Are you wondering if there are any vegan UFC fighters?
Yes, there are vegan UFC fighters, and in this article, we’ll look at a list of vegan UFC fighters and their reasons for becoming vegan, as well as the supposed benefits of a vegan diet for athletes.
We’ll also look at UFC fighters that have tried a vegan diet or who follow it at specific times, and their reasons for not committing to veganism.
- List of Vegan UFC Fighters
- UFC Fighters Who Transition Between Veganism and Other Diets
- What Are the Supposed Benefits for Vegan UFC Fighters?
- The Bottom Line
List of Vegan UFC Fighters
Here’s a list of Vegan UFC fighters in alphabetical order:
Aaron Simpson is a retired UFC fighter who fought for most of his career on a vegan diet. For Aaron, it was mostly for ethical reasons in how he was making a difference in his heart and mind by not supporting animal cruelty.
Aaron feels athletes don’t need insane amounts of protein to get bigger and stronger, and that the ‘protein myth’ is exactly that, a myth.
Aaron believes the vegan diet gives him the most energy he’s ever had, which is vitally important when weight cutting the week before a fight and on fight night when most athletes are depleted and low on energy.
Alex Caceres is a UFC legend, fighting in the promotion for 11 years since 2011. Alex went vegan initially as an aid to getting down to the bantamweight limit of 135 lbs, which he’d previously struggled to do.
Having found weight loss success, Alex kept on the vegan diet and now stays only 10 lbs or so above the weight limit, so it’s easy for him to make weight each time.
Not only has it made weight cuts easier for him, but he expressed how he feels better in his body, mind, and soul. He truly believes you are what you eat and that food is what drives us.
He also believes switching to a vegan diet saved his UFC career by allowing him to perform optimally.
Ashlee Evans-Smith has been a vegan since 2016 and has fought in the UFC since 2014.
For Ashlee, becoming a vegan UFC fighter was the natural evolution of her diet, as she was a vegetarian for 10 years.
Going on the vegan diet allowed her to feel amazing, lose weight, gain muscle, and also cut weight easier. Because of this, she made the switch from bantamweight (135 lbs) to flyweight (125 lbs) in 2018 where she has a 1-1 record.
Having only competed 3 times since 2018, Ashlee was suspended by USADA for 14 months in January 2022, meaning she can’t compete again until March 2023. Ashlee tested positive for the banned steroid, dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA).
Jake Shields grew up in a vegetarian family, so had no trouble becoming vegan at an early age. The few times he ate meat, it made him sick and feel gross. He’s also a vegan for ethical reasons, believing factory farming to be disgusting.
Jake knows that becoming vegan is a tough task for the average person because it requires a completely new bunch of recipes and meals. Even for athletes, going vegan makes protein harder to consume so it’s definitely a bigger effort to continually cook the right foods and get the right amounts.
Throughout his career, Jake loved proving people wrong because he grew up around the belief that athletes need protein, otherwise they won’t be able to grow stronger and they’ll be weak.
He also enjoys helping people transition to vegetarianism or veganism, and while he never set out to be an example, he enjoys the role. During his career, he was also good friends with the Diaz brothers and the three trained together under Cesar Gracie.
James Wilks is an English fighter who fought in the UFC in 2009 and 2010, more known for producing the Netflix documentary, Gamechangers, than for his MMA career. Gamechangers explores the benefits of veganism for athletes and has caused a lot of controversy with the claims made throughout.
James was never vegan while fighting, but became a vegan activist in 2011 after tearing ligaments in both his knees and having 6 months away from MMA to focus on learning about nutrition and the best recovery practices for athletes.
James believes, “ ‘As an athlete, you want your endothelium, the inner lining of your arteries, to be as healthy as possible. It is responsible for nitric oxide production which transports oxygen to the muscles and dilates the arteries. More oxygen means better performance whether it be strength or endurance.‘ “
‘ “Plant-based foods are inherently loaded with antioxidants too, which aid athletes in recovery. If someone wants to be the best athlete they can be they need to fuel their body with the best diet available and that is a whole food, plant-based diet. Period!” ‘
Karolina Kowalkiewicz is well known for her title fight against fellow Polish fighter, Joanna Jedrjezcyzk. What’s less known about her is in 2019 she was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s disease – an autoimmune disease that slowly kills the thyroid gland.
To combat this, Karolina soon took up a vegetarian diet, but soon switched to a vegan diet in 2020 to maximize the health of her body in combatting the disease.
Before being diagnosed with the disease, she was one of the top 5 strawweight fighters in the UFC. Since 2019, she has a record of 1-5, picking up the win in her most recent fight (June 2022). Hopefully for Karolina, the vegan diet improves her health and she can get back to winning ways.
The Ultimate Fighter season 6 winner, Mac Danzig, is considered the first vegan MMA fighter after making the transition in 2004. Mac became professional in 2001 and continued fighting as a vegan until his retirement in 2017, finishing with a 22-12 MMA record.
Mac initially cut dairy out of his diet in 1998 when he was 18 years old because he was lactose intolerant and it was giving him sinus issues and ear and nose infections. With the dairy gone, he was only consuming chicken and fish for years because he believed in the ‘protein myth’.
Since going vegan for personal reasons, Mac has more energy and recovers better in between workouts.
Mac was famously in the 2011 documentary, ‘Forks Over Knives’, looking at whether changing from an animal-based to a plant-based diet helps reduce and control diseases such as diabetes and cancer.
Overall, Mac is a huge advocate for veganism and strongly believes in it for performance as well as ethical and climate crisis reasons.
Nate Diaz is one of the most popular UFC fighters of all time, in part due to his ‘f the system’ mentality and going against the norm. He’s been a long-time vegan and advocate for veganism throughout his MMA career, which is definitely going against the norm for an MMA fighter.
Nate became a vegan in 2003 at the age of 18, following the advice of his older brother, Nick Diaz, who was already a vegan fighter himself.
He then trained for fights on a vegan diet, occasionally breaking from the diet to eat eggs and sometimes fish. After one fight, he started to eat meat and dairy again but immediately quit as it made him feel terrible. From then on he’s not eaten meat or dairy.
For Nate, the main reason for being on a vegan diet is for performance benefits, rather than ethical reasons such as preventing animal cruelty. On a vegan diet, he feels he has more energy, recovers faster, has an easier time keeping weight off and feels much healthier and better overall.
While not the most skillful fighter of his generation, what he does have is insane energy and cardio, and great longevity as a fighter – still fighting at the age of 37. Also, he’s been fighting in the UFC for 15 years and has never pulled out through injury – a testament to his healthy diet and how it reduces inflammation.
So, while the diet may receive criticism, it’s clearly worked for Nate throughout his career.
The older brother of Nate Diaz, Nick was one of the first vegan UFC fighters to really bring the diet mainstream, since he became one of the youngest UFC fighters back in 2003, aged 20.
Nick fought in the UFC between 2003 and 2006, but left and managed to become the Strikeforce welterweight champion. It was here that he talked up his vegan diet as part of his success. He also said he sometimes eats fish so may be considered a pescatarian.
Nick is another fighter who eats a vegan diet for performance reasons. He feels the diet allows him to train 6 or 7 days a week in the gym, and that meat slows him down and extends his recovery time.
In terms of protein, Nick likes to drink Vega, a plant-based protein shake as he avoids whey or casein protein.
Nick infamously boasted on Twitter, ‘Conor McGregor got his ass kicked by a vegan’, seeing as Conor labeled Nate as skinny and fat at the same time, attributing this to his diet.
Much like his brother, Nick never once pulled out of a fight because of an injury, while fighting in the UFC from 2003 to 2007, and also from 2011 to 2022. They both believe they’re injury free because of their plant-based diet, and it’s hard to argue against the evidence.
Rashad Evans is a UFC Hall of Famer who became vegan in 2018, shortly after his retirement from the promotion.
4 years later and still a vegan, Rashad has started fighting again for Eagle FC at the age of 42, swearing he feels better now than he did at 30 years old thanks to his vegan diet. Rashad won his fight, snapping a 5 loss streak he accumulated towards the end of his UFC career.
During his 13-year UFC career (05-18), Rashad was a meat eater and claimed he felt good but that he never had the endurance he now has after eating a plant-based diet.
On top of endurance, he feels his body is instantly recovering so he can train at peak performance the next day. He also feels better because the diet allowed him to easily get 25 lbs lighter while eating so much due to a vegan diet being full of low-calorie dense foods.
UFC Fighters Who Transition Between Veganism and Other Diets
Here are a few UFC fighters who tried veganism at one point or who transition to veganism during certain times of the year.
Jon initially tried veganism in 2011, as a way to focus on eating clean, removing chemicals, junk food, and meat.
Jon only ever went about 4 weeks without eating meat and attributes the clean diet rather than not eating meat to how great he felt.
However, over time on a vegan diet, Jon lost mass and felt smaller. Instead of walking around at 192 to 195 lbs, he was 182 lbs which is too small for him to fight at welterweight (170 lbs). He also started to get injured more but says it could’ve been a multitude of factors.
Overall, Jon went vegan for 6-9 months, and during this time he also tried weekday veganism, where he could eat whatever he wanted to on the weekends.
In the end, he switched back to meat after claiming the vegan food schedule was too much work, especially with a family to feed.
Mark Hunt was in the UFC for 9 years from 2010 to 2019 and turned to veganism in 2015 after seeing animal cruelty footage and not wanting to support the industry any longer, rather than for performance reasons.
However, 1 year later Mark revealed he was no longer vegan because of the time demands of the sport, but would be staying vegetarian. Some would argue this is a copout, but it’s well understood that veganism is a lifestyle and much harder to maintain.
Randy Couture is a UFC Hall of Famer and one of the biggest legends in MMA.
While never a vegan, Randy was one of the first MMA and UFC fighters to dispel the ‘protein myth’ by claiming that eating fewer animal products will provide a fighter with better performance in the octagon.
He used this diet to go from a heavyweight fighter to a light heavyweight fighter and champion from 2009 onwards. The diet he used is a plant-based diet with a focus on high alkaline foods.
His focus was on removing animal products such as meat, poultry, and dairy, and also sugar and processed grains. The purpose of this was to remove acid-forming foods, which he believes are caused by animal products; especially meat.
He would get his protein from nuts, seeds, hemp protein, and fish, so his diet may be considered pescatarian but he would be completely vegan from time to time, especially in the build-up to fights when he wanted to reduce inflammation and be in his best shape.
Consuming fewer animal products worked for Randy Couture, being to this day the oldest UFC champion at the age of 43 and also fighting in the UFC until the age of 47.
What Are the Supposed Benefits for Vegan UFC Fighters?
After looking at many vegan UFC fighters, some went vegan for ethical reasons but most went vegan for performance benefits.
The most common athletic performance benefits are:
- More energy and better cardio
- Less recovery time needed between workouts (can workout 6 or 7 days a week)
- Lose weight easily and never miss weight due to plants helping fighters feel full and cutting out meat and dairy helping with water weight loss.
- Chronic injuries being healed naturally
- Reduced inflammation and stress in the body
- Reduced blood pressure and cholesterol
There may be more benefits than this, but these are the benefits most commonly stated by the above athletes.
Why Are There More Vegan UFC Fighters Now Than Before?
There are a few reasons why there are now more vegan UFC fighters than ever before, and they are:
- With Veganism continuing to grow, the amount of food and diet options have exponentially grown. There’s now a huge variety of foods and substitutes for all animal products, making the diet easier to maintain
- More research on the benefits of a plant-based diet
- Ethical reasons
- Climate benefits due to the reduction of greenhouse emissions mostly used in animal agriculture
As we’ve seen, the most common reason for fighters going vegan is performance benefits, but the other reasons are contributing to the increasing amount of vegan UFC fighters.
How Do Vegan UFC Fighters Hit Their Protein Requirements?
With the growth of the vegan food industry, there are now a whole host of new products and this means getting protein requirements is easier than ever.
Vegan UFC fighters get their protein by eating:
- Soy – tofu, meat substitutes, soymilk (17 grams of protein per 100g serving of tofu)
- Legumes (pulses) – beans, peas, and lentils (high protein which varies depending on the type of legume)
- Seitan (wheat protein) – often used as a meat substitute (19 grams of protein per 100g serving)
- Whole grains – oats, quinoa, amaranth, whole-wheat pasta
- Seeds and nuts – almonds, peanuts, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, flax seeds, and chia seeds (also contain extremely healthy fats)
- Pea or hemp protein shakes
- Vegetables – spinach, broccoli, asparagus, sweet corn, mushrooms, kale
While the average person may have a tougher time getting their protein requirements, professional athletes have their diets dialed in and will have no problem at all getting their protein requirements on a vegan diet, with or without the help of nutritionists and chefs.
Will it be harder? Yes. Is it possible? Yes.
1. Is Sean O’Malley Vegan?
Sean O’Malley isn’t vegan, but he did formerly try a vegan diet for 6 months. During his contender series fight, Sean weighed 138 lbs while being vegan at the time. He was very skinny and found it much harder to eat enough protein, put on muscle, and maintain energy.
After going vegan for 6 months, Sean started adding eggs as he wasn’t eating enough calories or protein, and eggs are a great source of calories and protein at roughly 7 grams per egg.
He now prefers to add meat to his mostly plant-based diet because he feels his energy levels and aggression are much higher than without it.
2. What is Nate Diaz’s Vegan Diet?
Nate Diaz’s vegan diet sees him eating many fruits, vegetables, legumes (beans, peas, and lentils), whole grains (oats and quinoa), nuts, and soy products.
3. Is Conor McGregor Vegan?
No, Conor McGregor isn’t vegan and has never followed a vegan diet.
He eats a very balanced diet, high in fruits and vegetables but also high in meat and fish for high protein, eating a lot of salmon, chicken, and steak.
Although his diet is mostly balanced, he prefers to avoid eating too many carbs and prefers to get more calories from healthy fats and good-quality protein sources. If he eats carbs, it’s mostly oats and sweet potatoes for energy during his workouts.
The Bottom Line
As can be seen, there are many vegan UFC fighters and the numbers are on the rise.
While the majority of the fighters on this list feel a vegan diet is better for their athletic performance in the octagon, the majority of UFC fighters adopt a plant-based diet and consume meat and fish as a way to get their protein requirements more easily; as well as the various nutrients that vegans often get through supplementation.
The most common nutrients that vegans have to supplement are iron, zinc, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B12, calcium, selenium, and iodine.
Overall, one diet that works for one fighter won’t work for another, everyone is different but most fighters agree a plant-based diet is a good foundation.