by Sam Hudson
Through decades of food advertising, the message has always been: to be strong, to be powerful you need to eat meat. To be a true man, you must eat meat. But more and more we are seeing that athletes at the top of their game (particularly in endurance sports) are reducing their meat intake and going vegan or vegetarian.
I have been vegetarian for just over two years and it has been an eye-opening experience in terms of the ethics of meat and the nutritional power of veggies. However, what I find most interesting is that in my personal journey since becoming vegetarian (I occasionally have dairy because who can resist chocolate), I have found myself performing better athletically and generally feeling healthier.
Now, I’m not saying that giving up meat products suddenly turned me into Jan Frodeno, Laura Philipp or Lionel Sanders, but these are just a few of the growing number of high-level athletes who have either cut out meat products entirely or significantly reduced them.
I can’t imagine anyone asking Jan if he thinks he could have gone faster at Kona if he had eaten steak in the week leading up to the race, but I have personally been asked many times about whether a meat-free diet is even healthy for someone who is so active.
Even though there are these world-renowned athletes who are capable of astonishing performances without meat in their diets, there is still this misconception that an omnivorous diet is the only way to be strong or powerful. The truth is that there is no clear winner when it comes to diet, and the most important thing is to eat with balance in mind.
I personally believe that the reason my health and athletic performances have improved significantly since changing my diet is because it forced me to take more account of what I eat to ensure I get enough protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. Previously, I would just eat whatever sounded good regardless of what was in it. Now I keep a keener eye on what I consume and feel better for it.
In summary, there is a fascinating counterculture of athletes breaking away from the ‘norms’ of eating meat and not suffering for it. So, don’t go underestimating the power of vegetables and legumes.
Sam Hudson is an MX Endurance Race Team ambassador.