For decades, the majority of us have believed that in order to be an athlete in peak, physical condition, you need meat and dairy. Under the “Got Milk?” campaign, the dairy industry used milk-mustachioed athletes in order to sell us the idea that milk is the way to strong, healthy bones. And if you’ve ever told friends or family that you’re thinking about cutting back on eating meat, chances are that their first question is “but where will you get your protein from?”
Today, we know that it’s no secret that the dairy industry has lied to us about the benefits of dairy in order to keep the industry alive. We also know that protein doesn’t only come from animal-based sources. In fact, studies have shown that plant-based protein is just as good at helping build muscle as animal-based protein and it keeps you fuller, longer. These days, ensuring that you’re getting enough plant-based protein, even if you’re an athlete, doesn’t have to be a struggle. For example, you can find hundreds of high-protein vegan recipes, such as this Red Lentil Tikka Masala, these Seitan Sausages, and these Spelt Berry and Lentil Sloppy Joes on the Food Monster app (available for both Android and iPhone).
Thanks to plant-powered athletes like David Carter (also known as the 300 Pound Vegan), ultramarathoner Scott Jurek, and Pat Reeves we know that fueling your muscles on a plant-based diet doesn’t have to be hard!
Still don’t believe us? Here are four plant-powered athletes who are killin’ it:
1. Kendrick Farris
In 2016, Kendrick Farris was the only male weightlifter to compete at the Rio Olympics — and, you guessed it: he’s powered by plants. Not only was Farris the sole male competitor for Team USA’s weightlifting division, he’s also a record breaker, showing that he’s not just strong for a vegan. He’s strong, period. During the 2016 Olympic trials, he broke the U.S. record by lifting 831 pounds and 431 pounds in the clean and jerk.
Farris told Men’s Fitness that he went vegan after tracing his ancestry to Israeli tribes. He wasn’t certain on the methods of animal preparation, so decided that he wanted to try a vegan diet instead. He officially made the switch “In 2014, before my son was born,” citing that part of his decision had to do with the fact that “He’s my second child, and for me it was a time of reflection — on the things I want to teach him, and the example I want to set for him.” Since making the switch, Farris has noted that he feels better overall: “Now, my body recovers a lot faster. I feel lighter. My mind is a lot more clear. I feel I can focus a lot better.”
Eat like Farris:
What does a record-breaking, vegan weightlifter eat to stay so strong? Farris says that he’s a fan of beans, but he actually doesn’t pay too much mind to what he’s eating, how much he’s eating, and when. Basically, he eats when he’s hungry and chooses foods that make him feel good. Looking to fuel your workout with beans like Kendrick? Check out this Black Bean Loaf, these Mushroom, and Bell Pepper Baked Beans, or these Simple Bean Burgers With Garlic Paprika Sauce.
2. Alison Crowdus
Alison Crowdus is a Kentucky-based powerlifter who has 13 years of cheerleading, throwing shotput and discus while she was in high school, and recreational lifting and powerlifting under her belt. In her profile on Plantbuilt, Crowdus says that her competitive spirit is what drove her to powerlifting: “I have always been one to push my body as far as it will go and challenge my mind to be just as strong. I’m a naturally competitive person in every aspect of my life.”
Although new in her career as a competitive powerlifter, Crowdus is already a nationally recognized athlete. Reported by Great Vegan Athletes, Crowdus made her powerlifting debut at the 2017 Arnold XPC in March, where she exceeded her squat personal best (pb) at 480 pounds at increased her deadlift pb by 100 pounds by lifting 480 pounds. In May 2017, Crowdus was listed 12th for all-time biggest bench press of all time worldwide and is currently number one in the U.S.A.
Eat like Crowdus:
Crowdus switched to a vegan diet in 2012 order to aid her in her weight loss journey after reading after reading Alicia Silverstone’s book, The Kind Diet, and saw positive changes in her recovery time and overall health after only a month. What does a plant-powered powerlifter eat? Crowdus told Great Vegan Athletes, “I try to stay away from processed ‘vegan substitute’ foods as much as possible. Rather, I use tofu as my main protein source, brown rice, sweet potatoes and quinoa as my main carb sources, broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, asparagus etc. for veggies and olive oil, avocados and nut butters for fats.” According to Plantbuilt, Crowdus also incorporates pea protein into her diet as a way to help her body recover from her intense five-days-a-week training schedule. Looking to eat like Crowdus? Try some whole foods, plant-based recipes like Steamed Sweet Potatoes With Wild Rice and Tomato Chili Sauce, these Lemon Paprika Tofu Steaks, or this Sweet Potato and Quinoa Chili.
3. Venus Williams
When it comes to women’s sports, Venus and her younger sister, Serena, are perhaps one of the most skilled athletes of our time. Venus currently holds the record for the most appearances in a Grand Slam singles draw. In addition to that, she has holds numerous consecutive wins across several tennis tournaments. Not only that, Venus also holds several Olympic gold medals (four in singles, three in doubles with Serena) and a silver in mixed doubles, she holds the record for the most Olympic medals held by a male or female tennis player, a title that she shares with Kathleen McKane Godfree.
In 2011, Venus withdrew from the U.S. Open before her second-round match after being diagnosed with Sjögren’s syndrome, an autoimmune disorder that can cause dry eyes and mouth as well as joint and muscle pain. Following her diagnosis, Venus adopted a raw vegan diet and in an interview with Health, stated that it “changed my whole life.” After taking some time off, Venus returned to the court, as strong as ever. Venus told Health, “I literally couldn’t play tennis anymore, so it really changed my life. Because it was starting to take away what I loved, I had to make some changes, I had to change my life. Thankfully, I was able to find something that helped me get back to doing what I loved.”
Eat like Venus:
While Venus admits that there are challenges, she says that the easiest way to stick to a new diet is to “make sure you’re eating something you like.” One of her favorite recipes is for puréed celery root soup. Try this Potato, Leek, and Celeriac Soup and then top it with pan-fried garlic, like Venus, or try it with a drizzle of cashew cream. Want to eat like Venus? Check out these Raw Jicama Chili Cheese Fries topped with “taco meat” made from spiced carrots, sunflower seeds, and pumpkin seeds, this Raw Zucchini Lasagna, and these Raw Protein “Thin Mints” — yum!
4. Austin Aries
Standing 5’9″ and weighing in at a billed weight of 202 pounds, professional wrestler Austin Aries may not be the biggest guy in the world of professional wrestling, but make no mistake, this plant-powered athlete is a force to be reckoned with. Now signed to World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) where he is one of the newly-revived Cruiserweight Division’s top performers, Aries has had a total of 23 championship title runs in the span of his wrestling career. Now, if you’re not a fan of professional wrestling, you’re probably thinking, “I thought that stuff isn’t real.” The outcome of professional wrestling matches may be predetermined, but in order to make it, you need to be in peak athletic shape. When wrestlers signed to WWE or other big promotions aren’t in the ring or traveling to the destination of their next show, chances are they’re pushing their bodies to the limit in rigorous training sessions.
Not only is Aries an incredible athlete, he has been a vegetarian for the past decade and vegan for the past six years while working in an industry that has long been known for celebrating and rewarding hypermasculine behavior. In an interview with ESPN, Aries revealed that he started his journey to a vegan diet after a man that he was traveling with brought up the link between red meat and health. After that, Aries says that “I think that once I started connecting dots of where my food was coming from and the reality of that … When I started connecting those dots, I couldn’t disconnect them. I couldn’t put my head back in the sand, and I wanted to know more.”
Eat like Aries:
Aries’ book, Food Fight: My Plant Powered Journey from the Bingo Halls to the Big Time, which details his professional wrestling career and path to a vegan diet, was released earlier this month. Given his career, Aries is often on the road, but says that he likes lentils as a protein source. Try some high-protein vegan recipes like this Pressure Cooker Mexican Lentil Stew, this Hearty Lentil Broccoli Bolognese, or these Baked Lentil Falafel.
5. Heather Mills
Now known as “the fastest disabled woman on the plant,” vegan skier Heather Mills has lead an incredible life. After leaving home at age 14 in 1986, Mills successfully started her own business. By age 20, she had already built and sold three businesses. She then moved to Slovenia (former Yugoslavia) in order to get involved in the Balkan Crisis and set up a refugee crisis center in London. However, in 1993, when returning from the Balkan Crisis, Mills was involved in a road traffic accident that resulted in the loss of her leg. While in recover, a friend of Mills recommended that she go to the Hippocrates Health Institute. She believed that their alternative medicine practices helped her put her breast cancer in remission. According to Mills, “At the institute, meat and dairy was immediately taken off the menu and was replaced with a whole food, vegan, raw food diet and natural therapies.” She believes that the clean, plant-based diet is what allowed her body to recover at an incredibly fast rate.
In 2010, Mills opened up a new chapter in her life: professional Alpine ski racing, where she challenged herself with a “black run,” or the slopes that are for expert-level skiers. According to Mills, “I was spotted skiing in a straight line directly down the mountain by a gentleman called Peter Prodinger, who just happened to be an ex-Olympic coach to the Austrian alpine ski team.” Prodinger was even more impressed when he learned that Mills had only one leg and convinced her to take on professional Alpine ski racing. One year later, Heather held 5 Gold and 1 Bronze Medal. A year after that, she won 3 Silver and 1 Bronze Medal. In 2015 and at age 47, Mills set a world record for fastest female disabled skier after descending a French mountain at 103.6 mph.
Eat like Mills:
A raw vegan diet helped Mills recover from her initial surgery. Try some high-protein, raw vegan recipes like this Raw Walnut Taco “Meat,” these Raw Mexican Tacos With Corn Tortillas, or these Raw Vanilla Protein Cookies and Cream.
6. Patrik Baboumian
It’s no big secret that a lot of people still think that you can’t make gains on a vegan diet. But you need only look at Armenian-German strongman and former bodybuilder Patrik Baboumian in order to know that that’s not true. This plant-based athlete not only holds several powerlifting records, such as the log lift in the 105+kg category, the front hold, and beer keg lifting. In 2013, he broke the world record for the yoke walk by carrying 550kg (1212.54 pounds) for a distance of 10 meters only to break his own record in 2015 be carrying 560kg (1234.59 pounds).
Baboubian told CNN that his desire to be strong stems from growing up in Iran in the 1980s, during the heat of Iran-Iraq War: “I always had that desire of being strong and being able to protect myself, being able to protect others.” He moved to Germany at a young age and later developed an interest in weightlifting and bodybuilding where he found success in competitions. Surprisingly, he was named “Germany’s Strongest Man,” while vegetarian, but according to Baboubian, going vegan made him stronger than ever: “I got heavier, I got stronger, I won the European championship title in powerlifting, I broke three world records so everything was going perfect … my blood pressure went down, and my recovery time was so much faster so I could train more.”
Eat like Baboumian:
7. Nate Diaz
8. Jehina Malik
Anyone who says that vegans can’t build muscle needs to take a look at bodybuilder Jehina Malik. Vegan since birth, Mailk, a bodybuilder and personal trainer, is living proof that vegans and women can build and sculpt muscle. Her career in bodybuilding started at age 19, when she entered a teenage bodybuilding show — and won. What motivated her? She told Plantbuilt, “I grew up skinny and small and having so many naysayers. I also have a passion for the human anatomy and love to witness my physique alter and transform before my eyes.”
In 2012, Malik competed in the National Physique Committee (NPC) Steve Stone NY Mets, where she placed 1st in Women’s Bodybuilding Lightweight. In 2013, Malik placed 1st at the 2013 NPC Easter U.S.A. in Women’s Bodybuilding Lightweight and 1st Overall Women’s Physique Open. Later, in 2014, she received her pro card from the International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness (IFBB), which allows her to compete in national bodybuilding competitions, as opposed to just regional competitions. Following earning her pro card, Malik posted some words of wisdom on her Instagram, “I followed my dream and it came true, don’t ever ever ever give up or allow someone to tell you something is impossible or that ur dreams won’t become reality! Take that ammunition and work hard and prove them wrong!”
Eat like Malik:
Malik likes to bill herself as the “first every vegan since birth IFBB pro physique.” How does she stay so cut? Mailk told Plantbuilt that her diet leading up to competition is “very very strict, clean, and precise.” In the podcast The Vegan Body Revolution Show With Thomas Tadlock, Malik detailed what it is that she eats during competition season.
3/4 cups oats with soymilk, berries, and vegan protein powder for breakfast (sometimes with cashews, her favorite food), brown rice with steamed spinach and broccoli, and tofu for her second meal. For her third meal, she’ll have half a block of tempeh, a small Korean or white potato, and mixed greens with vegetables seasoned with liquid aminos. Finally, she’ll have a vegan protein shake for her final meal after her workout. After her workout, she likes to have a small 1/2 cup portion of quinoa or rice with greens and tofu or tempeh. She also says that she stays away from sugary, high-carb protein bars when in competition season.
Want to eat like Malik? Try power bowls, like this Green Goddess Bowl, this Spicy Grilled Cauliflower Bowl, or this Indonesian Macro Bowl. For breakfast, try oatmeal, which helps keep you full and energized.
9. Steph Davis
Steph Davis is an American rock climber, wingsuit flyer, and B.A.S.E. jumper, a sport that involves parachuting or wingsuit flying from a fixed structure or high cliff (the acronym B.A.S.E. stands for building, antenna, span, and Earth). According to her website, Davis started rock climbing in 1991, when she was a freshman at the University of Maryland. After earning a Master’s in literature and taking on one week of law school, Davis decided that she lived for climbing. She moved to Moab, Utah, and lived out of her grandmother’s hand-me-down Oldsmobile while she earned money for climbing trips by waitressing. As Davis wrote, “I’ve learned that climbing really is a metaphor for life in many ways. You have to do what feels right, what lights you up.”
In 2003, Davis went vegan after trying to find the most optimal diet for rock climbing. In spite of friends and peers telling her that it wasn’t a good idea, Davis feels that switching to a vegan diet is one of the best decisions she’s ever made for her athletic performance: “After I turned vegan I freed El Cap in a day, freed the Salathe Wall, climbed Torre Egger in a day, free soloed the Longs Peak Diamond four times, and free soloed the North Face of Castleton and jumped off it.”
Today, Davis is considered one of the world’s greatest female rock climbers who has achieved several milestones, like being the first woman to have free solo climbed a 5.11 climb, the first woman to summit all the peaks of the Fitzroy Range in Patagonia, the first woman to free climb the Salathė Wall on El Capitan, the first woman to free solo The Diamond on Longs Peak in Colorado, and the first woman to summit Torre Egger.
Eat like Davis:
Looking to eat like Davis? She says that she prefers a diet of primarily whole, plant-based foods. She enjoys grain-based breakfasts such as muesli for breakfast, nuts, bars or energy blocks as a snack for climbing, and protein-rich dinners like lentil soup and gluten-free ramen for dinner. Try recipes like this Chai Roasted Muesli, this Sweet Potato Ginger Granola Bars, this Cuban Lentil Soup, and this Sesame Portobello Ramen with brown rice noodles.
10. Tia Blanco
Tia Blanco is a Puerto Rican American surfer known for winning first place Gold medal at the International Surfing Association (ISA) Open Women’s World Surfing Championship 2015 in Popoyo, Nicaragua. The following year, she successfully defended her title in Playa Jacó, Costa Rica, making her a two-time consecutive world surfing champion. She’s also ranked among the top 50 female surfers in the world and has won several international championships.
In an interview with The Clymb, Blanco revealed that she’s been surfing since she was three-years-old and living in Hawaii while her father served in the Coast Guard. Surfing takes both incredible physical and mental endurance, and Blanco will spend at least a few hours in the water every day, no matter what the weather conditions, in order to prepare for special events. She also says that she practices yoga and meditation at home and has help from a personal trainer to perfect her surfing technique and strength.
Blanco sees every competition as a learning experience and tries to grow from both her losses and victories. She told The Clymb, “Each triumph and defeat were all crucial for me. After each loss, I really dig deep to figure out exactly what went wrong and I always walk away having learned so much.”
Two years prior to her first big victory at the ISA Open Women’s World Championship, Blanco went vegan after a lifetime of eating a vegetarian diet at home. She told World Surf League, “I went vegan for the animals. I love them all and I don’t want to eat my friends. I know it sounds cheesy but it’s true.” Today, she promotes her vegan diet through her Instagram, Tia’s Vegan Kitchen.
Eat like Blanco:
In order to get into peak fitness for competitions, Blanco prefers a primarily whole foods, plant-based diet. On her Instagram, she posts photos of a wide variety of food for every meal. She likes smoothie bowls, tofu scramble, smoothies, and oatmeal for breakfast. Try recipes like this Blueberry Hempseed Protein Smoothie Bowl, this Cheesy Tofu Scramble, this Vanilla Lucuma Buckwheat Shake, or this Breakfast Bowl With Oats, Pistachios, and Grapefruit.
For lunch and dinner, she likes simple dishes that consist of grains and vegetables. Try veggie bowls like this Bibimbap For One, this BBQ Buddha Bowl, or this Roasted Vegetable and Jackfruit Macro Bowl.
What about dessert? Blanco told Men’s Journal, “Cupcakes are my favorite dessert and I love making them. If I want to have a cheat day I’m going to have a cheat day.” We recommend these adorable Malibu Rum Cupcakes With Pineapple Jalapeño Filling, these Chocolate Peanut Butter Ice Cream Cupcakes, and these Vanilla Cupcakes With Blackberry Cream Cheese Frosting.
Curious about other ways to get enough protein on a vegan diet? Check out the following resources:
- 25 Delicious Vegan Sources of Protein (The Ultimate Guide!)
- Sample Meal Plans for the Female Vegan Athlete
- 5 Plant-Based Foods that Will Help You Build Muscle
- 5 Clean Muscle-Building Foods for Athletes That Are All-Vegan
- 15 Clean, Vegan Protein Powders That Prove Protein is Way Better Without Whey
For even more guides, product recommendations, recipes, and cooking how-tos, and more check out the Food Monster app, a food app available for both Android and iPhone! With over 8,000+ vegan recipes and 10+ recipes added daily, you’re sure to find a wide variety of recipes that you love. Give it a try!
Lead image source: Heather Mills