I grew up in a world where sports were the center of everything: every kid in my family had to have their own sport, their own position, their own awards for being the best in whatever sport we chose. My house was decorated with plastic trophies, tattered soccer balls, and framed jerseys. I loved it. While I was never the fastest, I surpassed all expectations when I threw myself into what I was most passionate about: running long distance. My small, asthmatic lungs and overdeveloped body would prove to be small obstacles in my lifelong dream of becoming a Varsity Cross Country runner. I found solace in my aching joints, in feeling the miles go by as I pounded the swampy ground in Florida humidity, in passing by all my competition in the final stretch of a 5k race.
As I grew older, my body developed, and I realized it would take a lot more than just showing up to practice to be at the same level as my competitors. While my family might’ve been extremely supportive in my athletic endeavors, my diet of cuban coffee and tostadas did not do any good in building my muscles or endurance. I decided to begin taking care of my body in another way, far beyond the simple act of working out to be stronger, but eating to be stronger.
This was easier said than done. The fitness and health industry has become overridden with health fads and meaningless placebo products that do little to nothing for their consumers. On top of that, there’s an overwhelming amount of contradictory information about Veganism, Gluten free diets, and Vegetarianism that remain a mystery- I found what works for me. To make things simple, I reach my peak athletic performance when eating high protein, unprocessed foods as much as possible. I do
not believe in heavy diet restrictions but there are moments where athletic goals become more important than having an extra scoop of ice cream after dinner; As long as your diet leaves you feeling healthy, energized, and happy, you can’t go wrong.
One of my favorite resources, this page by UW Health, titled “Eating for Peak Athletic Performance”, provides a simple visual chart that details easy substitutions for common foods and demonstrates the benefits of doing so. While it does not encourage a plant-based diet, I’ve also looked into the benefits of these nutritional choices. Incorporating unprocessed foods, usually meaning vegetables, fruits, whole grains, etc, is scientifically proven to make the human body function more efficiently.
In past weeks, I have begun to eat less meat and dairy products. I found that it made me absolutely exhausted, I’d have less motivation to exercise, and I eventually began relying on extremely processed plant-based “junk” foods such as Beyond Burgers and Oreos. I realized that I failed to prioritize protein consumption in this process. One day I might try again, but for now I’ll have to take small steps! If you’re interested in becoming a plant-based athlete, I personally love Matt Fraizer’s blog, titled “No Meat Athlete”. Frazier has a variety of blog posts, podcasts, and products for purchase where he details his journey as a Vegan marathon runner. I still subscribe to his newsletter in hopes that I’ll develop the discipline to follow through with a Vegan lifestyle!
Everybody is different. Depending on your sport or preferred exercise, your dietary needs might be completely different from mine. It’s important to do your own research before venturing into any large dietary changes, to ensure you are consuming enough calories in relation to your activity level and that you’re receiving all the nutrients you need to feel good. I encourage you to do your own research and find what works best for you- diet has a huge impact on your athletic performance and it can completely change the game!