Meat consumption is rising faster than ever, but plenty of strength athletes have shattered records without touching the stuff. Check out our list below to learn some of the best known vegan athletes — and what made them give up meat in the first place.
1) Clarence Kennedy
The Irish weightlifter is known for his 185-kilogram snatch and 220-kilogram clean & jerk at about 100kg bodyweight, lifts that he made both before and after he switched to veganism in 2016. Both of these lifts would be American records in the -105kg class, though we should point out that Kennedy has not made these lifts in competition.
In an interview with BarBend, we asked why he cut out animal products from his diet.
“It had nothing to do with weightlifting or performance,” he said. “I just came across a video from The Vegan Atheist on YouTube and he was criticizing another YouTuber’s defense for eating meat, and I watched a bunch of his videos (…) and I came to realize there’s just no good argument against veganism. I just felt like I needed to change my diet. It was for moral and environmental reasons. It wasn’t for performance or anything.”
2) Hulda B. Waage
The 30-year-old Icelandic powerlifter is a force to be reckoned with in the country’s strength scene. This past November, Waage recorded a 205kg (452lb) equipped squat, earning her the -84kg Women’s Kraft IPF Iceland record. She also holds the all-time equipped national bench press record with 120kg (254lb), and has previously pulled a 185kg (407lb) deadlift.
In an interview with BarBend, Waage explained that she went vegan primarily for environmental reasons, though she also chose it for “personal health reasons.” Her macros are roughly 20 to 30 percent protein, 15 to 20 percent fat, and 55 to 60 percent carbs.
3) Ilya Ilyin
The mighty Kazakh has won two Olympic gold medals in the 94kg weight class, snatching 180kg (396.8lb) in 2008 and 185kg (407.8lb) in 2012. He also won four world championships in the 94kg weight class and one world championship (his most recent in 2014) at 105kg. Along the way, he set clean & jerk and total records in both weight classes.
He gave up all forms of meat after competing at the London Olympics, telling Yahoo! Sports, “I just have much better feeling in my body. It is not easy for me to digest meat. I waste too much energy in digesting meat and that’s why I get my proteins from other products.” Though he hasn’t discussed dairy and eggs, it’s possible that he continues to consume these animal products.
Of course, we must disclose that Ilya Ilyin has been ordered to return his two gold medals following positive doping retests. He has since applied to business school in order to pursue an MBA and has likely retired from Olympic weightlifting.
[Want more plant-based food? Check out our guide to the best vegan protein supplements!]
4) Patrik Baboumian
An Iranian-born German strongman who looks an awful lot like a vegan Wolverine, Patrik Baboumian, is very strong and – as you can see in the video of him deadlifting 300kg for reps – very proudly vegan. His personal bests include a 162.5kg (358.25lb) log lift, which was then a world record in the -105kg division, and an overhead keg lift of 150kg (330lb), which remains a world record. In 2015, he broke his own world record in the yoke walk with a ten-meter, 560kg (1,234.59lb) walk in Kitzcher, Germany.
“One day, I just thought, if you see a bird with a broken leg, you really have the urge to do something about it and help the bird,” he has said. “Then at the same time, you go to a restaurant and eat a chicken or something. It doesn’t make any sense.”
5) Kendrick Farris
The lone male to compete for Team USA’s Olympic weightlifting team in Rio, Farris broke the 94kg U.S. record by lifting 377kg (831.1lb) during the trials in March. That’s 168kg (370lb) in the snatch and 209kg (461lb) in the clean & jerk.
Farris decided to stop eating animal products after the birth of his son in 2014. “He’s my second child, and for me it was a time of reflection—on the things I want to teach him, and the example I want to set for him,” he told Men’s Fitness. “It was like a light bulb went off.”