When most people think of a professional athlete’s diet, one would expect a large amount of organic meat and seafood to supplement their high protein intake. And while this is definitely still the norm for most athletes, many are beginning to make the switch over to a plant-based diet. Some of these include elite performers like the NBA superstar Kyrie Irving, Olympic weight-lifter Kendric Farris and former #1 tennis player Venus Williams. Even Al Jefferson, a retired NBA power forward known for his strength and power, attributes much of his professional success to his diet. According to these individuals, their new vegan diet has helped them perform at a higher level, avoid injuries and extend their careers. So what is it about the vegan diet that is so conducive to athletic success?

For one, vegan diets are richer in certain vital nutrients than other typical Western diets. Necessary nutrients like fiber, antioxidants, potassium, magnesium and vitamins A, C and E are abundantly found in vegan food options. Foods like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans and nuts contain these vital nutrients that are needed to keep the body running at a high level. For many who are looking to lose weight and keep fat-levels down, nothing’s more effective than a vegan diet. Studies have shown that those that follow a vegan diet have a lower Body Mass Index (BMI) than those that eat animal products. For athletes, keeping your body fat at a low level can improve agility and quickness, which is required in nearly all sports.

Vegan diets are also known to contain high levels of antioxidants. Antioxidants are molecules in your body that help to neutralize and remove free radicals, which can damage the cell and causes diseases long term. Keeping the cellular environment healthy and clear of these free radicals that are absorbed through pollution, processed foods, etc. provides athletes with significant benefits, including improved recovery time, heart health, increased energy and more. 

However, you’re probably wondering how these professional athletes are getting the quality protein that their body so desperately craves after an intense workout. Kyrie Irving, a point guard for the Brooklyn Nets, has supplemented his protein needs with imitation meat brands like Beyond Meat. After admitting that his recovery after games was not where he wanted it to be, he decided to switch to a plant-based vegan diet. Since going public, he has become the face for Beyond Meat’s various campaigns and has encouraged other NBA stars to consider a plant-based diet. Check out the video below as Chris Paul, point guard for the Oklahoma City Thunder, talks about how incorporating plant-based protein into his diet has helped him keep himself and his family healthy. 

Not only are professional athletes promoting vegan diets, but they’re also campaigning against certain animal products like milk. Dotsie Bausch, an Olympic medalist cyclist, is advocating against the consumption of animal products like milk. According to Dotsie and a large portion of the scientific community, drinking milk can actually leach calcium from the bones, making them brittle and prone to injury. Additionally, milk has been known to raise cholesterol levels, which can lead to dangerous heart diseases. After founding Switch4Good, a non-profit organization to promote dairy-free diets, Dotsie Bausch continues to stand by her decision to switch to a vegan diet. Despite her animal-free diet, Dotsie Bausch remains one of the most decorated female cyclists to ever compete internationally, with seven USA national championships, two Pan America championships and a silver Olympic medal to top it off.

It’s important to remember that improving your health with a vegan diet doesn’t have to always be so black and white. While the athletes mentioned previously have benefited from a 100% diet switch, similar benefits can be gained by simply incorporating more of these plant-based foods in your omnivorous diet. However, it’s hard to deny the many benefits that these professional athletes are experiencing by switching to a vegan diet. Remember, you can always try out the diet for a month or two and see how it affects your performance during the trial period.

While it won’t necessarily affect your athletic performance, switching to a plant-based diet can have an overwhelmingly positive effect on our environment. According to a study conducted by the University of Oxford, switching to a vegan diet and avoiding meat and dairy can reduce the average human carbon footprint by almost 75%. If even a small portion of our planet switched to a vegan diet, it would do wonders for the current environmental crisis facing our planet.