Friday, July 31, 2009

I'm a teen athlete - Do I need meat because of my age?

I'm 16 and want to become a vegetarian but my grandparents don't agree with this choice. They said it was because I'm a athlete and there are certain things I need from meat. I know of many adult athletes that are vegetarians and it doesn't affect their performance. Do I "need" things from meat because of my age? Thank you, Frankie

Answer: No, I do not believe that you need meat to be an athlete at any age. While heavy physical activity may require you to increase your daily protein intake, it does not have to come from meat.

There are hundreds of top athletes from all over the world that have shown their performance has not been hindered in any way by adopting a vegetarian diet. Many of these athletic champions have discovered that eating meat decreased their strength and stamina.

In fact, in 1978 the Journal of the American Medical Association warned athletes (and non-athletes) against taking protein supplements, stating "Protein does not increase strength. Indeed, it often takes greater energy to digest and metabolize the excess protein."

Meat protein is one the most difficult foods for the body to metabolize, taking sometimes up to 3 days to digest. Vegetable protein, on the other hand, usually only takes between 25 and 30 hours to pass through the body's gastrointestinal tract. Excess animal protein intake can break down in the colon into toxic substances, some of which are absorbed in the bloodstream. Meat is also high in saturated fats and cholesterol.

Protein from vegetable sources like soy (
tempeh, tofu, textured soy protein, etc.), seitan (wheat gluten), beans, legumes, seeds and nuts are virtually free of saturated fat and contain no cholesterol. The body will absorb and assimilate the nutrients from vegetable proteins more easily than with animal proteins.

Additionally, soy's protein is complete, equal to that of meat but without the negative side effects. Diets high in animal protein can have a detrimental impact on the kidneys and pancreas; increase the risk for heart attack and stroke; lower resistance to cancer, and contribute to the development of osteoporosis, diabetes and kidney stones.

As more athletes become vegetarian, the myth of the need for meat is coming to light. If you are still unsure about how vegetarian diets can improve athletic performance, just look at this list of top athletes.

Hank Aaron - All Time Baseball Home Run Champion
Jim Kaat - Baseball Player

Joe Namath - Pro Football player (NY Jets)
Lawrence Phillips - Pro Football player (49ers)
Desmond Howard - Football Player (Redskins, Jacksonville Jaguars)

B. J. Armstrong - Basketball Star
Bill Walton - Basketball Player

Carl Lewis - Olympic Track Star (vegan)
Paavo Nurmi - 20 World Records, 9 Olympic Medals-distance running
Edwin Moses - Olympic champion
Leroy Burrell - Olympic champion
Murray Rose - Olympic swimmer

Stan Price - World Record holder in the Bench Press
Andreas Cahling - Mr. International Body Building Champion
Roy Hilligan - Mr. America Body Building Champion
Bill Pearl - Bodybuilder, Mr. America & Mr. Universe
Bill Manetti - Power Lifting Champion
Pat Reeves - Power Lifter (vegan)
Jack LaLanne - Fitness Guru (vegan)

Chris Campbell - 1980 World Champion Wrestler
Killer Kowalski - Wrestler

Dave Scott - 6-time winner of the Ironman Triathlon
Sixto Linares - World Record holder in the 24-hour Triathlon
Lucy Stephens - Triathlete (vegan)
Debbie Lawrence - 5k record holder
Ruth Heidrich - 3 Time Ironman, marathoner & age-group record holder (vegan)
Sally Eastall - Marathon runner (vegan)

Ridgely Abele - 8 Time National Champion in Karate

Bille Jean King - Tennis Champion
Martina Navratilova - Tennis Champion (vegan)
Peter Burwash - Tennis Champion (vegan)

Brad Staba - Pro Skateboarder
Andrew Reynolds - Pro Skateboarder
Brian Sumner - Pro Skateboarder
Brian Anderson - Pro Skateboarder
Sergei Trudnowski - Pro Skateboarder
Rick Mc Crank - Pro Skateboarder
Ed Templeton - Pro Skateboarder
Jamie Thomas - Pro Skateboarder
Geoff Rowley - Pro Skateboarder
Steve Berra - Pro Skateboarder
Laban Pheidas - Pro Skateboarder

Sorya Bonali - Ice Skater
Joanna Conway - Ice Skater

So you are not alone in your desire to be a vegetarian athlete.

For more information about vegetarian nutrition and sports, read ...

The Vegetarian Sports Nutrition Guide: Peak Performance for Everyone from Beginners to Gold Medalists by Lisa Dorfman

Thrive: The Vegan Nutrition Guide to Optimal Performance in Sports and Life by Brendan Braizier

Vegan + Sports . Vegan Nutrition and Endurance Sports by Arnold Wiegand

For more information about soy protein, with great vegetarian and vegan recipes, read my book...

Virtues of Soy: A Practical Health Guide and Cookbook

For more sports and nutrition information, read my Q&A's . . .

"Marathon training and vegetarian diet?"

"Muscle Building and Vegetarian Diet Requirements."

"Protein and Weight-gain

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Monique N. Gilbert, BSc. has offered guidance in health, nutrition, fitness and stress management since 1989. Through her writings, Monique motivates and teaches how to improve your well-being, vitality and longevity with balanced nutrition, physical activity and healthy stress-free living.

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