There was recently a discussion on the message boards of the website Lets Run surrounding vegetarian and vegan athletes, and whether or not there were any track or field world records holders amongst them.
With or without world records, a vegan or vegetarian diet, if prescribed to correctly with thought and attention will undoubtedly provide many health benefits. The questions we need to be asking are how do vegetarian & vegan athletes plan their meals, and how do they ensure they consume enough energy and nutrients to maintain such high levels of performance? And what were the reasons behind their decision to follow a vegetarian or vegan diet in the first place?
Assuming that the Lets Run question was trying to discover if being vegetarian or vegan held any major benefit as to increasing athletic performance, and that the person posing the question was curious about trying a new diet, then a short answer would have to be yes – would it not?
But if being a world record holder is the goal to aim for, then the question might be answered quite differently. Sudden changes in diet of any kind are not advisable, and there are many factors to take into consideration at the elite level of athleticism. Small and gradual adaptations to diet are always preferable.
The really important question is what are you going to eat, if you’re a vegetarian or vegan??
The top ten food stuffs to think about adding to your diet (that come personally recommended) include:
1. Broccoli & other green leafy vegetables
2. Lentils & Chick Peas
3. Nuts & Seedy things e.g. Tahini
4. Olive Oil
5. Wholewheat anything
6. Fruit of any kind
There are plenty of track & field athletes who are vegetarian or vegan, and many who have held various records during certain periods, but the point is that runners are already very healthy people, and so in the end it eventually comes down to personal choice and preference.
Many yogis follow a vegetarian diet, traditionally avoiding meat, fish and eggs and limiting dairy products – sticking to as many plant-based foods as possible. The yogic attitude towards food and diet is ‘eat to live, not live to eat’. Foods are selected for their positive effects on the body and mind, and the least negative effects on the environment, effusing the principle of ahimsa: respect and a non-violent attitude towards all living things.
In the long run, the best thing to do if you’re thinking about trying a new diet is to at least eat more greens! The benefits of plant foods are numerous, and scientifically proven with their high content of antioxidants, fiber, vitamins and minerals.
A great place to start for ideas and recipes is Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook. As Nancy writes, “…a balanced vegetarian diet is indeed a good investment in good health.”
Veggies contain a wonderful range of the nutrients your amazing body needs, so be good to it, keep training – and then start considering world records 🙂