There are plenty of misunderstandings and myths, both accidentally assumed and purposefully directed, when it comes to the intersection of nutrition and fitness. In particular, the notion that protein (read: meat) is the basis for being big and bulky and buff. The thinking goes similarly that those who run exclusively on plants are believed to be meek. This is not at all the case.
Indeed, there are a slew of professional athletes who would be happy to tell you otherwise. There exists a growing contingent of athletes of all different sports who have ventured to change their diet, going against long held conventional wisdom, to be exclusively powered by plants. Across the board, they attest to feeling better before, during, and after competition, crediting the vegan diet with helping lessen pain, recouperate faster, and keeping their energy levels up. Here are just a few of some noteworthy vegan male athletes breaking the mold.
The talented English footballer, whose livelihood rests on a combination of ridiculous coordination and a whole lot of endurance, changed his diet after watching the impactful documentary What the Health on Netflix. He was inspired by the film and sought to prolong his career by better taking care of his body, and since the switch he says he feels better than ever. “I’ve always had energy, but sometimes you feel a little bit lethargic and bloated. Now I feel like I’ve got more energy. I feel completely different.” For someone who has to run up and down a field all day, that’s a pretty telling endorsement; and it’s something he is telling all young, aspiring athletes.
The incredibly talented, rather vocal, and often discontented basketball player Kyrie Irving is one of many stars in the NBA to lead the vegan campaign. Currently on the Celtics (and who knows where the seemingly unhappy player will go next), Irving champions a plant-based diet in both personal and professional realms. Irving, among other current and past NBAers, is an investor in Beyond Meat, a company that produces plant-based substitutes. He currently appears in an ad for the company as well as part of their #GoBeyond campaign.
Irving credits the diet, which he adopted just under two years ago, for helping his body recover faster after games and workouts, and says he feels amazing. And that is coming from one of the best ball handlers an offensive stars in the NBA.
Barny du Plessis
He’s likely not a name most people now, but he certainly should be. That’s because he has excelled in an arena that seems the most antithetical to veganism – bodybuilding. Du Plessis took a curiously path to vegan though: he grew up on a vegetarian diet due to his parents, but he experimented with meat once he turned 18. He has been a bodybuilder for 20 years, but only recently turned back to being an ethical vegan, as he calls himself, and alleges to change to feeling better than ever. He says his aches and pains are gone, recovery has improved, energy is high, and feelings of bloating have disappeared.
For nearly twenty years, Scott Jurek has been on a plant-based diet, and he has been running. A lot. An ultramarathoner, Jurek is an acclaimed athlete who has gained fame and regard for running long distances, often across tough terrain, at record clips. Jurek began weaning himself off meat while in college, and since then has championed the humane diet and what it can do for one’s body – particularly if you are an athlete. Jurek boasts the longevity of his career as well as his body’s ability to heal and recovery from injuries and soreness as a direct result of his vegan diet.
What’s more, Jurek has worked to disprove the false narrative that not only do vegans not get enough protein, but that protein is somehow paramount to success and that there is this epidemic of people who lack it. Instead, he argues for the need to make sure we get enough fat in the diet. When you’re a runner in particular, it’s about making sure you get enough calories. Jurek is a public speaker as well as an author of his bestselling memoir, Eat & Run.
While he may not be among the most well-known of NFLers, the former linebacker is credited with started an impressive trend among players turning to vegan diets. The Tennessee Titans defender started a plant-based diet back in 2016, and then began encouraging his teammates to do the same when he found positive results, both on and off the field. He started a program, working with teammates, and at the start of the 2018 season, there were some 15 players enlisted and buying in. Jurrell Casey, DaQuan Jones, and others all followed Morgan’s lead.
There are other prominent NFLers who reported go by a mostly vegan diet, including Tom Brady and former Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez. Former NFL lineman David Carter went vegan while he was playing and continues to promote the lifestyle to athletes to help with recovery, pain, and living a healthy life after retirement. And while not officially retired, Colin Kaepernick is vegan, promoting his humane lifestyle, and probably offering yet another silly excuse for team execs not to give him a chance on the field.
Damien Lillard – The Trail Blazers star went vegan about two years ago in order to lose weight and better take care of his body, and success, he did it! However, he lost more weight than he liked, so he has slowly incorporated some meat back into his diet, while still eating many vegan meals and crediting the diet with helping to understand nutrition. He sure looked good in round one of the playoffs this year!