Athletic Recovery When Meat's Not Your Thing
“Eat meat and eat it often…carb load before your event” is the adage that finds itself iterated over and over again in athletic preparation, particularly prior to events (i.e. competition), while the notion of eating clean and healthy is, of course, a “goes without saying” sort of would-be-ritual, but if an athlete performs no one asks questions – it’s a lot like performance enhancing drugs in sports, as long as the athletes pass their drugs tests no one really wants to ask questions, even if the tests are outdated and easily manipulated. While not all vegetarians and vegans eat in a manner that could be described as “healthy” – the general tendency is that they are, generally, more health conscious and likely to partake in healthier foods than those that believe that the cheeseburger covers most of the criteria in the food pyramid and is, therefore, suitable for everyone that doesn’t suffer from heart disease (now).
The fact is, abstaining from meat and animal products while being a competitive athlete isn’t a walk in the park. Like every other aspect of maintaining a healthy diet (with or without meat), there’s a lot of planning, and a lot of repetitive behavior. Many football players and powerlifters will attest to the sheer volume of eating and exercise that must take place on a weekly basis, and how even with a fairly unrestrictive diet (stay away from Oreos and ice cream, oh and hit the weights before you go home) it gets old fast, and a vegan setup is really no different.
The first question one must ask his or herself is if their tastes are compatible with their sport. If one can’t handle eating a lot of any given major protein source that’s on their “do” list, it might be such that a sport like bodybuilding simply isn’t for them, and that’s not exclusive to vegetarians and vegans. If your protein sources aren’t at least somewhat varied (e.g. nuts, beans, soy, quinoa, hemp-based foods) and your daily intake doesn’t meet the minimum daily values for someone your weight and size that’s on a 2000 Calorie diet, something needs adjusting.
Protein is the starting point to addressing what is and isn’t okay about someone’s diet as it is one of three essential macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats, proteins), and one of two that is essential for survival (humans can survive without carbohydrates – whether this is healthy is a big debate). From here we move onto quality fats (beans, nuts, avocados) and from there we address carbohydrate intake.
To put it as typically possible: Every person is different, and every situation requires something different. A 250 lb. football player’s diet is going to be different from a 150 lb. wrestler, even if they’re both omnivores or both vegan, the football player will require a significantly greater source of calorie-dense foods and proteins. That said, there are other minute differences, such as habits – as some people tend to graze throughout the day (6-8 meals), while others have a few big meals and nothing else.
Understanding adjustment is part of becoming a vegetarian/vegan, and part of keeping up a quality diet when training for an athletic event. It starts with protein and ends with whatever you need to recover between workouts, as there is an unending field of combinations and possibilities. But, beyond this, there’s an important, and as it was mentioned earlier, unkempt notion that escapes a lot of athletes without a staff dedicated to their every need: What helps you recover is the starting point of athletic recovery and proper nutrition, not the end-goal. The end-goal should be good health.
Some people tend to be more conscious of their looks than their health, while others performance-driven. While this is fine and well, a complete diet that focuses on long-term health alongside a solid training regiment is what is far and above the most important thing and should be the focus; the end-goal, so to speak. This means that protein sources are addressed and we move on to fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals, all accounted for and properly dosed. Much like the downside of the exercise industry (having visible abs is more important than actually being in shape, for example), the same tendencies befall what trends nutrition follows, as most that profit from this line of work go where the money is – and that’s where the consumer’s focus goes because their initial perceptions are reinforced by the so-called experts.