Now there’s a headline I thought I’d never see!
Vegetarianism and Veganism are lifestyle choices that lots of people in this modern era choose to make, be it for ethical, religious or personal reasons. Does omitting certain things (in particular animal meat) mean that they cannot have the same health, fitness and performance goals as an omnivore such as myself? Absolutely not. Does it mean we have to a bit more intelligent and savvy when programming their diets? Yes, it does.
First off lets define the different types of vegetarianism:
Lacto-Ovo Vegetarian: Abstains from animal meat, poultry or fish but does eats eggs and dairy.
Lacto Vegetarian: No meat, fish or poultry but does eat dairy
Vegan: Does not eat any products that is sourced from an animal (bees wax and sheep’s wool included)
While vegetarians do have a restrictive diet, it does not have to be depriving and does actually have many health benefits. Vegetarian diets are usually much higher in fibre than their meat eating counterparts and this translates to better gut health. Vitamin and mineral intake is generally higher and the ratio of omega 3:6 in their diets is often more in sync due to the lack of omega 6 rich meat present in meat eating populations.
There are some common misconceptions regarding vegetarianism. Whilst meat and fish are great sources for iron, vitamin A and vitamin B12 it does not mean that they cannot be obtained elsewhere. Leafy greens are a fantastic source of Iron (especially when supplemented with vitamin C which increases the absorption of iron into the blood) and orange, yellow and red vegetables contain pre-cursors which can be synthesised in to vitamin A by the body.
However, vitamin B12 would be of some concern with a strict vegetarian diet. It is found almost exclusively in animal tissue as well as in small amounts in dairy and is crucial in folate production and cellular reproduction (think wound healing and mass gain). A lack of vit B12 in the diet can cause major problems in arterial wall health and has been linked with a host of other things you don’t want to be experiencing (stroke, thyroid issues, depression). This is something that vegetarians and vegans will need to consider when designing their meals.
Right, scare-mongering over with lets see how we can optimise vegan/vegetarian diets for training in Thailand.
One of the main problems when programming a diet for a vegetarian client that is training Muay Thai is obtaining adequate amounts of protein to support lean tissue and stimulate muscle protein synthesis. Because plant proteins are referred to as incomplete, we have to be clever when putting together a meal plan to ensure we get the right combinations of foods to obtain an adequate amount of amino acids (the building blocks of protein) in each meal. This isn’t a problem with omnivores as animal tissue is a ‘complete’ protein source. It has all of the required amino acids in its protein for our bodies to break it down and rebuild it in to our own tissue. Supplementing with plant based protein powders, or whey isolate if dairy is ok, between meals can also be a solution to continually stimulating muscle protein synthesis throughout the day.
As I have discussed in previous blogs, Muay Thai training is heavily dependant on the glycolytic (carbohydrate) energy pathway. As vegetarian diets tends to be higher in carbohydrates anyway this is actually quite handy when it comes to programming meal plans whilst training in Thailand. As long as we can then get enough good fats into their diet to support hormone production and cell health, we should be on to a winner.
Following a vegetarian or vegan diet has many health benefits and you can create some wonderful and tasty dishes to make it something that you enjoy. You only need to worry if you are a lazy vegetarian. By that I mean someone who doesn’t put any thought in to their diets and just ‘doesn’t eat meat’. These same people will live off cheese and onion pasties and ready salted crisps. Not optimal! Don’t be that guy.