No meat? No problem. These vegan women athletes get their protein from plants and are still at the top of their athletic game.
Vegan women athletes don’t need meat or animal products to compete successfully at the highest level in their respective sports. In fact, as plant-based diets gain popularity around the globe, more athletes are realizing that eating steak, chicken, and other meat isn’t the key to success.
Instead, a growing number of sports superstars, such as Venus and Serena Williams and soccer pro Alex Morgan, are discovering that a vegan diet rich in protein, calcium, iron, and other nutrients, works best for them.
Many athletes, including those at the professional level, report that a plant-based diet gives them more energy, can lead to quicker recovery times, and improves their overall athletic performance.
Keep reading for a list of 21 women athletes who know how to get more than enough protein from plants and are thriving on a vegan diet.
The benefits of a plant-based diet for athletes
While many people believe that a diet rich in animal protein is crucial to athletic success, athletes like professional cyclo-cross racing cyclist Molly Cameron and WNBA player Diana Taurasi are living proof that plant-based protein is just as impactful, if not more so.
According to Cameron, a diet rich in vegan protein keeps her blood sugar consistent. Taurasi, on the other hand, credits her reduced inflammation and quicker recovery times to her plant-based eating habits.
And there’s plenty of research to support these claims. For example, a 2013 study that appeared in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that participants who followed a vegan diet for 18 weeks improved their blood cholesterol and blood sugar levels more than those who followed a standard control diet with meat. The vegan participants also lost more weight than their meat-eating counterparts.
As Taurasi said, vegan diets have also been proven to reduce inflammation. Per a 2018 study that appeared in the Journal of the American Heart Association and was later cited by Harvard Medical School, a vegan diet may help lower heart-damaging inflammation more than the diet recommended by the American Heart Association (AHA), which includes meat and animal products.
More specifically, the study examined 100 people with heart disease. Half were randomly selected to follow a vegan diet, which excludes meat, poultry, dairy, eggs, seafood, and fish. The others followed the AHA diet, which encourages lean poultry, fish, and low-fat dairy products, along with plant-based foods.
After eight weeks, C-reactive protein (CRP) levels were 32 percent lower among people in the vegan diet group when compared with the AHA diet group. Elevated levels of CRP—a marker for inflammation—are associated with a higher risk of heart attack. Similarly, vegan diets have also been associated with reduced risk of arthritis, which is inflammation of the joints.
Why athletes are going meat-free
Athletic performance aside, a vegan diet can be beneficial to one’s overall health. Since plant-based foods contain no cholesterol, those who follow a vegan diet tend to have a lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease than those who eat animal products, which are often very cholesterol-heavy.
Vegan diets also tend to be higher in fiber than traditional diets, and an increased fiber intake has been linked to a lower risk of heart disease as well as a lower risk of metabolic syndrome—a combination of factors that increases the risk of developing heart disease and diabetes.
Though health and performance usually play some role in an athlete’s decision to go vegan, many athletes also ditch meant in an effort to aid the environment. In February 2020, for example, meat-free athlete Serena Williams launched a vegan leather fashion line that was designed to help save the planet. “I feel like a lot of things are being killed and we’re not saving the earth,” she said at the time.
And she’s right. A 2019 study of 40,000 farms in 119 countries published in the journal Science found that although livestock provide just 18 percent of the calories we eat globally, farming them uses 83 percent of all farmland. Additionally, for every gram of protein, beef production releases 221.6 grams of carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2e) into the atmosphere.
Lastly, some athletes go vegan for animal welfare reasons, since the factory farming industry is frequently cited for animal welfare violations. As rock climber Steph Davis put it in 2015: “To me, [being vegan] means being healthy, eating mindfully, respecting the environment and causing less harm to other living creatures.”
Athletes are stronger than ever on a plant-based diet
The vegan bodybuilder is proof that you don’t need to consume meat or animal products in order to be an accomplished athlete. “I grew up mostly vegetarian throughout my teenage years. I haven’t consumed meat in over 10 years now, and have been fully vegan for just short of five years—thus all my gym training has been carried out whilst being on a solely plant-based diet!” she told Gym Shark in October 2017.
“I can honestly say that eating this way has 100 percent helped me to have a healthy relationship with food, I don’t overly stress about macros,” she added. “I am more of an intuitive eater. I have learned to listen to my body and know what it wants, weirdly I am addicted to veg… It is strange how your body gets so used to the good stuff, so much so, it begins to crave it!”
The Scotland native, who goes by the name Naturally Stefanie on social media, is also an accomplished blogger and YouTube personality who shares plenty of her own vegan recipes online. Many of her dishes contain protein-rich foods such as chickpeas, tofu, and beans.
When it comes time to hit the gym, Moir makes sure to pack on the protein. “My post-workout lunch is always a protein smoothie consisting of banana, protein powder, cacao powder, almond or non- dairy milk, lots of ice, and creatine,” she explained. “I basically just bulk up a boring protein shake and make a meal out of it with the bananas.”
In November 2019, Moir released a book called Naturally Stefanie: Recipes, Workouts and Daily Rituals for a Stronger, Happier You.
The 65-year-old powerlifter has been vegan for about 18 years and vegetarian for more than 33 years. “I believe that the vegan way of life is paramount for all humans. No animal should have to suffer or be enslaved for archaic human lifestyles,” she told Vegan Health & Fitness Magazine in March 2019.
Luedeker, who holds more than two dozen world records and six Best Lifter awards, insists that her plant-based diet is part of what makes her such a skilled athlete. “The morning of a competition, I eat a bowl of oatmeal with peanut butter mixed in and a glass of grapefruit or orange juice. The only supplement that I take is turmeric. I do not use protein powder or take B12 or any other supplement,” she continued. “Eating high nutrient foods is why I never get sick anymore. I haven’t had a cold in years, the last time I had the flu was 2005! My energy levels are very high.”
This powerlifter has been fully vegan since 2017 and says a plant-based diet fits with her lifestyle. “After reading Dr. Michelle Schoffro’s cookbook, The Ultimate ph Solution, my husband and I knew animal flesh/products had no place in our holistic healthy lifestyle. I like to say I returned to what I’ve always known is right,” Presswood told Viva La Vegan, noting that she had briefly gone vegan as a teen. “As we became further educated on the lifestyle, it became clearer to us that it was not only for health, but for compassion.”
Presswood also pointed out that going vegan has improved her overall health and even caused her hormone imbalance, insomnia, and more to go away. Her favorite protein-packed foods are PlantFusion chocolate, Vega One protein powder, tofu, and tempeh.
“I think the obvious misconception about vegans is that we’re protein deficient and therefore weak,” she added. “I address this by showing that you CAN build strong muscles with a compassionate lifestyle.”
Corbett is an ultrarunner who has completed more than 250 ultra marathons (and hundreds of other tough races) all while sticking to a vegan diet. The former drug addict began to turn her life around through running in 1996 and hasn’t looked back.
“I have been a vegan for 15 years. I also love fast packing, long distance hiking, rock climbing and crossfit. I am not fast but love to run,” Corbett told Great Vegan Athletes in January 2012. “I love motivating others to attempt what they believe is impossible. I believe anything is possible as long as you want to do it.”
In July 2018, Corbett set a record for the fastest time on the California Muir Ramble Route, which spans 310 miles.
The bodybuilding champion has been vegan since birth. In 2014 she became the first person to be awarded a Pro Card by IFBB who had never eaten meat or animal products.
“I was a vegan in my mom’s womb and she ate all the yummy nutritious vegan foods, so there you go!” she told Meat Free Athlete. “Because of my parents I am a vegan, and would have it no other way.”
Some of Malik’s favorite protein-rich foods include avocado toast, fresh vegetables like kale and spinach, and oatmeal.
The tennis star told Health in February 2021 that she transitioned to a plant-based diet after she was diagnosed with Sjögren’s syndrome in 2011. “I started for health reasons. I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, and I wanted to maintain my performance on the court. Once I started, I fell in love with the concept of fueling your body in the best way possible. Not only does it help me on the court, but I feel like I’m doing the right thing for me.”
“It really changed my life,” she added, noting that omitting meat and animal products from her diet allowed her to play tennis again. “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.”
In December 2020, Williams launched a vegan protein brand called Happy Viking, which is inspired by her own protein-packed eating regimen that includes foods like lentils and protein shakes.
In 2012, the tennis phenom told Bon Appetit that she cleaned up her diet, and started eating vegan after her sister Venus was diagnosed with Sjogren’s syndrome.
By February 2020, Williams started a vegan leather fashion line that was designed to help save the planet. “I feel like a lot of things are being killed and we’re not saving the earth,” she told Essence at the time. “We can all just do one small thing and help out so that was also a lot of our inspiration.”
As far as her diet is concerned, the pro athlete loves foods with plenty of protein, such as beans and vegan sushi. “My fridge is really just vegan: coconut water, Gatorade (my favorite!), cucumbers, mint, kale, vegetables, ginger, and wheatgrass,” she added.
Cameron is an American professional cyclo-cross racing cyclist who rides for Portland Bicycle Studio. She is the only transgender athlete to compete in a UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup and has been vegan since 1999.
“I never liked meat. Even as a kid, I never wanted to touch the stuff. I went vegetarian in my teens, almost by accident,” she told Viva La Vegan, noting that the switch to veganism came later. “[Veganism means] taking responsibility for and being conscious of what I put into my body.”
As for what she eats, Cameron told the publication that she sticks to healthy, plant-based foods in order to ensure she’s getting enough protein, calcium, and iron. “I eat a lot of quinoa, rice, kale, beans, and veggies, veggies, veggies, and I’ll eat a little fake meat stuff once in a while for fun. Though, I don’t eat any soy. I try to stay away from heavily processed and manufactured food.”
She added: “I don’t eat in a typical three-meals-a-day style. I’ll eat food all day long in smaller portions to keep my blood sugar and energy levels consistent.”
The fitness model and personal trainer first went vegan for her health in 2010, but soon realized there were many other reasons to eat plant-based. “With more knowledge, I realized being vegan is not healthy for our bodies and our environment’s healing, but so much more so the only loving, compassionate, cruelty-free way to live. And, frankly, there is no other way I will ever live my life,” she told Viva La Vegan in March 2014.
According to Collette, her diet consists mainly of oatmeal with berries and a protein shake, as well as seitan, tempeh, or tofu and vegetables with a complex carb. Her go-to protein sources are “Vega Sport-chocolate, SunWarrior Brown Rice protein-chocolate, and Plant Fusion-natural for smoothies and cookies n creme too!”
The Canadian wrestler, who goes by the name Allie in the ring, has been vegan since she was 14 and is fueled by her plant-based diet.
She eats very mindfully and is prepared with loads of vegan eats when she travels internationally. On an overseas trip several years ago, she brought energy-dense, quality vegan food with her to ensure she could follow her diet and meet her body’s nutritional demands. “I packed protein bars, rice cakes, peanut butter, oat meals because I wasn’t sure it’s going to be this awesome,” she shared on social media at the time.
The Olympic ice skater has been vegan for about 12 years. In September 2018, she told LIVEKINDLY that her switch to a plant-based diet was “purely accidental.”
“I read a book one night called ‘Skinny Bitch.’ It was light and funny and just highlighted the unhealthy diets of our generation. I tried to go vegan and quit drinking diet coke all in one night, and going vegan was a lot easier than quitting the Diet Coke!” she explained at the time. “I started to have better energy and I was sleeping better.” The Canadian athlete also noticed that she felt calmer after she stopped eating meat.
Duhamel is proud of herself for sticking to a vegan diet for multiple reasons. “It’s allowed me to become healthier, it’s allowed me to save a lot of animals, and do my part in lowering my carbon footprint,” she said. “I never planned on staying vegan forever. It was just a little challenge I gave myself. But I started to feel so good, I couldn’t imagine ever going back to eating animals.”
A fan of chickpea casserole and chocolate cupcakes, Duhamel likes to cook her own recipes at home in her spare time, but things get a tad trickier when she travels. “I always have to be very organized packing my almond milk, trail mixes, bars, and snacks,” she explained.
The WNBA player and three-time Olympic gold medalist has credited her vegan diet for her career longevity. She and her wife, Penny Taylor, adopted a plant-based diet about six years ago in an effort to improve their overall health. Taurasi has also said the eating regimen has improved her athletic performance because it reduces inflammation and fosters a quicker recovery.
“You take for granted what you put in your body when you’re young. You feel like you can do anything,” she told Record Online in June 2018. “As you get older, you get conscious of what you’re eating and how that affects your body. The way you look and feel that’s really helped me.”
As for the specific foods she eats, Taurasi told Swish Appeal in May 2018 that she’s pretty much “all in” for any vegetable, but she favors lentils (yellow and red,) as well as beans and kale.
The paralympic ski racer and world record holder as the “Fastest Disabled Woman on the Planet” has been an outspoken vegan for years. In 1993, Mills lost her left leg below the knee due to a traffic accident. To save her amputated leg from constant infection, she went on a plant-based diet and subsequently created the pioneering international plant based ethical Vegan food company, VBites. Its products are now sold all over the world.
“There’s always an extreme reason for going vegan; it’s usually for health, animals or the planet. For me, it was health initially,” she told New Food Magazine in March 2020. “Back then I didn’t know anything about animal cruelty or the environmental problems, I just thought, ‘Well, I’ll try anything to improve my health.’”
Mills is also a passionate animal rights activist. In 2006, she campaigned to end the Canadian seal hunt, and in 2007, she played a key role in passing the European Union’s ban on cat and dog fur, helping to collect 250,000 petition signatures. The TV personality is also a patron of the animal rights organisation, Viva.
In addition to cooking her own vegan cakes and meals at home, Mills has mastered the art of ordering vegan dishes with plenty of protein when she eats at restaurants. “I can go to an Indian restaurant and get them to do me a real veggie korma, with coconut milk, or tarka dhal and rice,” she explained to Plant Based Mag. “If I go to the Thai restaurant, I get tofu black bean curd cashew nut dish. Every time I order with a group of friends, they always end up eating my food instead of theirs!”
The Australian sprinter became an Olympian in 2016 at the age of 21, about two years after she adopted a plant-based diet.
Mitchell went vegan in 2014 after watching a documentary about animal cruelty. The athlete told LIVEKINDLY she’s noticed many health improvements after making the switch, such as improved energy. “I recover a lot quicker than I used to,” she explained in November 2019. “It’s easier to keep my weight down and I haven’t been sick at all! My dietitian also gave me the perfect meal plan to assist with heavy training days vs light so I know how much I need to eat and when.”
Mitchell’s decision to go vegan was also motivated by other factors. “Ultimately helping the environment and not contributing to animal cruelty was a big thing for me, too,” she explained to Well + Good in July 2020. “That was my initial reason for going vegan, and the rest of the benefits were just added bonuses.”
She also told the publication that her diet includes meals like vegan breakfast burritos with “three different types of protein,” salads with vegan chicken for an added protein boost, and vegan Beyond Meat or bean burgers.
The pro surfer was raised as a vegetarian and decided to go vegan in 2013. After several years of training vegan, she knows what works best for her. Case in point: Blanco scored her first gold medal at the ISA World Surfing Games in 2015, followed by her second a year later. She actively promotes the vegan lifestyle through her Instagram and Facebook pages, Tia’s Vegan Kitchen, which are solely dedicated to showcasing healthy plant-based meals.
Blanco was motivated to go vegan after learning about the horrors of factory farming, as well as how healthy a plant-based diet can be. “When I was 15, I watched the documentary ‘Glass Walls’ and read The China Study, and then it became quite clear to me why I wanted to be vegetarian and why I wanted to adopt a vegan lifestyle,” she told Men’s Journal in 2017. “After doing my research, I chose to go vegan and have been dedicated to a vegan diet for four years now.”
According to Blanco, her signature meal after training is a Hawaiian Beyond Burger. She also told the publication that she has a penchant for clean foods, such as fresh vegetables. “I think of veggies as nutrition and water, not a food where I can get energy so I don’t even count veggies when I’m counting calories and nutrition,” she explained. “For energy, I go to potatoes, whole grains, and starchy veggies. I’m obsessed with carrots and sweet potatoes.”
The rock climber, BASE jumper, and wingsuit flyer who has been vegan since 2002, is considered to be one of the best rock climbers in the world and holds many “firsts,” such as being the first woman to summit all peaks of the Fitzroy Range in Patagonia and the first woman to free climb Salathė Wall on El Capitan.
“I started eating vegan in 2002. I was experimenting with different eating systems to improve my climbing performance. I tried four different diets for four months each. When I was finished, I did the master cleanse,” she explained to Viva La Vegan in 2015. “When I started to eat food again after the cleansing fast, I found that the only things I wanted to eat were whole-food, non-meat items, and I decided to just go with it. I quickly discovered that I was climbing and feeling better than before, and that’s why I stayed vegan.”
In order to get an adequate amount of protein, Davis said she eats plenty of “tofu, lentils, garbanzo beans, black beans, almonds, and walnuts.” She also noted that she likes homemade granola with non-dairy milk for breakfast and a salad with nuts and sautéed tofu for dinner.
The athlete studied biology before she became a racecar driver and she is also a keen environmentalist and animal rights activist who has been vegan since 2011. Münter, who retired from racing in 2019, has used her sport to communicate many important messages about animal rights and saving the environment, including driving a car with images of the famous SeaWorld exposé, Blackfish, on it. She even debuted a vegan racing car in January 2018.
The Minnesota native has also served NASCAR fans vegan food on multiple occasions. In July 2018, she teamed up with vegan bodybuilders Korin Sutton and Ryan Nelson to serve fans free Impossible Burgers topped with Follow Your Heart cheese and Miyoko’s creamy plant-based butter following the ARCA Racing Series Scott 150 race.
“We don’t expect to turn the NASCAR fan-base into vegans overnight; however, by planting the seed and opening people’s minds to the new wave of vegan options and how they can be healthier eating vegan, it will be a win-win for people, [the] planet, and the animals,” she said in a statement at the time.
In terms of her own diet, Münter told Viva La Vegan that she’s a fan of plant-based meat, which provides plenty of protein. “[I eat] beans, but I also enjoy cooking with the meat substitutes they make now: Beyond Meat, Gardein, Boca, Tofurky, etc.,” she explained. “I love making huge salads with garbanzo beans, red onion, pomegranate seeds, walnuts, cucumber, tomatoes, avocado, peas, corn—I put all the veggies on it!”
The pro cyclist went vegan in 2009. Although she ditched meat and dairy in order to be a better advocate for animals, her dietary switch may have helped to improve her athletic performance. Bausch won a silver medal at the 2012 Olympics.
The plant-based Olympian hosts The Switch4Good podcast with Baywatch actress and certified health coach, Alexandra Paul. In a December 2019 interview with Forks Over Knives, Bausch explained why she started the podcast. “Society mistakenly believes that you need milk from another species to grow big and get strong, and some of us athletes who know how wrong this message is wanted to educate people about the dangers of dairy,” she said.
To make sure she’s getting enough protein, Bausch loads up on foods like oatmeal, yogurt, pancakes, a vegan scramble or avocado toast for breakfast. For lunch she prefers a big salad, with a rainbow’s worth of veggies. “For protein, I add chickpeas or white beans to the salad,” she told Well + Good in May 2020. “If someone isn’t used to eating plant-based, these are the beans I recommend starting with first because black beans, for example, can be a little harder to digest for people who aren’t used to eating so much fiber.”
She added: “When it comes to making plant-based meals, there really is no limit to what you can make.”
The athlete went vegan at the age of six and has stuck to a plant-based diet for several decades for a multitude of reasons. ”I didn’t realize the personal health benefits of being vegan, the positive impact on the planet, and the injustice of the unfair distribution of resources to other humans by feeding their grain to animals,” she said on an episode of the Switch4Good podcast in May 2019. “I just didn’t want to be party to the harming of these beautiful creatures.”
Oakes is a world record marathon runner and subject of the 2018 sports documentary Running for Good. The film follows her on her mission to set a new world record in endurance racing, despite losing a kneecap from an illness when she was 17.
She also runs Tower Hill Stables Animal Sanctuary in the UK, is an ambassador for The Vegan Society, and is a patron of the Captive Animals Protection Society.
The Olympic skier has been a vegan since birth, and was raised in a family that abstained from consuming animal products. “Growing up without dairy was the natural thing for me to do,” she told LIVEKINDLY in November 2018, pointing out that “horrific agony, fear, and suffering,” goes into “every lick of ice cream.”
The athlete noted that, as a child, her diet kept her exceptionally healthy. “My sister and I barely got sick,” she added. “I honestly can’t remember ever staying home sick, unless it was to go skiing and skip school.”
She also recalled sticking to a diet that was rich in fruits and vegetables such as “fresh pomegranates, avocado, pineapple slices, vibrantly colored berries, and Juicey-Juice.” These days, Johnson told Viva La Vegan she relies on “almonds, quinoa, and tempeh” for protein.
Johnson was the first-ever Black female skier to compete at the Olympics. And, at 14, she was also the youngest alpine ski racer at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Canada. She retired from professional skiing in 1992.
The U.S. women’s soccer star told Reuters in 2019 that she spends her philanthropic time and money advocating for children and animals, noting that she supports the ASPCA because she is passionate “about giving animals a voice.”
“I even adopted a vegan diet, because it didn’t feel fair to have a dog I adore, and yet eat meat all the time,” she said.
PETA named Morgan the “Most Beautiful” vegan celebrity in June 2019 alongside NBA point guard Kyrie Irving. “Alex Morgan and Kyrie Irving are saving animals not only by keeping them off their plates but also by showing the world what they can do on vegan fuel,” PETA Senior Vice President Lisa Lange said in a statement at the time. “They’re living proof that the future of professional sports is vegan.”
The athlete also appeared in a campaign for PETA in March 2018 talking about adopting rescue animals and how they become part of the family. “There are so many animals on the streets and so many animals that aren’t able to live the life that they should be able to live, so I wanted to be able to adopt a dog,” she explained. “Animals should always be a part of the family and be taken care of just as any child would be.”
In order to stay in top physical shape, Morgan told USA Today in August 2019 that she aims to eat 90 grams of protein per day. Her favorite protein-rich foods include oatmeal with nut butter and berries for breakfast, rice with some quinoa, veggies and black beans for lunch, and a Mexican bean and sautéed veggie burrito with guacamole for dinner.
“Mexican is naturally pretty vegan friendly (as long as there isn’t pork lard in the beans),” she noted. “There’s a pretty wide range of things to get protein.”