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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.
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.
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!
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 have made a difference!
3. Lewis Hamilton
MBE Lewis Hamilton is 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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
10. Heather Mills
The vegan skier who competes in disability sports is probably best known as 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, as she said: “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.
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.