The Vegan Monologues

Posted: November 20, 2010 in Lifestyle, Nutrition
Tags: ,

Usually when I refer to ‘salad’ I’m referencing what I probably happen to be smoking.  But, lately, it has come to mean the majority of my diet.  Never, ever, did I think I would consider going the way of the Lettucehead, but, here I am, on the very brink of turning my back on my beloved fleshy protein and adapting a primarily pro-plant lifestyle.  Oi vay!

I figure I need to lose another 20-25lbs before next race season begins.  I don’t want to be running anymore long distance events weighing in at over 200lbs as the regular wear n’ tear on my body is too much to bear afterwards.  So I’ve switched into Diet Mode for the coming winter training season which is not easy to do considering the periodic bouts of random ‘munchies’ I experience from time to time (for obvious reasons).

I not only want to lose weight, but to better enable my body to withstand the rigors of long distance trainings by improving my core strength.  In essence, I want to better equip myself to be impervious to injury and I am confident that I can do this without killing myself on a treadmill or drowning at the bottom of a pool.  To help in this transition, I have decided to shake up my daily routine somewhat to adopt a strategy involving yoga (more to follow), as well as finally going the way of my hippie brothers and sisters and becoming a hardcore vegetarian.

Part of me thinks that I must be out of my mind.  Eating healthily is nothing new for me, but the day I ever decided to substitute a steak for an eggplant on my weekly grocery list was the day I took to wearing sundresses and calling myself ‘Rainbow’.  From here (or so I believed) it’s only a short step from having a Brazilian ass-waxing to look good in my new Speedo; a spectacle I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.  But as I am learning, there is more to triathlon training and weight loss than just the usual formula of swim, pedal, run, lift, sweat, hydrate, eat, shit, sleep, repeat.

‘Nutrition’ is now referenced as the fourth discipline of triathlon and rightly so.  Without the proper fuel the body just can’t maintain doing that aforementioned formula.  The machine just grinds to a halt.  The car simply runs out of gas.  So I’ve become very fixated on what kinds of fuel I put into this machine since I’m sure that Mario Andretti doesn’t fill up on basic unleaded gasoline in his high performance race cars, now does he?  So I am concentrating then on eating whole, natural foods to ensure that my body is getting the best nutritional value from all the grub I’m shoveling down my pie hole.  So I have gone one step further to experiment to see what different (if any) vegetarianism provides in achieving my current weight loss and conditioning goals.  Hey, Popeye ate spinach, right?  But it wouldn’t turn out to be quite that easy.  I have found out that there are some pitfalls and misgivings associated with vegetarian triathletes.  Uh oh.

For instance, I have heard that there was a common concern that vegetarian triathletes are at risk of not getting enough protein, iron or other important nutrients that could otherwise be easily obtained from eating meat.  Upon my initial research, I found that endurance athletes should consume between 1.2-1.7 grams of protein per kg of body weight throughout the day.  This would equate to approximately 139 grams o day for someone of my girth.  That sure sounds like a lot of protein!  But protein comes in many varieties and forms like breads and cereals, legumes, nuts and dairy products; all of which I eat rather regularly.  Therefore, I don’t need have to fire up the BBQ and grill myself a New York strip every day to ensure I’m getting all my protein requirements.  I just have to be more creative about the types of food I mix and matched at dinner.  What’s more important than the overall amount of protein I consume daily is the quality of the protein I consume.  Animal protein is rich in all the essential amino acids that are necessary for rebuilding and repairing the damage we inflict on our bodies.  They are, therefore, absolutely necessary for developing strong muscle growth.  Similarly, protein is also used by the body as a slow-burning fuel needed on those long distance type events.

So considering that I don’t want my muscle to liquefy into paste, I will need to be a bit more tactical about which types of plant proteins I am eating since many plant proteins are lacking in one or more of these essential acids.  I still have the same need to go and then recover afterwards while dieting, so the easiest remedy would be to include lots of variety in the foods I eat throughout the week.  Foods such as quinoa and tofu are considered “complete” vegetable proteins rich with all the usual suspects included in normal animal proteins.  Any supermarket now will have an entire section devoted to tofu and soy-based products which can easily be substituted in place of meat, or just tossed into ordinary salads for that added nutritional value.  Of course, I can always just take a daily vitamin supplement rich with these amino acids, but I try not to take any supplements if possible.

I know, I know…I have no problem smoking the ganj before any of my workouts, but ask me to supplement my diet with vitamins and suddenly I’m all hesitant?  Yeah, well, go figure.

Another concern is that vegetarian triathletes don’t consume enough carbohydrates.  Carbs are those nifty fast burning calories that make your body go.  Carbohydrates (or saccharides) are made by plants during photosynthesis and resulting in the production of sugars and starches, both of which provide energy.  There are two kinds of important carbohydrates: simple and complex.  Both of which are very prevalent in vegetarian cuisine.  Simple carbohydrates are found in fruits and dairy products and are easier digested by the body.  They are also found in processed, refined foods like white sugar, pastas and white bread.  Complex carbohydrates by comparison, take longer for the body to digest and are found in vegetables, whole grain breads and pasta, brown rice and legumes.

Experts recommend that endurance athletes consume about 8-10 grams of carbohydrate/per kg of body weight or 60-70% of our total caloric intake.  Those crazy Kenyan marathons will take in as much as 75-80% of their calories in carbohydrate form.  And that’s through only a small amount of meat (1) !  In fact, it has been suggested that North Americans eat entirely too much protein and not enough carbs.  Not surprising since carbohydrates have been getting lots of bad press in the media lately; Adkins, South Beach, et al.

This is all great if you’re simply trying to loose weight, but when you’re trying to improve your overall interval workouts – not so much.  Carbs are important as they provide the spark that ignites the rest of the body, before those slow-burning proteins begin to take over.  So for shorter distance Sprint triathlons most of your energy will be produced from these carbohydrates.  Having adequate stores of both types of fuel is absolute key and the real trick is to find the happy balance between the two.

Then there is the whole iron concern: vegetarian triathletes don’t get enough iron.  Iron is an essential micronutrient that facilitates oxygen transport in the blood, which is the single most limiting physiological factor for any aerobic performance.  A body lacking in iron deposits will be prone to cramping, fatigue and sore, aching muscles; the ‘Big Three’ in triathlon-specific injury.  Likewise, a body with insufficient amounts of iron in the blood and tissue will not be able to repair itself quickly.  Iron is present in two different forms: heme iron from animal tissue and non-heme iron from plant sources.  Unfortunately for vegetarians, non-heme iron is much less bioavailable than heme iron.  Therefore vegetarians consume considerably less of it even though they may consume near equal amounts of total iron.  It is then recommended that vegetarian triathletes consume 80% more iron than their meat-eating counterparts.

To accomplish this, I need to be cognizant to eat things such as oat bran, spinach, beans, and leafy greens throughout the day as I definitely don’t want to seize up in the middle of an intense workout.  What this really equates to is salads, and lots of them.

As I see it, despite these concerns, there is also a considerable advantage to temporarily switching my diet to that of a vegetarian one.  Well organized vegetarians are likely to achieve much higher doses of vitamins and minerals than omnivores.  The abundance of these natural food sources means that these nutrients in the diet ensures the body is receiving all of the building blocks it requires for energy metabolism as well as for recovery from exercise afterwards. To boot, a diet rich in the antioxidants vitamin E, C and beta-carotene, as is the case with many vegetarian diets, will reduce exercise-induced oxidative stress, which will reduce the instances of muscle damage and soreness.

Booyah! How awesome is that?

Now this is all well and good, but it’s still not as simple as replacing my precious steak and pork chops with salads and stir-fry’s.  There is quite an amount of preparation and planning necessary before I will be able to tackle any of this.  A person, particularly a newly converted carnivorous stoner one, will not be satisfied with salad alone.  After all, it is already well documented that you can’t “make friends with salad”. Instead, I have researched, sought out and acquired numerous vegetarian lifestyle magazines, websites, cookbooks, meal planners, etc. to draw from to ensure that I have plenty of options and can provide some variety in my diet.  Just about every healthy living and lifestyle magazine nowadays has some sort of quick and simple recipe using ingredients that you won’t have to search out in some remote, specialized farmers market in, say, Morocco.  Recipes need to be quick to prepare and the ingredients easy to locate.  I don’t mind the odd trip to a specialty local Asian food market every now and again, but I don’t exactly want to purchase a return-trip ticket just to go grocery shopping each week either.

So in essence, I don’t think this is going to be the monumental task that some made it out to be.  Where I may be eating like one of those skinny-ass vegetarian hippie types you see peddling veggie burritos from the bumper of their VW bus, I don’t plan on looking like one.  But then again, I’m only just beginning the new diet plan now.  For all I know, one week of vegetarianism and I may be reduced to chasing squirrels around the neighborhood in a state of protein-deficient insanity.

Isn’t life fun?

(1) Procuring cuts of meat is significantly more difficult in Africa than just running down to the local butcher.  Particularly when you consider that your cut of meat can run up to 65km/ph and has a mouth full of sharp teeth.

  1. Very educational post here!

    I hate tracking every thing I put it my mouth, but it would be interesting to see if I get enough of what i need.

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