These days, it seems like there’s a new diet every time you open the fridge. And choosing one that fits your lifestyle, body type, dietary restrictions, fitness goals, religion, culture, and ethical considerations can leave you scratching your head in confusion.
Well, scratch away, because if choosing one wasn’t hard enough, adhering to specific diets themselves can be even more confusing. If you’ve heard of the “calorie confusion” diet, then I need not say more.
But amidst the claims of longevity, weight loss, boosts in energy, metabolism, and other health benefits, some diets aren’t always what they’re cracked up to be, while others deserve a little more attention.
Popeye might have been on to something when he said, “Strong to the finish when you eat your spinach.” Although downing a tin of spinach most likely won’t make you suddenly sprout bulging biceps, it has been proven to improve your cardiovascular health.
In fact, vegetarians, who avoid eating meat and fish, also generally have a lower risk of developing high blood pressure, several forms of cancer, diabetes, and obesity because these diets are usually lower in fat and higher in fibre.
These diets provide adequate overall nutrient intake for endurance activities such as track and field and competitive swimming. Recognized as one of the best triathletes in the world, David Scott, an avid vegetarian for many years, has attributed his endurance, speed, and strength to his high-fibre vegetarian diet.
Noel Miller is an exercise specialist and has been vegetarian for over 10 years. He’s been working in the fitness industry for about that long as well. He has an in-depth sports background and continues to enjoy a healthy active lifestyle. He collaborates with multiple health practitioners and approaches fitness from a holistic perspective.
Miller claims that the biggest benefit of becoming a vegetarian is that you can slow down and pay attention to what you’re putting in your body. When you eat, you start to realize the impact of the choice of foods you eat, which begins to have a direct relationship with how you feel. Instead of eating something and feeling, “Oh man, I shouldn’t have eaten that, but it tastes good,” it turns into, “I shouldn’t have eaten that; it’s not worth it.” When it comes to training, the biggest change with vegetarianism is that you will increase your lean muscle mass and reduce your body fat percentage.
You will start to feel when your body does not have enough protein or carbs. It makes you conscious of how food affects your body. You will most likely increase the diversity of foods you eat from different cultures. These days, the variety of options for vegetarians are pretty equal to the meat options.
“Vegetarians enjoy a healthier lifestyle and get sick less often,” says Miller. “It is easier to maintain your weight and you find that you have more energy. This is especially beneficial when playing in sports or other physical activities. Your chance of illness and disease are drastically reduced. You may also feel your body has a hard time switching back to meat once you begin a vegetarian lifestyle.”
As for restrictions, they are mostly social. You may need to bring food when visiting friends or relatives or know that your options may be limited when eating out. If you don’t cook already, it’s an awesome time to learn.
A stricter diet than vegetarianism, this plant-based diet excludes meat and all food produced by animals, including eggs, fish, dairy products, and honey.
Not too long ago, the word “vegan” may have prompted images of anemic-looking, animal rights activist, sandal-wearing hippies. But today you can replace those images with ones of David Carter, Serena Williams, and Carl Lewis, because as this diet gains popularity, more athletes are turning to it to build strength and boost energy.
Contrary to popular belief, vegans don’t have to sacrifice on their protein intake, because protein is in all types of food, just generally in lower quantities than in meat. There are a variety of options in a vegan diet, such as rice, beans, quinoa, hemp, and tofu, that will suffice for protein intake.
Look at former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson, who after losing over 100 pounds credits his vegan diet with not only helping to lower his blood pressure, but also eliminating his arthritis and joint pain.
Gluten is a protein found in all forms of wheat. As an athlete, your diet relies on an adequate intake of carbohydrates, which is usually derived from the gluten in grains.
However, many people have celiac disease, a type of gluten intolerance where these vital nutrients are mal-absorbed in the small intestine. So while some athletes follow gluten-free diets to ease unpleasant digestive symptoms during competitions, others do so because they may experience symptoms of celiac disease.
Celebrity athletes like Saints quarterback Drew Brees and top tennis player Novak Djokovic have advocated for the benefits of a gluten-free diet, claiming that it has improved digestion and sleep patterns and reduced the occurrence of illnesses.
Have you ever seen an obese caveman? The answer to that question is the premise underlying this prehistory-based diet. Based on eating food in its most basic form to replicate what and how we ate during the hunter-gatherer days of the Paleolithic Era, the paleo diet requires you to give up dairy, processed foods, refined sugars, alcohol, and fun.
Essentially, if it was available thousands of years ago, it is a part of this meal plan, which includes fish, meat, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and oils in moderation. The good news is that this diet is rich in low-fat proteins and healthy fats and nutrients and is going to control your blood sugar levels, which moderate food cravings and fatigue and decrease the likelihood of diabetes.
The bad news is that because modern grains weren’t available yet, the paleo diet lacks carbohydrates and restricts intake of wheat, rice, and corn.