Vegans in Professional Athletics
Two things seem to be missing from most literature on veganism in athletics, beyond how-to schematics and adjusting betting lines because of dietary changes (voluntarily or doctor’s orders):
- Information on current athletes that are vegans (rather than a list of athletes that retired from competition a decade ago and by the way, they are/were vegans).
- The movement of life: Things change, including diets. While every athlete on this list may not be free from controversy (David Zabriskie), nor a current vegan (Ronda Rousey), every athlete listed has excelled in professional athletics while maintaining a vegan or near-vegan diet.
Kenneth G. Williams
- A professional bodybuilder that has maintained a vegan diet since 2000, a rare feat in the world of bodybuilding where exact caloric goals and training regiments have created a subculture that revolves around three things as far as the public is concerned: Meat, drugs, and iron. Kenneth is notable for his success within the sport despite complete rejection of all but the latter, finishing third in the 2004 Natural Olympia.
- Fullback for the Chicago Bears, and the first of two football players on this list. While veganism in a strength sport such as bodybuilding is a rare sight, it’s a true phenomenon in a full-contact sport such as football, where explosive power and recovery are everything, and the fastest way to meet that requirement is large-volume meat consumption.
- Nationally-ranked raw powerlifter that’s gained a lot press for his commitment to a vegan diet, complete avoidance of performance enhancing drugs, and putting up the numbers in the big three – 390 lbs (bench press), 606 lbs (squat), 630 lbs (deadlift), all while maintaining a bodyweight of just over 240 lbs.
- Professional baseball pitcher for the MLB. While currently a free agent, Neshek is known for his unconventional pitching style that developed due to an injury he received in high school. He was subject to a great deal of criticism for his diet while recovering from a UCL tear in his right arm, but maintains that he improved both his health and his athletic form by switching to a vegan diet.
- A recently-retired professional bicycle racer who competed in the Tour de France. While not without controversy (doping), Zabriskie follows a vegan diet, with the addition of salmon, an impressive and no doubt difficult endeavor when competing in a sport that requires almost 10k calories per day.
- Olympic Judo player (bronze medalist in the 2008 Olympics) and world champion mixed martial artist that currently competes in the UFC – she is also the first female signed by the organization, and its first female bantamweight champion. After the 2008 Olympics she went vegan, but has since moved on to include meat.
- The only professional basketball player on this list. He is currently a small forward for the New York Knicks, and is noteworthy for winning Olympic gold in 2008 and 2012. Carmelo gets a lot of press for his unconventional dieting which includes long-term fasting and veganism, also known as “The Daniel Fast.”
- Recently retired (December 29, 2013) Atlanta Falcons tight end that experimented with a vegan diet for some time, and now incorporates meat occasionally (free-range chicken and grass-fed beef). He is a proponent of an all organic diet.
Half of the “Skrap Pack”
- The Skrap Pack is a group of six mixed martial artists that train out of northern California, all products of Cesar Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. The three members in question are brothers Nick and Nate Diaz, as well as Jake Shields. While Nick has seemingly retired from mixed martial arts competition (formerly the welterweight champion of the now defunct organization Strikeforce) after losing to perennial welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre in early 2013, his brother Nate is a top contender in the UFC’s lightweight division. Jake Shields (former Strikeforce middleweight champion) now sits near the top of the welterweight division, and is one win away from another title shot. All three of these fighters have maintained vegan diets for many years, and are notable for their high-level Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in mixed martial arts competition. Nutrition is extremely important to mixed martial arts, where one must maintain a specific weight (and often cut weight prior to competition), while developing strength, endurance and explosive power (and dealing with what may very well be the highest level of “contact” in full-contact sports). With their infamous training intensity and volume, these three fighters show that even in the toughest conditions, where there’s a will there’s a way.
Bonus: Mike Tyson
Former professional boxer and current legend. “The Champ” went vegan in early 2013 in order to lose weight and commit to a healthier, drug-free lifestyle. While there has been no talk of Iron Mike returning to the ring, a sports legend like Mike Tyson brings a lot of press to veganism and will certainly inspire many aspiring athletes to experiment with their diets, a tendency that’s become much more prominent as former professional athletes (such as boxing’s Tyson or basketball’s John Salley) voice their physical struggles, acting as both a voice of reason and a warning to the next generation, a reminder that what’s seemingly best for “now” isn’t always what’s best.