The Game Changers, a Netflix documentary that explores the rise of veganism (or plant-based diets) amongst pro athletes, has shaken up historical attitudes about strength and meat-eating being synonymous.
Several of the world-class athletes featured in the documentary, including Lewis Hamilton (UK) and Patrik Baboumian (USA), are not only at the top of their game, but are also beating global records and currently hold or have formerly held Guinness World Records titles.
Other amazing, title-holding, vegan athletes include Dana Glowacka (Canada), Carl Lewis (USA), Fiona Oakes (UK) and more. We’ve compiled 11 plant-powered athletes that have beaten world bests and revolutionised their sport.
Strongman Patrik Baboumian (Germany) is challenging misconceptions about veganism making you weak. Wholly vegan Baboumian is one of the strongest people on the planet and holds the record for the heaviest yoke carried over 10 metres, managing to carry 555.2 kg (1,224 lb). That’s almost twice as heavy as a grand piano!
He also used to hold the record for the longest duration holding a 20 kg weight with outstretched arms with a time of 1 minutes 26.14 seconds, however this was broken in 2017 by Anatoly Ezhov (Belarus) with a time of 2 minutes 39 seconds.
Vegan fitness enthusiast Dana Glowacka (Canada) holds the record for the longest time in an abdominal plank position (female). She maintained the pose for 4 hours 19 minutes and 55 seconds, smashing the existing record.
Dana's son found the record in a Guinness World Records book and told her she could do it. She attempted the record for him, so he would be proud of her and learn that if you stay committed to what you want, anything is possible.
Nate Diaz featured in The Game Changers for his unexpected victory in the UFC 196 fight against two-time world champion Conor McGregor.
Diaz follows a raw vegan diet while he's training as he believes it enhances his performance. In a 2016 interview with Megan Olivi for UFC's The Exchange, he said "I eat eggs and I do a little bit of fish from time to time but try not to... but when I train for fights I'm pretty much an all raw vegan diet."
He was also the Guinness World Records title holder for the most significant strikes landed during a UFC match, managing 238 significant strikes in 15 minutes during a three-round Men’s Lightweight bout against Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone at UFC 141 in 2011. The current record holder is Max Holloway (USA) with 290.
Serena and Venus Williams
Serena and Venus Williams (USA) have dominated tennis for decades. The sister duo hold multiple records, including both female category and overall category titles.
Serena Williams holds the female records for most Grand Slam singles titles won (23), the oldest person ranked world tennis number one (aged 35 years 124 days) and even most followers on Twitter for an athlete. She also holds the overall records for the longest span of tennis Grand Slam singles finals (23) and the first singles and doubles tennis career Golden Grand Slam in 2012.
Venus Williams holds the records for the most Grand Slam singles tournaments played (73), and together with Serena holds the records for most Olympic tennis gold medals won by an individual (4). The sisters also tie two records with others; the most Olympic tennis medals won (5) with Kathleen "Kitty" McKane Godfree (UK) and the most Olympic tennis doubles titles won (3) with Reginald "Reggie" Doherty (UK, 1872-1910).
Venus Williams adopted a raw vegan diet after she was diagnosed with Sjögren's syndrome in 2001, and Serena chose to follow the diet too. Neither sisters are raw vegans anymore but are still largely plant-based when in training.
In a 2017 interview with Health magazine, Venus said: "It definitely changed my whole life. It changed the pace that I live at. It changed everything… there’s something about when you’re eating healthy food, it makes you feel proud.
"It doesn’t mean you have to be perfect… when you’re doing the right things, and you’re eating plants, and you’re eating live foods, it helps you in your life."
Arnold Schwarzenegger, the former muscly-beyond-belief bodybuilder who was synonymous with "manly" meat consumption, is now a strong advocate for a more plant-based diet.
Full disclosure, Schwarzenegger is not 100% vegan, and occasionally eats meat, fish and eggs. However, he’s drastically cut down on these products since his body building days, for both health and environmental reasons, and was an executive producer on The Game Changers.
In a recent video with Men’s Health, Schwarzenegger said: "I stay away more from the meats and more from animal products because there was this misconception it’s the only way you get big and strong. I backed off from that and I feel much better."
He also is very outspoken about the environmental impact meat has and has spoken at the United Nations Climate Change Conference about the matter.
Schwarzenegger holds the Guinness World Records title for longest time between Mr Olympia titles and the most films made by a bodybuilder, making 47 between 1970 and 2017.
Lewis Hamilton (UK) has pretty much dominated Formula 1 since his debut into the sport in 2007. At this point, it may be easier to list the records the six-time world champion doesn’t have! He holds 12 Guinness World Records titles including the most consecutive F1 Grand Prix starts (232), most Formula One pole positions in career (83) and most Formula One circuits on which a driver has won (26).
Hamilton, who was an executive producer on The Game Changers alongside Schwarzenegger, adopted a plant-based diet in 2018 and attributed his continued success to the change.
In an interview with the New York Times, Hamilton said of his diet: "It is just about changing your mind. We’re taught all these things from a young age about what you should and should not eat… but I’ve felt so good for the last year and a half. It’s been such a great decision."
Dotsie Bausch, who credits her full vegan diet for enabling her to cycle more quickly and repair more quickly than her teammates, is an eight-time U.S. national cycling champion, a two-time Pan American gold medallist, and an Olympic silver medallist.
She previously held the record for the fastest cycling women's team 3 km standing start with her USA team mates Sarah Hammer and Lauren Tamayo, with a time of 3 min 19.569 seconds. This record is now held by Laura Trott, Danielle King and Joanna Rowsell (UK) with a time of 3 minutes 15.720 seconds.
Fiona Oakes (UK) is a hardened marathon runner and holds the female records for the fastest aggregate time to complete a marathon on each continent and the North Pole, the fastest aggregate time to complete a marathon on each continent, and the fastest Antarctic Ice Marathon.
Fiona runs to raise money for the animal sanctuary she founded in 1993, the Tower Hill Stables Animal Sanctuary. In Fiona’s own words: "I am doing this to help raise funds and the profile of Tower Hill Stables Animal Sanctuary and to promote the vegan cause - I have been vegan for 45 years."
One of the most iconic plant-based athletes of all time is former track and field athlete Carl Lewis (USA). Carl won nine Olympic gold medals and broke multiple records for the 100m, 200m and the long jump.
One of his records, the farthest long jump (male) (indoors), still stands today with 8.79 m (28 ft 10.06 in).
Lewis went vegan in 1990 and went on to win the 1991 World Championships 100m final, setting a new world record of 9.86 seconds in the process.
In a time where veganism was not as mainstream as it is today, Lewis relied a lot on smoothies and juices for his nutritional balance and drank 24 to 32 oz of juice a day.
In his introduction to Jannequin Bennett’s book Very Vegetarian, he wrote: "My best year of track competition was the first year I ate a vegan diet… I had my best year as an athlete ever!"
Neil Robertson (Australia) is an accomplished and record-breaking snooker player who became vegan in 2014. He holds the record for most century breaks in a snooker season, compiling 103 century breaks in 22 tournaments during the 2013–14 snooker season. Other vegan snooker players include Aditya Mehta, Liam Highfield and Peter Ebdon, who put Robertson onto the vegan diet.
In an interview with Great Vegan Athletes, Robertson said: "I felt I needed to eat healthier to give myself the chance to get the most out of my career.
"I was pretty interested in the vegan diet for months before I decided to give it a try through speaking to [fellow snooker player] Peter Ebdon."
With the continuing rise of plant-based diets amongst athletes to enhance their performance, we wonder who will be added to the list next?