2/1/16

Where do you get your protein?



When it comes to a vegetarian diet, there are many critics who believe that meat consumption is a necessary part of a "healthy" diet.  In April, I will be celebrating 24 years of following a meat-free diet. I consider myself to be in great health as a female endurance triathlete but it took time to learn how I can make my vegetarian diet work for my active lifestyle. Clearly, my lacto-ovo vegetarian style of eating is not a fad. I love animals way too much to eat them. As a vegetarian athlete and dietitian, this puts me in a tough situation because it is easy to assume that because I do not eat meat, I will encourage other athletes to not eat meat. Well, Karel eats meat and fish...and vegetables, and fruit, and tofu, and tempeh and grains. I don't lecture Karel when he eats meat because meal time is a happy time for both of us. Thankfully, it wasn't a deal-breaker that I was a vegetarian when Karel and I started dating in 2006. Sadly, because much of the U.S. diet is rich in meat, it's easy for critiques to say that a vegetarian diet is "restrictive" and "unhealthy." The truth is that we can't really call a vegetarian diet “restrictive” because in America, it's very obvious that our society has a very unhealthy relationship with food.....all types of food. In the U.S., we don’t really have a traditional American diet that we can use as a “healthy” reference so how can we confidently say that a vegetarian diet is unhealthy?

As a board certified sport dietitian and triathlon coach, I work with a variety of athletes for a variety of reasons (training, nutrition, sport nutrition, weight loss/body composition changes, etc.).
I'm not one to debate about "where do you get your protein" because I only want the best for my athletes and every athlete has different needs and dietary choices.
With a team approach, I'm going to suggest what I feel will work best for the goals of the athlete that I am working with, but with practical, healthy and safe advice.  
Oddly, in working with so many athletes with all types of athletic and body composition goals, I find that non-vegetarian athletes have similar dietary struggles and health issues as vegetarian or vegan athletes, specifically when it comes to eating "enough" quality protein at meals, using sport nutrition properly, timing nutrition with workouts, eating a varied diet and enough "enough" energy to support metabolic needs. As it relates to endurance athletes (my population of athletes), you should be happy that there are many different dietary strategies that you can follow to keep your body in good health while training. Thankfully, there is no gold standard diet for athletes. Lucky you - you can create a diet that works best for you! Meat or no meat, with all the talk these days with sugar, carbs and fat, it's important that you remember the importance of protein in your diet to support lean muscle mass and to promote muscle and tissue repair.
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