Thursday, January 23, 2014

the big veggie experiment.

"If you are you, breathe. If you breathe, you talk. If you talk, you ask. If you ask, you think. If you think, you search. If you search, you experience. If you experience, you learn. If you learn, you grow. If you grow, you wish. If you wish, you find. And if you find, you doubt. If you doubt, you question. If you question, you understand and if you understand, you know. If you know, you want to know more. If you want to know more, you are alive."- National Geographic Society

I really like this quote, as to me it describes perfectly natural curiosity and the will to discover. I always thought of myself as a curious person, I have always loved learning, even the subjects that did not come easy to me once I started getting an idea of how things worked. 

I guess that by now you will all be puzzled by how mismatched the title and the content are, right? What have curiosity, doubt and learning to do with a vegetarian experiment? Well, nothing, except that I started questioning my certainties in nutrition and decided to find out more.

I've always thought that animal proteins were essential in any athlete's diet as they are needed to repair muscle damage and also for maintaining weight. Vegetarian diets were good for people with low exercise rates and also dangerously close to have way too many simple carbs in it. When I was 16 I was running on a high carb/low protein diet and ended being slightly overweight and with a stress fracture, which wasn't pretty and made me very diffident.
Then, in November, I read this book my friend Suzie gave me...

...and started thinking.
The author of the book, Scott Jurek, is a world level ultra marathoner who has won some of the toughest races in the world. At some point he describes the change he made from a meat eating diet to a vegetarianism ( and then to vegan, but I think that is a step too further for me): he noticed that his training improved, he increased muscle mass and became leaner than before. Which is exactly the opposite you would expect. Now, his narrative is very powerful and makes it sound like a very good idea while you are reading it, but what about critical judgement? How is it possible that by eating less proteins (or at least proteins which are not so readily available as a rare steak), he got better muscle mass? I can still get the better recovery as by cutting out meat, he probably reduced oxidative stress on cells, but becoming leaner?

I was really intrigued by this "mystery" and chatted about it with two of my running friends, Suzie and Mareike, during her last visit up here. Turned out- but I partially knew that already- that their diets are mainly vegetarian (or have been at some point). Suzie eats fish/meat one or twice a week, while Mareike last year ate pretty much as a vegetarian and saw-we all did!- some amazing improvement on her running. Now, for the records, they are both better runners than me.

However the problem wasn't going anywhere: I had 3 people, one unknown to me, except from his book, whose training was consistently more intense than mine, who thrived and performed quite well on a vegetarian diet. This is hardly any evidence  for someone with a bit of scientific background.

So I took one (geeky!) step further: I searched the medical databases (shame on me!). Believe me guys, it's war out there: the scientific community is divided in two with the conservatives in the middle, unsure on where to place themselves.

From there, I drew my own conclusion, which is very indecisive: it depends on individuals. We are all different and our metabolic machinery works at different speeds, depending on our genes, levels of activity, muscle mass level, age, sex and just the first factor has thousands of variables with it.  

I knew from endless chats about food with Mareike and Suzie that we probably had quite a similar metabolic speed, so maybe this whole vegetarian diet could work for me. However, I figured out that the only way to be 100% sure was to experiment on myself, using me as a control for the "study". I decided I would be on a strictly vegetarian diet for a month and see how I go. I will monitor my muscle mass, for what is possible without a scale, my levels of energy (as one of the criticism I got was that I won't have enough energy), my performance at training and in races (using Parkrun as a scale) and satiety because I don't want to starve myself.

If by any chance I notice that this is not working and is leaving me tired, exhausted, struggling to finish training, I will go back to eating meat.

I have started this last Monday, so I am 10 days in. I feel ok, just a bit hungry sometimes and find hard to think what I can eat for dinner. My boyfriend, even if sceptical about this whole thing, is being really supportive and even got me this amazing cookbooks for Christmas!

 As I was on holidays last week I cooked some meals in advance and froze them so I can face the challenges of my term with a tummy full of vegetables.

Have you got any experience of vegetarian eating? Any tips/advice?

1 comment:

  1. I am proud of anyone wanting to try a vegetarian lifestyle. Take it at your own pace and take it slow. A small step leads to bigger successful steps in living a vegetarian lifestyle. We must crawl before we walk and walk before we run but success is a beautiful victory with the journey being the best part. As a 49 yo runner and bicylist who lives a vegetarian lifestyle for 6 years now and marathons as a vegetarian and a vegan, my body never felt stronger with greater endurance as I also tend to 25-30
    mile bicycle rides. My yearly blood work illustrates always high protein and iron counts so vegetarianism does supply us with the needed vitamins and nutrients. Good luck in your running and medical studies. May you have an awesomely beautiful and blessed day and journey.--Donna M Beaudoin, Author Sister Vegetarian 31 Days Motivational Book by Lantern Publishing