I’m long over due for an entry just for the vegetarians. For those who might have missed it, I’m vegetarian myself and I have had a host of vegetarian and vegan clients locally and around the world. For myself, I started out as just a “fussy eater who wouldn’t eat meat” but eventually got my act together and added and incorporated enough new food choices to be able to put a reasonably balanced diet together suitable to maintain good health and pursue my training related goals with a reasonable amount of success.
What I talk about more often on my blog and facebook is “Flexible Dieting”, which covers what I said above. Rather than having a rigid “eat it and learn to like it, it’s good for you” type of diet that’s been put together by someone else, Flexible Dieting is all about the understanding that you can determine your nutritional requirements and then plan to meet them with your own choice of foods.
Now… this idea is a source of consternation amoungst some people in the health and fitness world. The argument often comes up along the lines of “so what if you’ve met your targets and seen tremendous results from training? You should be eating better and healthier choices of foods!” as if by definition this means we would belligerently abuse the concept by choosing the most dubious options of processed or fast foods. Well, whether or not people should be doing it that way is perhaps another conversation for another day… but the fact remains that people out there have indeed found a way to meet their requirements and produce truly amazing results while regularly consuming what you or I might consider unwise or unhealthy food choices.
If it can be done like that, it can certainly be done on a vegetarian or even a vegan diet.
Flexible dieting recognises that the nutritional content of foods are more important than the source of the food or some arbitrary classification that we ascribe to it. For example, if your total calorific intake is not in excess of an amount that your body can utilise for energy and to grow stronger in response to training, it will indeed all be put to good use regardless of it is broccoli or ice cream. If you are consuming an adequate amount of protein, it will all be put to use to maintain your lean body mass regardless of it being plant, dairy, soy, egg or animal protein. If you are getting sufficient vitamin and mineral intake it will all be put to good use regardless of coming from fresh fruits and vegetables, or processed cereals.
Make no mistake though, this isn’t a license to just eat as much as we want of whatever unhealthy crap we want, and still expect results. We need to meet our requirements and some choices of foods will prove much wiser than others in the pursuit of this goal. Keep in mind too that just because someone does eat a “normal” diet including meat and other animal products is no guarantee that they would be meeting (and not exceeding) their requirements either. If we are wise and if we are serious about results, we’ll have used a scientific method to determine those requirements, and then created a plan to meet them with choices of foods that we’ll enjoy eating. Until you’re at really elite, competition preparation level, your plan doesn’t even need to be all that tight or strict. You can get…. well, you can get at least as far as I’ve gone with a very flexible approach, so long as you get it about right most of the time.
What are the advantages of a vegetarian diet?
I believe in learning your requirements, planning to meet them with your choice of foods, and training strategically to put all of those resources to good use in building your dream body. I don’t believe in lecturing other people on what those choices should be, and in fact I spend a lot of time helping people realise they’ll be a lot happier and see better results when they eat according to their own ideals rather than trying to force themselves to meet someone else’s. If you want to avoid preservatives and additives, be vegetarian, vegan, or whatever else… it’s your choice. My job is to help you achieve your training goals regardless of that choice, not to judge your choices or to try convince you to just copy my diet.
So, advantages of a vegetarian diet? Appropriate fiber intake is crucial for good health and results from training, and you’ll get plenty of this from vegetables and legumes in particular. Micronutrients are also very important, and you’re almost certain to meet your vitamin and mineral requirements effortlessly if you consume a variety of vegetables, as well as fruits. I would suggest avocado and coconut as excellent choices to boost your total calorific intake and to meet your requirements of healthy dietary fats.
What about protein, though?
Latest research suggests that even in athletes, human protein requirements are significantly lower than previously thought. Lacto-ovo vegetarians can easily meet these requirements, and there are numerous other plant based protein sources available. Tofu, tempeh, seitan, quorn… the list goes on.
Ensure success with the right plan to meet your goals with your choice of foods.