There are many vegan celebrities out there who wear their vegan credentials proudly, being vocal about the choices they have made. In this article, we will focus more specifically on footballers who have chosen a plant-based lifestyle. As we have noted in other features, including our one on vegan athletes and sports stars, in truth we cannot be 100% sure whether or not someone is vegan or not. As such, this feature comes with the same two disclaimers as those other pieces, chiefly that:
- This is accurate to the best of our knowledge at the time of writing. People change, so it is possible that some of these players may no longer be vegan when you read this, or that other more notable players are, whom we have not included.
- Not all of these footballers will be fully vegan in the strictest sense of the word. Some may, for example, only follow a vegan diet (rather than a full vegan lifestyle that would, for example, mean they would never wear leather football boots).
Disclaimers out of the way, let’s take a look at some of the most famous professional footballers who are vegan.
It is often the case with celebrities, be they professional footballers, actors or anything else, that we cannot be completely sure if they are vegan or not. However, when it comes to former Arsenal and current Barcelona defender, Héctor Bellerín, it is very clear that the Spanish international is indeed vegan.
Bellerín has spoken about his feelings many times on YouTube and during interviews. He initially explored a vegan diet after watching various documentaries about veganism and soon found from his own experience that his body responded really well to a plant-based diet.
However, the pacey right back described his health as only the “ground zero” and that having learned more and more about it he is happier than ever to be a vegan. Despite coming from a traditional Spanish family of meat lovers, Bellerín feels the greater sustainability of veganism and the issue of animal cruelty that is necessitated by an omnivorous diet mean he is firmly committed to the vegan cause.
Bellerín began life as a footballer at Barcelona, where he was born, before moving to Arsenal at a very young age. He made around 200 appearances for the Gunners before eventually moving back to Catalonia in 2022. Capped at virtually all ages for Spain, including as a full international, he has been vegan since 2017 and is also politically active on certain other issues.
Smalling had played just a handful of senior games when Manchester United paid Fulham a fee believed to be around £7m in 2010. The strapping centre back spent a decade at the Red Devils and made more than 200 appearances for them before a career that includes 31 England caps appeared to stall. However, in 2020 he joined Roma on a £16m transfer following a successful loan and he has been superb for the club in Serie A, also being named Man of the Match as the Italians won the inaugural Europa Conference final in 2022.
More relevant to this piece is the fact that Smalling is a committed vegan, indeed one so committed that in 2021 he invested “a six-figure sum” in a Spanish firm, Heura, that make plant-based meat-substitutes.
Smalling apparently turned to a vegan diet in around 2016 having begun by reducing the amount of meat, especially red meat, he ate. Partly inspired by his wife, he decided to give veganism a try, noticing the improved physical performance his new diet was facilitating. In 2019 he even did an ad for PETA encouraging people to be animals’ “biggest defender”. There is no doubt that Smalling was at least partly motivated by the health benefits of a vegan diet but it is also very clear he cares about animals too.
In terms of the clubs he has played for, Delph has a hugely impressive CV, having begun his career at Leeds United, moved to Aston Villa, won the Premier League with Manchester City, played for Everton and also played for the England side 20 times. Sadly, injuries blighted much of his career and this may in part explain why he adopted a vegan diet sometime around 2017. It is unclear whether his veganism reached to other areas of his life but he certainly felt a plant-based diet helped with his physical condition.
In the book, Soccology: Inside the Hearts and Minds of the Professionals on the Pitch, he was quoted as saying, “I decided to ignore my doubts and began to look at my body objectively … I changed the fuel I put into my body and switched to a vegan diet”. He has not been hugely vocal about his veganism so we cannot be 100% about his current status in this regard. In truth, he may well belong to our section below on footballers who either were vegan but aren’t or have considered or dabbled with veganism. However, given there is nothing public about him having changed his diet, we’ll leave “Fab” where he is for now!
Neil who, you may be asking? Well, Robinson holds the little-known, and almost-impossible-to-verify honour of being the first vegan to score in a top-flight game in English football. The Scouser is also holder of another niche and rather tricky-to-prove record, that of being the player born closest to Everton’s ground, Goodison Park, to also play for the Toffees.
Born in 1957, around 100 yards from the stadium, Robinson played for his boyhood club, as well as Swansea, Grimsby Town and Darlington. A vegetarian at 13, he became vegan in 1980 at the age of 23, and made both of these decisions for ethical reasons. A passionate and committed advocate of veganism, Robinson firmly believes that such a diet is both better for humans and of course animals. He has even been known to give live demonstrations of his top vegan smoothies (we prefer a simple vegan protein powder and a bit of fruit ourselves!).
Footballers Who Have Dabbled with Veganism
Whilst the list of players we can confidently say are vegan is quite short, there are other pro footballers who have, shall we say, dabbled in the world of the plant based. Many of these have been criticised for a range of reasons: when they stopped being vegan, when it transpired they never were vegan, or when it became apparent they were not as vegan as certain keyboard warriors would have wanted them to be.
As we have said many times in numerous places on this site, that is not our style. People are free to make whatever choices they want and our aim is simply to inform and educate. There are so many “fully” non-vegans out there that it would seem better to focus one’s energies on them, rather than on someone who is almost vegan, or even simply someone who is aware of the issues and trying to cut down on their intake of animal products. Anyway, here are some of the many footballers who you might find featured on other lists of vegan footballers but who we believe are not vegan.
Is Lionel Messi vegan? No is our firm conclusion, though the Argentine ace was perhaps advised by a nutrition expert to consume fewer meat and animal products and eat a largely vegan diet.
Defoe wasn’t quite as good a footballer as Messi but he was definitely a better vegan. In 2017, he transitioned to a vegan diet, largely for health reasons. He believes it helped extend his career but, if he ever did indeed go fully plant-based, sometime later he explained that he occasionally ate fish.
It is believed Aguero removed meat from his diet to help with injuries and whilst he may briefly have been vegan, on the whole, it would seem he was more vegetarian. Currently, it is unclear exactly what diet he follows but he almost certainly isn’t vegan.
Wilshere is another former Arsenal player (like Bellerin) and another whose interest in a vegan diet was probably motivated by recurring injury issues. Wilshere went vegan and also gluten free in a bid to improve his problems but we aren’t really sure what his current diet or lifestyle is.
Forest Green Rovers: The World’s First Vegan Football Club
A special mention here should go to Forest Green Rovers FC who in 2015 became the world’s first vegan football club. Owned by green energy boss, Dale Vince, the club serves plant-based food at the ground and when feeding the players and staff. The players are apparently free to choose what they eat when off duty, but they are certainly encouraged to avoid animal products.
The plant-based diets appear to have paid off too as the club got promoted from League Two as champions at the end of the 2021/22 season. And, that is pretty good going considering that the club were playing in the Conference National when Vince took over in 2010. Incidentally, the aforementioned Victor Bellerin is also a shareholder in the club.
Conclusion: Vegan Footballers
There are perhaps not as many vegan footballers on our list as you might expect, nor on our list of vegan-ish footballers. This may in part be down to the fact that many footballers do not tend to be too outspoken on issues away from the game. Especially at the top, footballers are easy targets for the media and people on social media, so many adopt an approach of keeping their heads down, at least when it comes to any matters that could be deemed even vaguely controversial or not in keeping with stereotypical images of what footballers should be and do.
It could also be the case, of course, that there are some vegan footballers who simply do not feel the need to tell everyone about their lifestyle and prefer to maintain as much privacy as possible. We strongly suspect there are lots of footballers out there who have looked at a vegan diet but may rather quietly go about things instead of proclaiming themselves vegan, aware that should they change their mind, or decide that they want to occasionally consume animal products, there would be a backlash.
One thing that we can be absolutely 100% certain of, however, is that a vegan diet can be at least as healthy as a non-vegan one. With various athletes, including footballers and even bodybuilders, thriving on a plant-based diet, it should be clear that all of us can get the nutrients they need (yes, including protein, iron and everything else) on a vegan diet.