Americans love protein. We eat A LOT of protein. And most of this protein comes from animal sources. But what about “plant-based diets?” What exactly IS a plant-based diet? And how is this not the same as a Vegan diet? All these diets are difficult to keep straight sometimes. Mediterranean diet? Got it: olive oil, fruits and vegetables, dairy, non-refined carbs. Paleo? Check. Grass-fed meat, seafood, fruits veggies, NO grains, legumes, dairy, refined foods. Plant-based diets, however, seem to be all the buzz right now. A Plant-based diet is a diet that revolves around plant-based foods; fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains, nuts and seeds, with ZERO animal products (no meat, fish, dairy, eggs or any other animal by-product). Veganism, however, is deeply rooted in animal rights and vegans not only exclude animal products from their diet but from their entire lives. No leather, fur, wool or silk are worn; you get the point.
Last time we discussed what Sochi Athletes are Eating, and how rigorous not only their training but their diets can be. And as I said earlier, Americans LOVE their animal protein, and many reports say we consume 2-3 x more protein than we actually need. And for athletes, there’s even more hype around protein. The protein supplement industry is a multi billion dollar one, and a great deal of marketing dollars are spent on targeting athletes. So can an athlete perform at elite levels when eating a plant-based diet? The simple answer is yes, they certainly can.
In fact, many world-class athletes consume a plant-bsed diet; even a few in Sochi! American skier Bode Miller and American snowboarder Hannah Teter both credit their plant-based diet for giving them the necessary energy to compete at this level. They key to being successful and healthy as a plant-based diet athlete is this: getting enough B-vitamins, iron and muscle-building protein from plant and other non-meat sources.
Here are some high-protein meat alternatives loved by plant-based athletes:
1) Greek Yogurt- greek yogurt has been considered a “super food” by some, and 6 ounces provides the same amount of protein as 3 ounces of lean meat. It is also a good source of calcium which may actually help in muscle recovery when eaten after a workout. DID YOU KNOW?: Chobani, a greek yogurt company based out of New Jersey, and the official yogurt of the US Olympic Team, was set to send over 5,000 units of various yogurts to Sochi but the shipment was blocked by the Russian government for “lack of proper documentation!” The issue even made waves in the US Congress, but despite their efforts, the ban was never lifted and the yogurts were donated to a local shelter.
3) Avocado- while we know and love them for being a great source of healthy fats, avocados also provide all 18 essential amino acids (protein building blocks). Avocados also contain tons of fiber, so bring on the guacamole!
4) Almond butter- Nut butters have become more and more popular. Peanut butter is a staple of the diet of thousands of school-aged children as well as elite athletes (not at our house, my son has peanut allergies). However, almond butter may be the new “king of nut butters.” It provides protein as well as vitamin E, magnesium and iron. Make sure you select all natural products with very few ingredients or make it yourself! Here’s the Recipe.
My take on all of this: by now you know I am a “moderate” when it comes to food (for more about moderation read Here), and I don’t personally believe in excluding an entire food group (whether it’s meat, carbs…well, maybe we can all do without the processed junk, which sadly has become an American food group, but I digress). I like to do “meat on the side;” I use high quality lean animal protein more as a “garnish.” The point is you can be an elite athlete and get plenty of excellent protein from plants, and as their motto says “No meat athletes run on plants!” And they’re running all the way to Sochi!