• Robert Cheeke

10 Champion Plant-Based Athletes To Follow

It’s no secret that 2019 was the year of the plant-based athlete. After all, it was the year that the highly anticipated plant-based athlete documentary, The Game Changers, was finally released to rave reviews from audiences that had been chomping at the bit for years. It was also in 2019 when we learned that some of the world’s greatest athletes follow a plant-based diet, as well as many of the world’s most famous athletes, such as Alex Morgan, co-captain of the US Women’s World Cup winning soccer team. As it turns out, arguably the world’s best and most famous male soccer player, Lionel Messi, also follows a plant-based diet.

Plant-based athletes stretch far beyond the soccer field though, and make their way onto the tennis courts, racetracks, football fields, and in NBA basketball arenas across the country. Runners, bodybuilders, weight lifters, and athletes from all stripes seem to be leaning toward plants for optimal athletic performance more than ever before. Even if they don’t go all the way to becoming fully vegan, such as the plant-centered diet Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady follows, the benefits and results appear to be evident.

The fact that there are TV commercials promoting plant-based products and plant-based diets, during the most watched sporting events, such as Beyond Meat’s Carl’s Jr. Super Bowl commercial of 2019, Kyrie Irving’s Nike/plant-based diet commercial during the 2019 college football national championship game, and the Impossible Burger commercial for Burger King played during pretty much every NBA basketball game I watch, set the stage to make the past year one to remember as a turning point, perhaps leading to a future tipping point.

This past year was not just the year that we discovered a whole bunch of world class athletes who had (in some cases) been quietly/secretly following a plant-based diet for athletic performance benefits, trying to out-strategize their omnivorous counterparts, but also the year that many world class athletes were inspired to adopt a plant-based diet. That means 2020 will be full of brand new elite plant-based athletes from myriad sports in all corners of the world. Some big-name retired athletes have recently gone plant-based like former Tour de France champion, Chris Froome, and Iron Addicts legend, C.T. Fletcher, but retired athletes have long been drawn to a plant-based diet for improved health, so that’s not much of a surprise. You may recall that Mike Tyson became vegan in his retirement, which helped him drop 160 pounds and reclaim his health, and plenty of bodybuilders I used to hang around two decades ago have now embraced a plant-centered diet. The impact, as I see it, often comes from those who are currently competing at a high level in sports who go plant-based and can demonstrate measurable changes in their athletic performance. We’ve seen that for years in mixed martial arts, running, bodybuilding, weightlifting, tennis, football, and basketball, and with many athletes, especially those in the NBA, opting for plant-based fuel for their sports endeavors, 2020 should be another year for the record books. NBA All-Star, Chris Paul, gives us a sneak peek of what to expect as he became an All-Star for the 10th time, but just the first time since 2016, after he switched to a plant-based diet over the past year. Other examples are plentiful, and encouraging, but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves, and instead, let’s reflect back on the epic year for the plant-based athlete that was 2019.

Many readers likely know the common benefits of a plant-based diet on athletic performance, namely, increased energy, reduced inflammation, and improved recovery, which brings so many athletes to the plant-based diet in the first place, so let’s get right to it and learn who crushed it in 2019.

These are my Top 10 Plant-Based Athletes who absolutely crushed it in 2019:

#10: Natalie Matthews. Natalie, a bikini competitor in one of the divisions within the larger bodybuilding and fitness industry, turned pro in 2018 within the IFBB (International Federation of Body Builders) as one of the top bikini competitors in the world. In 2019, she competed across the country, placing as high as 4th in an Olympia-qualifying pro show at the Battle at the Falls in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, just one spot behind three-time world champion, Ashley Kaltwasser. Natalie also placed 7th at the IFBB Indy Pro in Indianapolis, Indiana in her first full season as an IFBB Pro. Her bikini division is the most popular, and therefore most competitive, of any category within the bodybuilding industry. In addition to being one of the world’s top bikini competitors, Natalie is a former professional surfer, and is a professional chef and cookbook author. If 2019 was any indication of what to expect from Natalie in the future, it’s a good bet that 2020 will be even more epic for the Puerto Rican chef turned world renowned fitness model.

They say that success leaves clues, and if we can glean any insight into the mindset of a champion of multiple sports, what we can learn from Natalie is that when she sets a goal, she creates a plan, develops habits, and set her sights on achieving her goals because of deliberate actions she takes daily. I’ve worked with Natalie, toured with Natalie, and have come to learn that her passion combined with her work ethic is the recipe that fuels her success. The takeaway here is to look inside and find what your own passion is, or what your deep interests are, and to create action plans for daily steps that get you closer to your goal. It could be as simple as writing a goal down that you see every single day, or waking up early to complete your workout before your day gets away from you. With Natalie, it’s all about priorities, and if it matters to her, she’ll find a way, and it has served her well as a newcomer to a sport where she is already one of the best on the planet.

For more information about Natalie, and to see how she crushed it in 2019, follow her on Instagram at @fitveganchef or on www.fitveganchef.com.

#9: Torre Washington. Torre is a champion bodybuilder and physique competitor at the highest level, and he has been either a vegetarian or vegan nearly his entire life. He earned his IFBB professional status in 2018, and competed throughout the past year, placing as high as 3rd at the first fully drug-tested IFBB Pro show in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. He also finished 4th at the Muscle Contest in Los Angeles, California. Along with his top 5 finishes at the most prestigious level of professional bodybuilding, within the most competitive category of men’s physique, Torre also traveled the world promoting the plant-based athlete lifestyle from Australia to Mexico. He is a sought after personal trainer, eBook author, coach, and international public speaker. Torre is also featured in the film, From The Ground Up, and he has become one of the most influential vegan bodybuilders in the world.

Torre’s success stems from a sincere desire to help others. This is evident to anyone who has followed him online in recent years, and very clear to me, as someone who has known Torre for more than a decade. Torre is also a true fan of the sport he competes in. He cheers on other competitors, and wants to see everyone become the best versions of themselves. In a sport that is inherently competitive, based on subjective judging, where athletes are quite literally compared to one another on stage, Torre is a fan of the process. He knows that at the end of the day, it’s him vs. him and he has never lost sight of that. It is that approach that has made him one of the best vegan bodybuilders in the world, and certainly one of the most influential. A lesson to be learned from Torre is to smile often, lift others up, and share your passion for whatever you are in to with others. Torre always seems happy, and it is likely that positive attitude that keeps him ahead of the competition in a fairly isolated sport of bodybuilding.

For more information about Torre, and to see how he crushed it in 2019, follow him on Instagram at @torre.washington or on www.torrewashington.com.

#8: Mary Schneider. Mary is a long distance runner who qualified for the 2020 USA Olympic Trials in the marathon. With a personal best time of 2:42.01 (which is a 6-minute and 11-second mile pace for 26.2 miles), she qualified for the USA Olympic Trials in 2019, and eyes the Toyko 2020 Olympic Summer Games. Over the past year, Mary has been a key member of the Prado Racing Team in San Diego, CA, and she became the 2019 San Diego USATF XC Women’s Champion. With a blistering pace for the half marathon at 1 hour, 17 minutes and 38 seconds, which is a 5-minute and 56-second mile pace, she has been an Overall Female Winner in races from her native San Diego to Virginia Beach, and from Lehigh Valley to Delaware.

As a plant-based athlete since 2017, Mary has seen a significant improvement in her athletic performance, recovery after training, and has set her all-time personal records in distances from 5k to marathon. She works as a holistic nutritionist and is a USATF certified running coach, having coached beginners to those who have qualified for Olympic Trials. If that wasn’t enough, Mary is also a lawyer and a yoga instructor, and leads by example as she follows her passion to make her dreams happen.

What I find especially inspiring about Mary is that she took time away from the sport of competitive running (to pursue a law degree and get her career started), but then she returned to running at the highest level and performed at her very best. I think a great lesson from her example is that it is never too late to do what you love. I know first hand as a former runner, turned bodybuilder, turned runner again, (and eventually turned weight lifter again) that even after a long hiatus, success and joy can be found in a sport you love. So if there is a sport that tugs at your heart, but that you haven’t pursued in quite some time, today could be the perfect day to do something again for the first time.

For more information about Mary, and to see how she crushed it in 2019, follow her on Instagram at @greenbodymary or on www.greenbodyrunner.com.

#7: Liz Cambage. Liz is a professional basketball player in the WNBA, as an all-star center for the Las Vegas Aces. Following her exceptional 2018 season, where she set a WNBA scoring record with 53 points scored in a single game, she returned to the WNBA all-star game in 2019 and led her team to the post