Vegan Athletes Who Excel
on a Plant-Based Diet

What to Know About Plant-Based and Vegan Diets

Plant-based eating has been gaining a lot of traction in recent years. More vegan options are popping up on menus, and entirely plant-based and vegan restaurants are opening up shop. Plant-based meal plans are on the rise, and food industry companies are releasing plant-based foods and beverages that are absolute game changers for people who follow this type of diet.

We should note that “plant-based” and “vegan” describe two different entities. Someone who follows a vegan diet eliminates all animal products, including animal byproducts such as honey. According to Harvard Health Publishing, following a plant-based diet — also referred to as plant-forward eating — means that you choose more of your food from plant sources. A plant-based eater may still dabble in meat or dairy in very small doses, but their primary intake consists of fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, oils, whole grains, legumes, and beans.

In other words, all vegans are plant-based eaters, but not all plant-based eaters are vegans. Now that we have that covered, let’s talk more about how our understanding of plant-based eating has significantly changed over the years.

Plant-Based Diets and Athletic Performance

Gone are the days when people considered meat to be the almighty source of protein, the primary way to help build muscle and grow stronger. Traditionally, this school of thought forbade athletes from following vegetarian and vegan diets, as it was thought to severely affect their athletic performance.

We are now seeing proof that this is not the case at all, and many high-profile athletes currently excel on a plant-based diet. In fact, research shows that vegan athletes benefit more than meat-eaters from their higher intake of carbohydrates, fiber, phytochemicals, antioxidants, and micronutrients.

Eating plant-based has the potential to enhance athletic ability, whether you’re a runner, a swimmer, a Crossfit competitor, a football player, or simply someone who enjoys staying fit. There are also many health benefits to consuming less meat, specifically that less meat contributes to a decreased risk of heart disease, stroke, obesity, high blood pressure and/or cholesterol, Type 2 diabetes, and many kinds of cancers.

Professional Athletes on Plant-Based Diets

Still not convinced?  Check out this list of just some of the many successful vegan athletes:

  • MMA fighter, James Wilks

  • Olympian cyclist, Dotsie Bausch

  • Formula One champion, Lewis Hamilton

  • Award-winning surger, Tia Blanco

  • Ultrarunner, Scott Jurek

  • Olympic figure skater, Meghan Duhamel

  • World-record marathon runner, Fiona Oakes

  • Ultraman and Ironman athlete, Rich Roll

  • Pro NBA player, Kyrie Irving

  • Pro football player, Colin Kaepernick

  • Olympic weightlifter, Kendrick Farris

  • Olympic sprinter, Morgan Mitchell

  • Pro NFL player, Derrick Morgan

  • Olympic skier, Seba Johnson

  • Former strongman and bodybuilder, Patrik Baboumian

  • FIFA Women’s World Cup champion, Alex Morgan

  • Olympic soccer player, Heather Mitts

  • Olympic NBA star, DeAndre Jordan

  • Pro NBA player, Javale McGee

  • Rock climber, Alex Honnold

  • Olympic tennis champion, Venus Williams

  • Pro biker, Molly Cameron

  • Olympic snowboard, Hannah Teter

  • Bodybuilder, Jahina Malik

  • Pro baseball player, Pat Neshek

  • Paralympic basketball player, Sarah Stewart

  • Ultimate Fighter champion, Abel Trujillo

  • Triathlete, Madi Serpico

  • Premier League champion, Jermaine Defoe

  • Boxing champion, David Haye

There are many more, but this list gives you a good idea of just how many plant-based athletes are out there, kicking butt without feeling the need to eat meat.

Kristin Akbasli: Finding Protein on a Vegan Diet

Most plant-based athletes aren’t worried about finding enough sources of protein to fuel their fire. For example, local health and weight-loss coach, Certified Personal Trainer, and plant-based eater Kristin Akbasli notes that many people don’t realize that vegetables do have protein! One cup of broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, or spinach provides three grams of protein. So a big salad or stir-fry can easily offer 10-15 grams of protein in one sitting — even before adding plant-based proteins like tofu, tempeh, or hemp seed hearts.

It’s important to understand how much protein you actually need, which will depend on your activity levels and personal goals. If you are an athlete considering going plant-based, consult with your own healthcare provider to determine the appropriate amount of protein you should be consuming on a day-to-day basis to keep up your athletic performance and overall health. Akbasli notes that for health, longevity, and muscle maintenance, minimum protein intake should be .34-.36g per pound of bodyweight.

And don’t limit your focus to protein. “Carbohydrate intake is equally important,” Akbasli said. “Having the right mix of proteins, carbs, and fats is essential to health, brain function, hormone balance, metabolism, and longevity. The best nutrition incorporates all of the macronutrients.”

Other products that Akbasli highly recommends for plant-based protein include Explore mung bean fettuccine, which boasts a high 25 grams of protein and 10 grams of fiber per serving. “Protein and fiber are the key to satiety,” she said. She also enjoys Lightlife original tempeh and Quorn meatless filets.

Akbasli also loves the cookies from South Florida-based Alyssa’s Healthy Vegan Bites as a pre- or post-workout snack because of their high fiber content. Two cookies come in at only 90 calories with 10 grams of fiber and 4 grams of protein. For plant-based milk, she recommends Good Karma unsweetened flax milk with added protein and Native Forest unsweetened organic coconut milk or cream, both great for cooking and adding to smoothies or coffee. She also loves Julian Bakery products, especially their coconut flour bread.

Sample Vegan Meal Plan

Here’s a look at a typical day in the life of Akbasli:


  • Green Smoothie: 1 cup Kale (3g protein), 1 cup cauliflower (3g protein), 1 tbsp spirulina (4g protein), 6 oz flax milk (8g protein using Good Karma), 1/2 avocado (if desired), 2 fresh mint leaves, stevia, and vanilla extract. For more protein, add 1 serving Nutiva Hemp Seed Protein(15g)


  • 2 Alyssa’s Healthy Vegan Bites cookies (4g protein)


  • 4 oz Tempeh (18g protein) with spinach salad (2 cups spinach, 1 cup baby tomatoes, 1 oz Viola feta cheese) and Green Goddess Dressing from Trader Joe’s


  • 1 serving Trader Joe’s 50% reduced-sodium almonds or macadamia nuts (2-6g protein depending on the nuts)


  • Explore black bean spaghetti cooked in 1 tbsp olive oil, fresh garlic, fresh tomatoes, 1 cup spinach, and topped with truffle salt (30g protein)

Whether you are already following a plant-based diet, or this blog has inspired you to give it a shot, Tunie’s can be your go-to, low-priced natural foods store in South Florida. We offer more than 30,000 healthy items, including many plant-based and raw vegan options, as well as vitamins and supplements, all-natural products, and grocery items.

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