Obviously, professional athletes are compelled to get the most out of their bodies. Athletic training and healthful eating are self-evident means to keep an athlete’s body spry and robust. Yet despite the straightforward benefits of a clean diet, few athletes go all-in and submit themselves to veggieville. Many athletes claim that meat is an indispensable fuel; a necessary indulgence. Some athletes and nutritionists stigmatize people who think that abstaining from meat benefits athletic performance. Vegetarianism in sports is still a polarizing subject.
Herein is a list of top-notch professional athletes who claim to have reaped a boon from dropping their greasy drumsticks and steak knives in favor of grassier foods. Not all of these athletes are life-long vegetarians; in fact most of them took to meatless diets in order to hone a bodily advantage over their competition.
We may never know if vegetarianism is the jolt that pushes these competitors over the hump, but their testimonies are definitely valuable and worth scoping out:
1. Nick and Nate DiazThe Diaz brothers are crass. They are raw and raucous. They have made their keep from slapping the lifeblood out of competitors. All of that said, you might not expect the pugnacious pair to be devout vegans. They are.
The elder Diaz, Nick, adopted a chiefly raw food diet when he began his MMA career in the early 2000‘s. His brother Nate, who looks to Nick for guidance, soon followed suit.
At first, Nate only adhered to vegan tenets when he was preparing for a fight, but he found that indulging in meat and dairy after months of abstaining from animal-derived foods made him weak and ill. Ever since, the Diaz bros have been meat-free--they attribute their success and durability in MMA and triathlon training to veganism.
Nate spoke about his veganism in a recent interview with Men‘s Journal: “Who’s the real beast? [Eating vegan] is more savvy and animalistic than anything. If anything, meat’s gonna slow you down.”
Nate and Nick have embraced their bad-boy images; trash talk and drug use and all. Their rebellious personas aren’t at odds with their dietary choices.
Nick is the former Strikeforce welterweight champion, holding wins over Robbie Lawler, B.J. Penn, and Paul Daley. Nate has contended for the UFC lightweight title and has defeated prominent fighters like Donald Cerrone, Michael Johnson, and Conor McGregor.
2. Tony Gonzalez
Tony Gonzalez may not be the strictest vegetarian, but his 80%-plus plant-based diet steered him to legendary results.
Longevity and consistency are hallmarks of Gonzalez’s NFL career; a stretch that saw him become the all-time NFL leader in touchdowns for a TE and 6th in receiving touchdowns overall.
During his remarkable 17-year career, Gonzalez only missed a handful of starts. That’s amazing given the rigorous, berserk physical demands of pro football. The famed tight end attributes his leafy diet to his protracted success. Though his teammates would give him flak for not bowing to the altar of meaty opulence, Gonzalez remained steadfast.
Gonzalez espouses vegetarianism in his book The All-Pro Diet: Lose Fat, Build Muscle, and Live like a Champion, which was published in 2009.
3. Mike Tyson
It’s difficult to imagine the beast that was ‘prime Mike Tyson’ being a vegetarian--he was an avatar of savagery, indulgence, and revels. Since the dawn of his heyday, however, older “Iron Mike” has chilled. The former heavyweight champion has sanitized his party-laden body with healthful habits, including vegetarianism.
“I was so congested from all the drugs and bad cocaine, I could hardly breathe.” Tyson said in a 2013 interview with ABC. “Becoming a vegan gave me another opportunity to live a healthy life.”
Tyson, no longer consumed with orgiastic lusts, has become a family man and a splendid dad. After years of drugs, bankruptcy, flings, and diseases, according to Tyson, he felt compelled to renew himself. Maintaining a plant-heavy diet was the transition that catalyzed a major overhaul of his life.
4. Venus WilliamsAfter years of dominance in pro tennis, Venus Williams was diagnosed with Sjogren’s syndrome--an autoimmune disorder--in 2011. Sjorgen’s syndrome causes the body’s immune system to destroy its own functional cells that produce saliva and tears; and diagnosis of Sjogren’s syndrome often comes with arthritis and lupus. Such a disease could spell retirement for a professional athlete. Not daunted by her diagnosis, Williams turned to veganism to help mitigate the bodily damage caused by her affliction. By all accounts, going vegan has helped Williams immensely.
Williams has reported boosts in athleticism thanks to her newfound veggie haven, along with improved symptom management. The iconic racket-wielder faded from contention after her diagnosis, but has since made an impressive turnaround: Williams reached a Grand Slam final in 2014 and has revived her career with a slew of top-ten wins and finals appearances.
Venus enlisted eminent vegan chef Lauren Von der Pool to help the tennis star meet her intense caloric demands. Von der Pool’s credo is that “food is the best medicine,” and that seems to be true of Williams’ case.
5. Carl LewisLewis is considered one of the finest athletes to ever compete in track and field. The American dynamo won four gold medals in track and field at the 1984 Olympics.
Despite his pedigree, Lewis was not complacent about his career: He pursued edges that would improve his performance and vault him above his competition. Lewis, at 30 years old, decided to adopt a strict vegan diet in preparation for the 1991 World Championships for track and field.
Normally 30 isn’t considered “old,” but in the keen and cutthroat world of track and field, 30 years is Jurassic. Of course, despite his age, Lewis proceeded to win ABC’s Wide World of Sports Athlete of the year at the event.
Lewis believes that his plant-centric diet contributed to his implausible performance in 1991. Eliminating meat and instead fueling with nutrient-dense plants allowed Lewis to optimize his athletic fruition.
It’s unknown whether Lewis still abides by leafs, fruits, nuts and seeds, but it seems clear that clean eating helped the venerated athlete reach lofty heights.