Being an athlete and a fitness fanatic, I naturally care a great deal about nutrition and what I decide to eat. Whatever I can do to give myself a competitive advantage or make myself healthier, I will do it.
In today’s world of athletics, the one thing that is preached over and over again in terms of nutrition is the P word: PROTEIN.
Now while this is one of the most important nutrients for an athlete to consume in order to get the most out of their body, it is not the only thing. I see this happening with way too many athletes, especially younger ones. They think that as long as they are consuming as much protein as possible, they are eating the right way.
I used to be that guy who would eat 10 pieces chicken for dinner or only buy a a protein shake if it had over 50 grams of protein. I thought that was all that mattered. I have always been in tune with healthy nutrition from a young age, but once you graduate from college, nutrition becomes even more important.
As an NCAA athlete, when in season, I was exercising at an average of 3 hours per day, almost every day. That requires a lot of energy and burns off a TON of calories. Now that I have a full-time job and have entered the real world, I am lucky if I can find 1 hour to exercise every day. Because of this, nutrition now plays a bigger role in maintaining my body and staying healthy.
After this past Thanksgiving where I ate more food than a family of four combined, I took a step back to think more about what I was choosing to eat.
Did I really need to eat massive amounts of meat at every meal to stay strong?
Was it really worth the overly stuffed stomach I was going to get every single time I ate to that capacity?
This Thanksgiving “Meat Overload” inspired me to try something completely new and challenging; I became a vegetarian.
Before you laugh and think this isn’t possible as an athlete, listen to what I have to say. I am not one of those people that will look at your plate of chicken parmesan (which is amazing) in disgust and tell you all the reasons why eating chicken is wrong. That is your opinion and your choice.
I am not saying that you need to be a vegetarian, but as an athlete and nutrition freak, there are some HUGE lessons which I have learned from being a vegetarian these past 6 months.
3 Lessons I learned
It’s not all about protein. Sure, protein helps us build and repair muscle which is crucial for all athletes, but we don’t need it in the absurd quantities that we think we do, unless you are training to be a bodybuilder. Our bodies can only digest and take in so much protein at one time, so overloading your plate with just steak is only going to do so much for you.
Eat more veggies! You’ve been hearing this from your parents and every healthy food advocate since you were in the 2nd grade and for good reasons. As a vegetarian, I have to eat more veggies in order to contain my appetite . The benefits which I have experienced from eating more fresh vegetables are ASTOUNDING.
My energy levels are constantly high. No more sugar kicks and crashes.I used to crave caffeine at least once of day, but now I have no need for it. No more food comas. I am always ready to go and don’t feel like I have to throw-up after every sprint I run even though I ate three hours ago. And when I say eat more veggies, I don’t mean eat more fries.
Diversify the color palette of your plate: kale, avocado, carrots, sweet potatoes, onions, peppers, corn, squash, spinach, etc. You will be adding tons more vitamins and minerals to your diet which will not only help your body recover faster from intense exercise, but will help to keep you from becoming sick. It’s hard to run for 60 minutes when you’re coughing up a lung and can’t breath out of your nose, right?
Protein exists in forms other than meat. Obviously, because I no longer eat meat, I have had to obtain my protein intake from other sources. And wow, there are some amazing things that I didn’t even know about.
I have to be honest, tofu used to scare me a little bit, but now I have realized that it’s actually pretty tasty. You can add any flavor or spice to it, and it will take on that taste.
Quinoa. Ever heard of it?
People in South America have been surviving off this crop for a long time, but recently it has been gaining tons of popularity in the US. This stuff not only tastes amazing and can be served up in a variety of different ways, but it is packed with protein and tons of the essential amino acids necessary for building and maintaining muscle.
Ever tried Greek yogurt before? Well you should. This stuff contains almost twice the amount of protein of regular yogurt, and tastes delicious. My favorite way to eat it is in a bowl mixed in with fruits, almond or peanut butter, oatmeal, and hemp seed hearts.
Where to Start?
My intention of writing this article is not to say that every athlete should be a vegetarian.
Like I said earlier, what you choose to eat is entirely up to you. But there are huge lessons that you can learn from my experience with diet, exercise, and athletic performance.
I used to be that guy who ate chicken wings until he couldn’t move. But now with some maturity, experience, and graduating from being an NCAA athlete, I have realized the true impact of nutrition.
Try eating more vegetables.
Try getting protein from sources other than meat.
Try not to focus so much on consuming as much protein as possible.
Try to eat only fresh vegetables and fruits.
I have obviously taken this to the extreme by becoming a vegetarian, but I can tell you that I feel healthier and more athletic than I ever have in my entire life. I wouldn’t continue this diet if I didn’t think it was doing something for me.