that one athlete on our list is vegan ‘for the animals’ instead of to improve his own performance – though we’re sure his diet must be a factor in Hamilton’s success!

Image: Wikicommons

Elite Vegan Athletes

4. Tom Brady

American football quarterback Tom Brady and his model wife Gisele Bündchen are both committed to saving the planet by following a plant-based diet. Brady is leading a vegan movement within his league, encouraging his colleagues to follow a plant-based diet. Brady even teamed up with vegan meal delivery service Purple Carrot to create his own range of meatless, dairy-free meals called TB12 Performance.

Image: Wikicommons

Elite Vegan Athletes

5. Jermain Defoe

OBE football player Jermain Defoe is famous for his role in the Premier League club AFC Bournemouth and the English national team. Documentaries such as ‘What The Health,’ ‘Cowspiracy’ and ‘Carnage’ have sparked in Defoe the decision to go vegan, to which he credits his continued excellence on field. The subject matter is so dear to Defoe, that he even created his own short film with meat-free food brand Quorn. 

Image: Wikicommons

Elite Vegan Athletes

6. Sergio Agüero

The Argentine footballer Sergio Agüero is known for his role as a striker for Premier League club Manchester City and the Argentine national team. Besides being the son-in-law of Diego Armando Maradona, Sergio’s BFF is Lionel Messi, who encouraged him to follow a vegan diet. Eliminating the meat and dairy from his eating habits has remarkably enhanced Agüero’s performance.

Image: Wikicommons

Elite Vegan Athletes

7. Hector Bellerin

The Spanish born footballer plays for both Arsenal and of course, the Spanish national team. He’s famous for his speed, moving swiftly to a defensive position, and he credits a vegan diet for his incredible performance since the start of the season. Hector explained that his new diet has helped prevent injury, too: “For me the most important thing is the inflammation in my body after games and the speed that my body recovers compared to before,” he said.

Image: Wikicommons

Elite Vegan Athletes

8. Carl Lewis

Carl Lewis was voted World Athlete of the Decade in the 1980s, and also holds the prestigious title Olympic Athlete of the Century. And so, how did he manage to become such an awesome athlete? A vegan diet, of course! He initially turned vegan because he was eager to obtain more nutrients while minimising excessive calories. The result was spectacular – his best timing in his competitions came after the first year he followed a vegan diet. 

Image: Wikicommons

Elite Vegan Athletes

9. Rob Bigwood

Did Popeye the Sailor Man acquire his incredible force through steak? No, it was spinach! It seems like the cartoon hero has found a real life 21st century successor in the vegan arm wrestler Rob Bigwood. His choice was to go ethical for the animals and planet, but it’s also turned out to be highly beneficial for his body. Bigwood — whose surname seems to mark his eco-powered destiny —  is the winner of over 40 State Championships and became the star of the ‘Game of Arms’ arm wrestling sports documentary series.

Photo: Flickr by hyunlab

Elite Vegan Athletes

10. Heather Mills

This may be one of the best known elite vegan athletes, since the skier who competes in disability sports is also the former Mrs Paul McCartney. When she suffered the loss of part of her leg in 1993 after a collision with a police motorcycle responding to an emergency, part of her healing process involved switching to a vegan diet. She appreciated the medical benefits of this diet that she has now become a strong vegan advocate. She says: “My plan is to improve the world with veganism and that includes showing that healthy vegans can be the best in sport.

In 2012, she won four Golds at the United States Adaptive Alpine Skiing National Championships World Cup in Colorado, and the following year she earned a Silver World Cup medal for Slalom in New Zealand. In 2015 Heather finally achieved her five world records.  

Photo: Heather Mills

11. Meagan Duhamel

Canadian figure skating champ Meagan Duhamel is a two time World Champion, a seven time Canadian Champion and a Gold, Silver and Bronze Winter Olympic medal winner. She ditched meat, milk, cheese or anything that comes from an animal from 2008, after reading the book ‘Skinny Bitch.’

While Meagan was preparing for the 2014 winter Olympics, she explained that she was feasting on homemade bread, pumpkin-apple butter, granola, cookies, trail mixes, and similar snacks to achieve a win, and that year, Duhamel and Radford became the first pair team to land a side-by-side triple Lutz at any Winter Olympic competition.

Image: Wikicommons

12. Andy Lally

Andy Lally is a world class racing driver who has achieved some notable milestones, such as winning the 24 Hours at Daytona race five times, and being the 2006, 2004 and 2001 Grand Am Rolex Series Champion, holding the series records for the most top 3 and top 5 finishes.

He became vegan in 2009 because he didn’t want to torture other living beings for his meals, and wanted to explore more plant-based options for his health, too.

Image: Flickr

13. Griff Whalen

The is a football wide receiver, who is currently a free agent, is yet another of our elite vegan athletes. Whalen has also been a member of the Miami Dolphins, (many of whom are also vegans!) the San Diego ChargersNew England PatriotsBaltimore Ravens, and Oakland Raiders, as well as for the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League.

14. Morgan Mitchell

Want proof that vegan athletes kick the butts of their competition? Mitchell competed in the 4 × 400 metres relay event at the 2015 World Championships in Beijing without advancing to the final. She represented Australia in the Women’s 400m and Women’s 4 × 400 m Relay at the 2016 Summer Olympics, with no medal. But after going vegan, she has won her last twelve races, culminating in a victory for the national title recently. Morgan joins more and more vegan athletes who are proving that not only can you be at the peak of health without consuming animal products, but that you can even dominate the highest levels of sport.

Image: Animal Liberation Victoria via Facebook

15. Patrik Baboumian

Patrik Baboumian, a power lifting world-record holder and winner of Germany’s Strongest Man, is a full-on vegan powered machine of strength. Shortly after leaving meat and other animal products off the menu, Baboumian felt a tremendous improvement in his health and recovery times. Moreover, he continued to increase his strength and break power lifting records.

Baboumian’s vegan journey, which is explained in the video below, is particularly important since it demonstrates how one can retain and gain strength without compromising at all on ethics.

Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi
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