Bring up the practice of veganism, and one of the most common perceptions is that it's a dietary choice that leaves one wanting for protein. This supposed protein deficiency, in turn, implies that the diet can be a hindrance in growing and maintaining muscle, if not overall physical strength.
But there are a number of professional athletes who have turned that notion on its head. In fact, some of the highest achievers in sport have gotten there with either a strictly- or mostly-plant-based vegan diet.
So who are these athletes that eschew meat and animal-based food products? The following is a closer look at some of these big names, as well as how high they've climbed in their respective sports.
Venus and Serena Williams
According to Metro UK, the Williams sisters announced they were going strict vegan in 2011. While they apparently aren’t still strict vegans, Venus talked to Health.com as recently as January of this year about how going raw vegan “changed everything” for her. Regardless, both have climbed to the highest echelons of their sport on an almost exclusively vegan diet. And it isn't just how well they’ve performed, but how long they've stayed at the top. Venus and Serena met in the final of the 2017 Australian Open, at the ages of 36 and 35, respectively, with Serena winning her record 23rd Grand Slam title. One has to wonder if both players would've found this type of longevity without being so careful about what they consume.
Instagram: Venus Williams | Serena Williams
According to Sports Illustrated, the English soccer star has recently adopted a vegan diet in the interest of prolonging his career. "The key thing for me is how you recover after games to give yourself the best opportunity to perform in the next game," said the 34-year-old Defoe. "I seem to have got that to a tee. There's a lot of things I do away from training, away from playing that help me perform on match days." Now playing for Sunderland, Defoe is still considered one of the top forwards in the Premier League despite his relatively advanced age. He's also still being called up to the highly competitive English national team.
Instagram: Jermain Defoe
Nate and Nick Diaz
MMA fighters Nate and Nick Diaz follow a mostly raw food vegan diet, according to The Telegraph. Nate, 32, famously beat UFC superstar Conor McGregor in a 2016 fight. Nick, 33, is a former welterweight champion in Strikeforce and WEC. Both remain extremely popular figures within UFC, a sport that's renowned for its toughness and reliance on brute physical strength.
Instagram: Nate Diaz | Nick Diaz
Former NFL player David Carter's Instagram username says it all: "the300poundvegan". Carter, 29, played one of the toughest positions in football, defensive end, during his time with the Cardinals, Cowboys, Raiders, Jaguars and Bears. He is now an outspoken advocate for veganism and animal rights, and his massive build dispels many of the notions of a vegan diet leading to physical frailty.
Instagram: David Carter
NFL wide receiver Griff Whalen's Instagram bio proudly proclaims him to be a "100% vegan athlete". The wide receiver out of Stanford played for the Dolphins, Chargers and Patriots in 2016. Whalen has been vegan for a little over four years now, and talked about the challenges the diet posed in an NFL.com article. "Pretty much all of my teammates thought it was weird," Whalen said of his diet. "Everyone's first question is, 'Where are you going to get your protein?'" Whalen appears to have let his success on the gridiron answer those questions.
Instagram: Griff Whalen
Husidic is a 29-year-old Bosnian midfielder who plays for the Los Angeles Galaxy in MLS. Husidic won an MLS title with the Galaxy in 2014 and has been called up to the Bosnian national team. He has also played professionally in Sweden, as well as with the Chicago Fire. His Instagram bio proclaims him to be "PLANT FUELED".
Instagram: Baggio Husidic
Jurek, 43, is one of the most dominant ultramarathon runners in the world. He held the U.S. record for distance run in 24 hours (165.7 miles) from 2010 to 2012. Jurek is also the New York Times bestselling author of the book "Eat & Run".
Instagram: Scott Jurek