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More Thoughts On Being an Athlete Who Doesn’t Eat Meat
By Whitney Hubbard
I believe that food and nutrition are highly individualized experiences. Yes, there are things we know that work well overall and there are general guidelines that will be effective for a broad range of people. But food is often also a part of the cultural, social, and—yes, for some of us—emotional aspects of our lives. As CrossFitters, we can consider food as fuel. We are asking a lot of our bodies and minds on a daily basis, and it’s crucial to supply that great system with nutrients that support recovery, performance, and overall health. At the same time, I consider a lot more than that with my own eating habits. So, I’ll aim to share my own experience here without speaking for anyone else but myself.
I became an ovo-lacto-pescetarian (::cue Paleo eye roll::) just over seven years ago. That means I eat eggs, dairy, and fish, but not any other meat. Truth be told, I never thought I’d be any kind of vegetarian for any length of time. I grew up eating lots of meat. My Dad is a self-proclaimed grillmaster, and as a family we regularly enjoyed ribs, steak, pork, chicken, duck, more ribs, burgers, turkey, and… ribs. I remember thinking, “Why on earth would anyone ever want to be a vegetarian?”
Cue some hippie handing me a flyer on the quad at my university, which I happened to reach my hand out for and happened to look at. Long story short, I had never even considered where my food was coming from—how it was farmed, grown, raised, harvested, or killed. After a brief look into the realities of the industrial food complex and “factory farming,” I decided that now was a good time to just try taking meat out of my diet. I was on my own in college anyway and didn’t like cooking red meat, so it seemed simple.
The initial shift meant that I was simply thinking more about what I was putting into my body. I would come home from a long morning of yoga and dance classes and make a three-egg omelet with a few veggies and a smoothie with yogurt and fruit. I cooked a lot more vegetables with every meal and got creative. I was also in college, so I ate my fair share of late night pizza, but overall I started to feel energized. I used to get multiple sinus infections and other fun versions of respiratory illness every winter. I made my nutrition change in first semester of my senior year, and that season I clearly remember making it through without getting sick.
I’ve always been active. I grew up dancing, averaging about 15-20 hours/week in my teens and probably 25-30 hours/week in college. But lifting weights is a whole different story, or at least it feels that way. I’ve become very aware of what I need to recover and perform relatively well, and I know when I’m missing it. Here’s how I approach my nutrition these days.
As a pescetarian and an athlete, the biggest challenge in regards to nutrition is often getting enough protein. If we consider that someone training like we do at CFSBK should eat 1 gram of protein per 1 pound of bodyweight each day, then it will take any kind of vegetarian a good amount forethought, planning, tracking, and variety to get there consistently. Here’s what a good day of looks like for me:
½ cup (dry) oatmeal
1 scoop whey protein powder
1 tbsp peanut butter
Protein: 34g Carb: 33g Fat: 16g
3 scrambled eggs with bell peppers and onions
2 cups sautéed greens
1.5 cup roasted mixed veggies (brussel sprout, squash, cauliflower)
1 oz of cheese
Protein: 35g Carb: 38g Fat: 31g
1 cup 2% plain Greek Yogurt
1 cup frozen cherries
Protein: 24g Carb: 31g Fat: 5g
6 oz Arctic Char (grilled or baked)
1.5 cup roasted mixed veggies
2 cups Kale and Ricotta Salad
1 glass white wine
Protein: 48g Carb: 36g Fat: 19g
Protein: 141g Carb: 138g Fat: 71g
So, with my bodyweight hovering around 135 pounds, this is relatively on target for me. I’ve hit my grams of protein for the day. I aim to do this consistently through a variety of sources. It often ends up as 3 eggs at one meal, a big serving of fish at another, a scoop of protein powder sometime during the day, and either Greek yogurt or cottage cheese.
Carbs are pretty good here, too, although this is definitely where I vary. There are days that I feel I need more, and I add them in: black beans and tomatoes with my eggs, more starchy veggies in the mix (sweet or white potatoes), a tortilla or wrap here and there… and YES even the occasional pumpkin muffin! One thing I’ve noticed over time with tracking is that I tend to steer towards more fat than I may need. Fat with every meal generally helps me feel fuller for longer, but is certainly something of which to be conscious. I’m not actively trying to lose any weight, but if I were, this is where I would look first.
Take Care of the Good Stuff
I know when I don’t plan my grocery list, prepare my own food, or even just plan where I might eat a meal out, I can very quickly become one of those “grilled cheese vegetarian types.” So, if I can get a bunch of veggies on my plate at two out of three meals, I know I’m on track. If I can substitute fruit, nuts, and seeds for a scone in the middle of the afternoon, I’m doing well. Bottom line: get those greens and eat real food. Then when you get off track for a meal here or a day there, you know you’ve still got a good foundation of healthy eating under you.
Variety Is Key
Veggies are not boring. Routine is boring. I’m all for having go-to recipes and meals (hello, Kettlebell Kitchen!!) to fall back on and utilize, especially when you don’t have a lot of time. But that being said, even I get sick of some of my vegetable sides when I eat the same thing over and over. Hate Kale? Try sautéing Swiss chard with garlic and shallots. Annoyed with steamed broccoli? Roast cauliflower and brussel sprouts with smoked paprika instead. No time to cook? Add crunchy bell peppers, cucumbers, and some hearts of palm to mixed greens as an easy side salad. Making a big pot of soup or chili for the week? Throw some spinach in there… you’ll barely even notice it.
Here’s the deepest, honest, scary-to-say-out-loud truth: there are many days that I wonder if I would feel, recover, and perform better if I were eating meat. It’s entirely possible. I’m not a doctor, and I have no formal education in nutrition. I think I’ve developed a relatively healthy way of eating that supports my physical lifestyle and my ethical choices. And, there are some days when I’ve just worked out for 90 minutes, I’m starving, and I think, “Life would be so much easier if I just ate meat!” I might spend less money (fish is expensive!), have more simple meal choices, and not constantly be worried about getting enough protein. I’m the kind of person who never says never. So, it’s possible that one day I’ll go back to eating meat. But my diet decisions involve more than just food as fuel, and if I trade a bit of my athletic potential for making a small difference in the world, well… that’s the choice I’m making today.
In case you missed it: we interviewed Coach Whitney back in April of 2014 about this topic, too! Read along here.
LFPB Peeps: What lessons have you been learning the past few weeks? How’s the Challenge going?