Veganism in professional sports is slowly on the rise. Though the thought of a diet without animal-based proteins, such as meat and dairy products, scares some athletes, more are switching to the vegan diet for health and performance reasons. To think that you can't get sufficient amounts of protein or carbohydrates on a vegan diet is a common misconception.
There is a plethora of non-meat and non-dairy products from which athletes can get their protein and carbs for muscle growth and recovery. Quinoa, soybeans, spinach, seeds and legumes are just a few popular ways athletes can stay strong and keep their muscles growing for their sport.
To prove that athletes can still be strong and successful on a vegan diet, we found 9 professional athletes you had no clue were vegan. Any athlete can reach his or her full athletic potential with a balanced and well-planned vegan diet, and the proof is below.
Denver Nuggets forward Wilson Chandler recently turned vegan. After watching food documentaries, he decided to change his diet. Another reason the 29-year-old decided to go vegan was for muscle recovery. "Part of why I stopped eating meat is because the more acid is in your body, the harder it is for muscles to recover," Wilson told GQ. His performance has improved since he went vegan. Wilson is averaging per game the most points (17.2) and rebounds (7.3) of his career so far this season.
Here is what Wilson eats on a daily basis.
Strawberries, cantaloupe, watermelon, grapes
Bowl of oatmeal with cranberries
Vegan protein shake
Veggie burger with vegan cheese and mayo
NFL free agent Griff Whalen went vegan in 2014. "I had been researching nutrition for a couple years looking for ways to improve as an athlete, but never came across anything that pointed me toward a vegan diet until I stumbled across Forks Over Knives and Engine 2 Kitchen Rescue on Netflix. So I had been looking into being healthier, but following a vegan diet was a sudden discovery," Whalen said according to greatveganathletes.com.
The 26-year-old wide receiver's favorite vegan meal is oatmeal. He has his own special recipe that you can make yourself from his website. Oatmeal gives him the energy and carbs he needs to make it through his hard working days.
Venus and Serena Williams
The Williams sisters, Venus and Serena, are arguably the most popular tennis players in the world. The both turned vegan in 2011, and both have had a great deal of success. After being diagnosed with Sjögren's syndrome, an autoimmune disease that results in fatigue, Venus went vegan to fight the disease's symptoms. Shortly thereafter, Serena made the change, not only to support her sister but to help her own athletic career.
After switching to a vegan diet, the sisters crushed the women's doubles tennis tournament at the 2012 Olympic Games in London, finishing with gold medals. According to beegans.com, Venus gets her calories and fuel from nuts, beans, lentils and sprouts—and she adds a plant-based protein powder to her smoothies. If you're still questioning the ability to stay strong on a vegan diet, check out Venus's abs in the picture below.
Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Pat Neshek is well known for his funky sidearm delivery on the mound, but what you might not know about him is that he went vegan in 2007.
Neshek was quoted on greatveganathletes.com: "I decided to become a vegan and get rid of all the animal products—meat and dairy. At first, it was basically just for the health benefits—I was intrigued by the 2005 season when I cut a lot of that stuff out and got a lot better," he said. "It really changed my career, and I thought, 'This might be something that helps me take my career to the next level.' And it wasn't the main reason, but I like knowing everything I eat was served in a humane way."
Nate and Nick Diaz
The Diaz brother are successful UFC fighters, and both are also vegan. Nick (age 33) went vegan as a teenager and eventually got his younger brother Nate (age 31) to join him. "I try to eat raw vegan. I've been doing that since I was 15, 16 years old, so I'm used to it. It definitely helps me not feel like s---, you know, and I got to train all week long," Nick said, according to vegan-kitchen.co.uk/.
Nate, who has been vegan since 18 years old, says that the vegan diet has a lot to do with his UFC success. "People are jumping on slowly but surely, but I think it's cool. I think you're a smarter and more intelligent fighter. Me and my brother are at the top of the game and have been for a long time. We're obviously doing something right. Besides knowing how to kick somebody in the head, you should know how to feel good tomorrow," Nate said, according to riseofthevegan.com.
Nate also told Men's Journal, "If anything, meat's gonna slow you down."
Tia Blanco is a World Champion surfer for the United States, and she's won the Women's Gold Medal the last two years in a row. The 19-year-old surfer has been vegan since 2013. "I eat a very clean plant-based vegan diet," Blanco said on riseofthevegan.com. "I feel very strong and energized eating the way I do. I do most of my own cooking for myself and often for my family. Since they are all vegan, it is very easy to experiment and try new things. I am very careful to make sure I am getting a good balance of proteins, good fats (yay coconut oil!) and vitamins."
In the videos below, you can see examples of what kind of food fuels Blanco and why she decided to go vegan.
Arizona Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu tore his ACL in the final weeks of the 2015 season. To try and speed up recovery, he decided to go vegan.
I was tired of eating poison & I was tired of supporting people that don't support us in a healthy way https://t.co/fKjpjYxtEV
— Tyrann Mathieu (@Mathieu_Era) April 2, 2016
While still new to a completely vegan diet, "The Honey Badger" said he felt amazing and energized.
I am not 100% vegan just yet, I am closing in tho.... I feel amazing, energized & got damn confident !!
— Tyrann Mathieu (@Mathieu_Era) April 5, 2016
Though going vegan might have sped up his recovery from knee injury, the one-time Pro Bowler has been dealing with other injuries throughout the 2016 season. He has only played in nine games and has sat out the last two weeks.
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