Who Are The Best Vegetarian and Vegan Athletes in Each Sport?
Often the idea of a professional athlete that’s vegetarian or vegan is seen as being unfathomable. How could an athlete possibly compete professionally while living off a diet based on fruits, vegetables, and nuts? To give some context to the number of calories needed by a pro athlete, Iron Man Magazine estimated most football players ingest between 4,000 to 6,000 calories per day during the game season – of which many of those calories are recommended to come from protein to support peak performance. This is easily achievable for many athletes when considering a meat-based diet since this eating pattern includes foods that are both calorie and nutrient-dense. But what happens when meat is removed from the equation? Is it possible for a pro athlete to meet the rigorous demands of a training schedule only fueled by plants?
While planning out micro and macronutrients can be a bit more complex, it certainly is possible to achieve peak performance and ditch meat products. Many professional athletes from football, basketball, tennis, and even weightlifting have been successful in unifying the two lifestyles.
Before we shine a spotlight on some top-performing vegetarian and vegan pro athletes, it’s important to understand what being vegetarian is and why someone would choose this eating pattern. At its core, being vegetarian is about removing foods that involve the slaughter of animals. A vegan takes this one step further by removing all animal products or products derived from animals from their diet. It’s important to keep in mind that there are varying degrees of being vegetarian and vegan. Some vegetarians find it acceptable to include items like eggs, dairy products, and other animal byproducts within the diet, while others would consider a number of these off-limits.
Ethical and environmental impact reasons aside, a plant-based diet offers many benefits for the human body. Compared with meat eaters, vegetarians often consume less saturated fat and cholesterol while increasing their consumption of important nutrients like vitamins C and E, dietary fiber, folic acid, and potassium to name a handful. This equates to a lower risk of heart disease, certain types of cancer, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure. With these benefits in mind, a pro athlete could potentially choose vegetarianism or veganism as a way to extend their career by avoiding unnecessary health risks.
Now that we have laid out a foundational understanding of vegetarianism and veganism, let’s take a look at some of the top vegetarian and vegan athletes in the NFL and NBA – and how Evolution Nutrition factors into this conversation.
Best Vegetarian Players in the NFL
( @williams , June 10, 2019)
Running back Ricky Williams enter the NFL scene in 1999 when he was drafted by the New Orleans Saints. Williams adopted the vegetarian lifestyle around 2005 and continued playing pro until 2011. Taking a holistic approach to his life, Williams also began incorporating meditation and yoga into his life as well. “A healthy body, mind, and spirit are the reasons I’ve been able to have longevity as a professional football player,” Williams stated.
( @iamdavidhcarter , October 9, 2019)
David Carter, aka the 300-Pound Vegan, was selected by the Arizona Cardinals back in 2011 and continued his Defensive end career until 2015 – although he didn’t commit to a vegan lifestyle until 2014 after watching the documentary Forks Over Knives. “It got me thinking, why do we need meat? I need protein to be big and strong, but look at some of the largest and strongest animals in the world and none of them eat meat,” shares Carter. And while Carter’s reasoning is partly to support animal rights, he admitted that he also did it for his health after suffering from tendonitis for years. “My food is my medication now.”
Best Vegetarian Players in the NBA
( @kyrieirving , May 28, 2022)
Named Rookie of the Year in 2012, NBA All-Star Game MVP in 2014, and NBA champion in 2016, Kyrie Irving has hustled up and down the court for 12 years and counting. Irving made the move to a predominately plant-based diet starting in 2016 after watching the documentary “What The Health.” Since the swap, Irving said the switch has given him more energy during games and everyday life and led to improvements in his mood.
( @cp3 , December 15, 2022)
Christopher Paul, aka “CP3” and “The Point God,” has been rocking award status for years and is regarded by many to be one of the greatest point guards of all time. Among his awards, plant-fueled Paul has won Rookie of the Year, NBA All-Star Game MVP, two Olympic gold medals, and led the NBA in assists and steals several times. Paul took his plant-based eating pattern one step further and started his own vegan snack line in partnership with Gopuff. “You don’t have to go cold turkey like I did – or cold tofu – but if you can try to start introducing some different healthier options for yourself, I guarantee you it will change your life, because it definitely changed mine.”
( @deandre , January 2, 2023)
Leading the NBA twice in rebounds, DeAndre Jordan transitioned to a plant-powered lifestyle in 2018. He chose to go vegan due to environmental and health concerns. “I just was like, “This is what I’m doing,’” Jordan said. “It’s been great for me ever since… Once you educate yourself a lot on what you’re putting in your body and where the protein is actually coming from, [going vegan] was an easy decision for me.”
The bottom line: being vegetarian or vegan can be sustainable for success with proper planning – even if you’re a Super Bowl or March Madness pro athlete. Whether you train clients that play sports at a professional level or someone who is simply looking to adopt a healthier lifestyle, everyone can see success with a solid and complete meal plan that includes all the proper macro and micronutrients. How does Evolution Nutrition fit into this? We make it easy for trainers by doing all the heavy lifting and calculations around meal planning for you.
Our meal plans are crafted by Registered Dietitians so trainers can rest assured their clients are being delivered the correct amount of calories and nutrients to aid their success. Evolution Nutrition is quick and easy. Just enter some basic stats about the client, choose their preferred dietary category - like vegetarian or vegan - and our program pulls up a list of weekly meal plans with your client in mind. From there, trainers can send off the meal plan to their clients as is or choose to further tailor the meal plan to their client’s tastes and preferences by swapping foods.