When we work out and train our bodies, do we need milk, eggs, meat and other kinds of food so we can get back amino acids, minerals and vitamins? Or can plants provide everything we need?
It has been debated if being a vegetarian or a vegan could keep a person up and about during an entire week of intense physical training.
If you’re very active, is there danger in eating only plants (since it doesn’t give the body everything it needs)? If eating plants is enough, then is meat necessary?
Let’s go through the good and bad points of vegetarianism and veganism. Let’s also take a look at the biggest mistakes when adopting a plant-based diet. But first, let’s define a few terms.
Types of Vegetarians:
- Ovo-lacto: They eat eggs and drink milk, but don’t eat poultry, fish, seafood and meat.
- Ovo: They are almost vegans, but they eat eggs.
- Lacto: They are almost vegans, but they drink milk.
- Vegan: They don’t eat or drink anything from animals, not even the by-products. They also at times, don’t consume yeast and honey.
The Good Points
There are a lot of successful athletes who are vegetarian or vegan.
Vegans and vegetarians believe that plants are better since they don’t form acids, unlike meat and dairy. Plants are more alkaline. Acidic blood has been known to cause inflammation and have negative effects on recovery.
Animal protein found in meat has amino acids that have sulfur. This increases sulfuric acid excretion during metabolism. A lot of people believe that the body gets calcium from the bones just to neutralize this sulfuric acid.
There has been some interesting research that studied the diets of hunters and gatherers during prehistoric times. It showed that half produced acid, while the other half were non-acidic. It was discovered that the non-acidic half ate parts of meat, like marrow, tongue and brains, which had more fat. It was believed that acidity could be balanced if people ate enough fat.
Now, about that calcium leaching problem…
A lot of studies showed that eating protein is associated with less bone loss and low rates of fracture. It was also discovered that eating more protein means better absorbing rate of calcium.
It’s best to eat fatty food like coconut milk and oil, macadamia nuts, or avocados, or fattier portions of meat, if you’re worried that your meat consumption leads to acidic metabolism. Although there is no evidence that removing meat entirely can balance your pH.
Blending and juicing are very big parts of veganism and vegetarianism. Since it’s easier to digest and absorb plant-based food, it takes less energy to produce more energy. This might be good for an athlete since it keeps up the health of the gastrointestinal system. A lot of athletes claim to be energized after switching to a plant-based eating plan.
Some experts believe though that this spike in energy could pose a danger, which could ultimately lead to a depletion of hormones.
Other experts however believe that a plant-based diet increases the recovery rate after workouts which means people can perform exercises longer, with more intensity.
The Bad Points
The deficits may be a big disadvantage especially when people forget to eat plants of different colors, and when they simply don’t eat enough. People who enter this lifestyle should supplement their meals with important nutrients like Vitamins D, and B12, and Zinc. They should also look for more iodine, omega-3 fatty acids and riboflavin.
It’s not hard at all to still eat unhealthy food even if you’ve adopted the vegan or vegetarian lifestyle since food like ice cream, vegetarian pizzas, milk shakes, French fries, potato chips and vegetable sausages and burgers and around. They all have low nutritional and very high gluten contents. These kinds of food are not good for anyone, especially athletes.
A triathlete went vegan for a number of years, then did some tests. It was found that the athlete had low levels of important nutrients. Without supplements, without B12, and iron, it lead to the athlete becoming anemic.
Some athletes experience imbalance and depletion of minerals with prolonged vegetarian lifestyle. Aside from anemia, athletes also have bad body composition, low levels of performance and recovery, adrenal exhaustion and hormonal depletion.
This only goes to show how important it is to supplement yourself with the vitamins and minerals that are lacking.
Almost all endurance and low intensity training are aerobic in nature. The body doesn’t necessarily use sugar and starch as main fuel during these activities. In fact, the body uses fatty acids more. Biologically, this is sound. Carbs can be lost quickly, and we can only store a few thousand calories of carbs, and so much more calories of fat.
If athletes doing aerobic sports eat a lot of pasta, rice, bread and other large sources of carbs, they may be taking in too much carbs. They may not burn it while playing or competing in their sport. They may also be lacking in important vitamins and nutrients because of it.
Experts in the field of nutrition believe that fat in ketones form, and free fatty acids, is better used as fuel for the heart and muscles during aerobic activity. This kind fuel burns evenly and it is more sustainable. It will however, take twenty-one to twenty-eight days to get used to the ketone-type metabolism.
People get better at burning fat by doing so without carbs. If you’re on a plant-based diet, you’ll use sugar as fuel more, and not fat.
How to be successful at it…
Here are some examples of how to avoid being deficient, and avoid the risks by adopting to a plant-based diet correctly, courtesy of some successful athletes.
The Diet of Rich Roll
· Before working out in the morning, he has a smoothie made of Beet, kale, chia, flax and hemp seeds, orange, maca, and a vega whole food optimizer.
· After working out, he has coconut water with cold quinoa and either coconut or almond milk, some berries, udo’s oil and hemp seeds.
· For lunch, he has a salad with mixed vegetables and vinaigrette (or brown rice), hemp seeds, beans and greens.
· For a snack, he has Vitamix with almond milk, almonds, cacao, walnuts and either brown rice, or hemp protein or pea.
· For dinner, he has brown rice, beet greens, lentils, avocado, an arugala salad, and sweet potatoes.
· For desert, he has coconut milk ice cream and chia seed pudding.
· When he works out on his bike, he takes in coconut water, perpetum, and vega sport.
· While he’s running, he takes in coconut water, heed and vega sport.
The Diet of Bill Misner
For breakfast, he has an oatmeal with psylium and ground flax.
For lunch (after the workout), he has spinach, Brussels sprouts, carrots, cabbage leaves, broccoli, fruits and sweet potato.
For dinner, he consumes black beans, asparagus, kale, and fruits.
It is important to remember that in order to manage a vegan/vegetarian diet successfully, you have to cover the other things your body needs. Take your supplements and stay away from processed food.