An oxymoron is a figure of speech with a contradictory effect, such as “horse fly” or “airline food.” I joke, saying a “vegan elite athlete” is another example, but that is because high performance and optimal nutrition, as I understand it, go hand-in-hand and the complete absence of meat and all meat products in the diet seems counterproductive. I suppose the thing to consider is the motivation behind adopting this lifestyle but regardless, it led me to research how elite athletes cope with the complete absence of meat products in their diet and how inclined humans are to this way.
It is a known fact that animal meat or anything of the animal is an excellent source of protein, the options for which are numerous. I was at a seminar held at AnyBody Fitness this past Saturday about athletes and proper nutrition. The two presenters from the CHEK Institute put it very simply stating that anything that “has eyes” or came from something that had eyes, is a source of protein. A brief exchange took place about the eating habit of vegans and it turned out that one of the presenters was a vegan for about three years. He converted back to eating meat and animal products when his definition of a healthy, balanced diet changed again to include meat and has remained an omnivore ever since.
A few months ago, I had a “fitness fanatic” friend convert to the vegan lifestyle which of course led to discussions about why she believes her newfound lifestyle to be the best. However, I find it to be an individual choice that can be based on biochemical composition or personal preference and science and research are providing options for humans to live healthily with or without meat, as an elite athlete or not.
I often consider the natural and/or primal patterns, when assessing things holistically.
Our anatomical and biological make-up indicates that we are meant to be meat-eaters. The most fundamental of indicators is our dental pattern. The basic dental formula of carnivores is (left/right) incisors 3/3, canines 1/1, premolars 4/4, molars 3/3.
The variations to this are due to adaptations to diet structure, influencing largely the number of premolars and molars that exist, proportional to the quantity of meat or plant consumed.
Interestingly horses, a strict herbivore, have canines. Scientists speculate that historically, these canines may have been used for duels, but for the modern horse they serve no purpose.
Horses today typically register between zero and four canines while the wolf teeth located immediately before the upper molars are removed in race horses to facilitate a more comfortable bit placement between their jaws.
Pandas, misconceived to be herbivores are actually considered omnivores with a largely herbivorous diet. A genome mapping study led by the Beijing Genomics Institute showed that the slowly evolving panda may prefer a bamboo-based diet due to a gene it lost millions of years ago that registers the savoury flavours of meat and the like.
How this evolution started is still to be determined, however, this evolution from meat to plant-eating is incomplete and believed to be the reason why pandas eat up to 50 pounds of bamboo daily, trying to provide the nutritional demands of its body.
Just to compare, the protein value in one cup (198 g) of lentils is 17.9 g (36%DV), but beef, bottom sirloin, tri-tip, separable lean only, trimmed to 0” fat, roasted as per 100 g contains 26.3 g (53%DV).
Therefore, pound for pound, the volume of consumption necessary by a human to satisfy the same protein value would need to be higher in a vegan diet.
Vegans are advised to consume a variety of plant foods throughout the day in order to meet their daily protein needs. This provides the body with a number of amino acid “incomplete proteins” that are stored and easily combined when the complementary protein becomes available to create the “complete protein” human bodies require.
Although this column focused largely on the concern for protein deficiency in the vegan diet, other nutrients that may be affected include calcium, vitamin D and B-12, B-12 being found exclusively in animal-based foods.
Therefore, the switch to a vegan diet should be carefully considered.
Some superstar vegan athletes around the world include Carl Lewis (track & field), Kara Lang (football), Jack Lindquist (cyclist), Patrick Baboumian (bodybuilder; title holder of the “Strongest Man of Germany”), Steph Davis (rock climber) and Henry Akins (Jui Jitsu) to name a few.
Asha De Freitas-Moseley is a certified athletic trainer with the National Athletic Trainers’ Association of the USA. Athletic training is practiced by athletic trainers, health care professionals who collaborate with physicians to optimise activity and participation of patients and clients.
Athletic training encompasses the prevention, diagnosis, and intervention of emergency, acute, and chronic medical conditions involving impairment, functional limitations, and disabilities (www.nata.org