Is It Worth It?

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Major League star, and first baseman for the Milwaukee Brewers Prince Fielder stated last week that he is now a vegetarian.

From the Milwaukee Sentinel:

“It wasn’t always this way. Fielder used to enjoy a stacked burger or a juicy steak as much as any carnivore, but a few weeks ago he received a book from his wife, Chanel, that changed his outlook on what he puts in his massive frame. The book described how certain animals are treated and slaughtered for food.

“After reading that, (meat) just didn’t sound good to me anymore,” Fielder said. “It grossed me out a little bit. It’s not a diet thing or anything like that. I don’t miss it at all.”

All I have to say is men love to eat meat. The statement, “I don’t like to eat meat” is a more verbose way of saying, “I have a vagina.” Figuratively speaking of course. For the record, I know plenty of women who love to eat a variety of small, furry animals. Lets just say Prince has been asked to kindly leave the “man” table where he can join the others like him who probably drink Zima and watch musicals with their girlfriends. Don’t forget your Jazz hands!

Alright, that was kind of mean. I can respect Prince’s decision to stop eating meat. More power to him. But it does raise an interesting question: is it worth it?

Without getting into a discussion on the moral issue of vegetarianism, I want to briefly discuss the different types. On one end, you have the less “extreme” individuals who will still eat things such as fish, chicken, eggs, cottage cheese, and other types of dairy. Lacto-ovo vegetarians are those who consume milk and eggs, but no fish, chicken or red meat. The most radical are Vegans, who won’t allow any animal source into their diet what-so-ever.

Depending on which type of vegetarian we’re talking about, it’s safe to say that most can still get sufficient protein in their diets from various other food groups. Those who just eliminate red meat from their diet, can still easily acquire protein from other animal sources such as chicken, fish, etc. Lacto-ovo vegetarians are still ingesting milk and eggs, which is “doable.” Not to mention utilizing various sources protein powder (whey, casein, soy, milk, pea, hemp, rice) helps tremendously. Vegans on the other hand are often going to have to consume massive amounts of “bulk” in order to obtain the protein required in their diet (this is especially true for those who are athletes or live an active lifestyle).

Additionally, as several highly respected authorities in the fitness industry have noted time and time again, it’s been well documented that those who are non-meat eaters tend to have a lower body weight and less lean mass than those who eat meat. Not necessarily an ideal situation for a professional athlete who needs to perform at an elite level day after day. That’s not to say that it can’t be done, it just throws a monkey wrench in the grand scheme of things.

As well, when referring to vegetarians, there are other “issues” that have to be dealt with. Mainly the fact that when you go out of your way to eliminate a macro-nutrient from the diet (in this case, protein), you’re going to encounter what Susan Kleiner, author of “Power Eating,” calls nutritional danger zones- namely, iron, zinc, and B12 deficiencies. These deficiencies can hurt exercise performance. So what can one do? Again, I reiterate that this will all depend on what “degree” of vegetarian someone is.

1. Include more Heme Iron sources in your diet: all animal protein sources contain the more easily absorbed form of iron, heme iron. Red meat is by far the most abundant source of heme iron. However, for those that don’t eat red mean, chicken and fish also contains heme iron, albeit to a lesser extent.

2. Consider Iron and Zinc Supplements: unfortunately, our bodies do not absorb the iron that comes from vegetables as well as the iron that comes from animal foods. Nonmeat eaters (especially the more active you are) would be wise to include an iron supplement daily. The same can be said for Zinc

3. B12 deficiency can lead to irreversible nerve damage, due to the fact that the body needs trace amounts daily in order to manufacture red blood cells and nerves. Including more foods with fortified B12 or supplementing with a B12 vitamin would bode well for many vegetarians (especially vegans).

4. Another thing to note is creatine. Creatine is typically low in vegetarians. Supplementation for those who are athletes and compete in strength/power sports and/or activities is definitely recommended.

I think from a performance and/or body composition standpoint, oftentimes (read: not all) vegetarians shoot themselves in the foot. In the case of Prince Fielder, clearly body composition is not at the top of the list. But performance is, and I give him two months before he reverts back to his old ways. Matter of fact, I think his wife even mentioned that if she notices any decrease in his power production, she’s going to feed him a steak.

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