Sunday, 30 September 2012

Athlete Diet: Vegetarian Or Paleo?

Blue Ridge Outdoors asked me to do a piece on the paleo vs vegetarian.

Full Post here:


I first encountered the Paleo lifestyle in 2008, when I wanted to transition into lightweight rowing.  This means that two hours before I race, I step on a scale and must weight under 130 pounds. My race lasts seven minutes plus, and my heart rate averages 180 beats per minute. I race a heat, a semi and a final and sometimes even a fourth heat if I don’t advance by placing in top positions.
Just to keep up, I need recovery and consistency.  I need acute focus and agility to maneuver long skinny oars and balance the boat, all while attempting repeated perfect  strokes, even in extreme temperatures, wind, and rain. The Paleolithic diet was my answer to the intense demands of my transition to lightweight rowing.
Paleo principles are about getting sunshine and eating real food (lean animal protein, vegetables, fruits, and healthy fats from coconut, avocado, olive oil, and moderate amounts of nuts and seeds). Along with dairy and processed fats and sugars, I stay away from beans and legumes, which contain saponins that act as toxins in the body. In addition, grains contain lectins and anti-nutrients that result in gut irritations in much of the population.
Within the first three months of Paleo-eating I noticed how alive I felt. That may sound overly Zen, but as an athlete, you are mostly walking around depleted—tired from the training load. With Paleo, I recover faster, need less sleep, and have more energy and excitement for workouts. My nerves are sharper and I absorb technical changes more quickly. I started rowing late in the game, as a  twenty-six-year-old rower competing against eighteen-year-olds. I need all the extra energy I can get.
I also find that I can really taste my food. And with every dollar I spend at farmers’ markets and on grass-fed meat, I am sending a message that corporate feedlots and GMOs are not okay. I go straight for the dark, leafy greens  for calcium and antioxidants. Root vegetables and tubers give me the energy to train, and the protein from wild-caught, naturally-fed meat contains the amino acids my muscles need to recover. Best of all, I don’t feel like I’m going hungry.
Calorie for calorie, I’m getting the biggest bang per mouthful, and you can too. Beans and rice might keep you alive, but you won’t thrive. I’m moving towards thriving, and that is why I train, race, and eat Paleo.

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