Netflix’s 2018 documentary, “The Game Changers” introduced a series of famous athletes who aren’t just making do in their respective games, they’re making huge strides — all without following a traditional meat-based diet.
It may seem counterintuitive that competitive athletes would consider eliminating such a core source of protein from their diets, but meat consumption has been on the decline in recent years. In fact, as of 2020, nearly 25% of Americans had reduced their meat intake, according to a Gallup poll. And like the average American, athletes are seeing — and feeling — the benefits of a plant-based diet.
From bodybuilders to endurance runners, here are five famous athletes who are changing the game with clean eating.
Serena & Venus Williams
Few famous athletes have been as dominant in their field as Serena and Venus Williams. With multiple Olympic gold medals, grand slam titles, and several other world records under their belts, the sisters have come to define what it means to excel athletically on a global level. It should stand to reason, then, that both famous athletes pursue nontraditional paths towards their success — starting with their diets.
Ten years ago, Venus Williams discovered she had Sjogren’s syndrome, an autoimmune disease. Rather than submit to a life of constant medication, Venus decided to pursue a vegan lifestyle in hopes that it would allow her to continue to compete competitively. Her diet enabled her to not only manage her disease without significant medication but also thrive as a famous athlete in her sport.
Venus’s sister, Serena, has also pursued a mostly vegan diet and adopted an eat-to-live, don’t-live-to-eat lifestyle. Serena sticks to a mostly plant-based diet, with occasional eggs. She prefers mostly greens in her diet but will incorporate necessary carbohydrates, especially before competitions.
Serena, like her sister, has never been one to believe that eating healthy means not indulging in the occasional snack. Venus, a self-proclaimed junk-food junkie, often quips that she “never met a French fry that wasn’t vegan,” while Serena prefers the simple joy of a Moon Pie.
From international bodybuilder to California governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger has known many roles. Scores of famous athletes have looked up to him over the decades for inspiration and motivation. And while he has not always been a paragon of health, he continues to be an influence in the fitness community.
Schwarzenegger recently moved to a 99% vegan diet during the recent global pandemic, according to the Netflix documentary. Through social media, he encouraged amateur and famous athletes alike to follow in his footsteps as a way to help the environment and the local community during quarantine. As he moved to a more plant-based diet, he reported that his cholesterol dropped significantly and that he feels much healthier in his day-to-day activities.
The former bodybuilder also noted that, like many famous athletes, he used to believe animal meat was the only source of protein, which is why his former diets had focused so heavily on it. With his recent education, he’s swapped out chicken breasts in his office refrigerator for lots of vegetables, fruit, and plant-based meat alternatives.
While many would consider running a marathon the feat of a lifetime, Scott Jurek doesn’t stop there. The ultramarathoner recently completed 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 days and ran the entire Appalachian Trail in just 46 days, eight hours, and seven minutes.
Naturally, running long distances requires a lot of food, and fortunately for Jurek, he loves to eat. But he doesn’t adhere to the traditional diet of other famous athletes, which relies heavily on meat for protein. Jurek’s diet consists of fruits, veggies, seeds, nuts, and chocolate — much of which he literally eats on the run!
While he admits that it can sometimes be difficult to keep a plant-based diet for a sport that requires so much, he claims that the benefits outweigh the costs. If anything, Jurek enjoys his food marathons as much as the ones he runs each day.
Patrik Baboumian is flipping the script on the diet for famous athletes. He was Germany’s Strongest Man in 2011, won the European Powerlifting Championship in 2012, and holds at least four world records in powerlifting.
All those records require special attention to diet, and Baboumian consumes 5,000 calories a day to meet his training needs. Those calories, however, come from protein shakes and smoothies combined with plant-based meat products and tofu. Baboumian does not incorporate meat into his daily diet, despite several famous athletes following traditional diets that do; he has found success in a plant-based approach and continues to do so.
From long-distance runners to heavy lifters, famous athletes are proving time and time again that they can perform competitively with nontraditional diets. They are finding new ways to take in more protein, carbohydrates, fats, and a variety of other helpful nutrients in healthy ways that are satisfying.
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