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Endurance Athletes and the Flexitarian Diet

WHAT IS A FLEXITARIAN DIET?

A flexitarian diet is known as a semi-vegetarian diet. This means following a vegetarian diet that focuses on vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains and animal products, but also allowing meat and fish in moderation. If you decide to follow a flexitarian diet, your overall goal is to consume more nutritious plant foods, less meat and limit added sugar. 

Näak Nutrition Blog | Flexitarian Diet vs Vegetarian vs Vegan

Those who follow a flexitarian diet are not considered vegetarians or vegans. This gives less room for restrictions, hence flexitarian means flexible vegetarian. 


WHAT ARE THE HEALTH BENEFITS OF THE FLEXITARIAN DIET?

Being a semi-vegetarian diet, flexitarians can get the best of both a plant-based diet and consuming meat as an important source of protein, fat and micronutrients. With increasing popularity, more research of the health benefits of semi-vegetarian diets emerge: 

1. Reduces risk of diabetes 

Eating a predominantly plant-based diet may help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. A study with more than 60 000 participants found the prevalence of type 2 diabetes in semi-vegetarians is 1.5% lower than non-vegetarians.  

This is because a semi-vegetarian consumes plenty of fiber and low amounts of unhealthy fats and added sugar. Consuming a lot of fiber promotes satiety, so you will feel fuller and less likely to eat foods that cause a spike in your blood sugar levels. This means fiber can help control high blood sugar levels. 

2. Lowers incidence of colorectal cancer 

Semi-vegetarian diets can decrease the incidence of colorectal cancer because the full pack fiber and antioxidants of plant-based foods promotes healthy bowel movement. Your body does not have the tools to properly digest fiber. When you consume fiber, it goes through your digestive system, adds bulk and pushes the contents down. Compared to non-vegetarians, a study found that semi-vegetarians are 8% less likely to experience this cancer.

3. Increases cardiovascular health

Lastly, semi-vegetarians can have better cardiovascular health because of lower blood pressure and more good cholesterol. This is promoted by consuming healthy fats, such as omega-3 fatty acids, that are found in fish, soybean and flaxseed. 

FLEXITARIAN DIET AND THE ENVIRONMENT 

Everyone has their own reasons why they choose a certain lifestyle or adopt a certain diet. Choosing a flexitarian diet can benefit not just you, but also the environment (definitely a point worth considering!). A plant-based diet, even a semi one, encourages land to be used to farm fruits and vegetables. This means using fewer resources compared to raising feed or livestock and a smaller carbon footprint. 

Näak Nutrition Blog | Flexitarian Diet vs Vegetarian vs Vegan

Making changes in your diet can definitely leave a strong impact on our environment. Research from John Hopkins University shows that if the entire world chose a flexitarian diet, global carbon emissions would decrease by 41%. So, your small change can really go big!

ENDURANCE ATHLETES AND THE FLEXITARIAN DIET 

No doubt, every athlete’s diet becomes an integral part of their training. This means ULTRA fueling with the proper nutrients for optimal performance. Some important nutrients that are easier to obtain from animal sources include protein, iron, calcium, and vitamin B12. The flexitarian diet luckily recognizes these and for athletes, the best part about this diet is how the nutritional benefits of meat are not cut out but rather, moderated to meet your needs.

Protein, in particular, is a key component for muscle growth and recovery. Often, plant proteins are an incomplete source of protein, however, if you consume a wide range of plant proteins, you won’t have to worry! Soy protein is a source of complete protein and can be found in tofu or tempeh, which are great meat alternatives if you aren’t craving meat. Tofu is also rich in iron (for red blood cell production and maximum oxygen transport to muscles) and calcium (an electrolyte essential for muscle contraction and bone health). Other sources include beans, chickpea, and green leafy vegetables. 

Don’t like the taste of soy but still want its nutritional benefits? Try Näak’s Berries & Nuts or Peanut Butter & Chocolate

Näak Nutrition Blog | Flexitarian Diet vs Vegetarian vs Vegan

Believe it or not, crickets also contain key nutrients for athletes and fits right into a flexitarian diet! This sustainable source of complete protein is high in vitamin B12, which is important to aid energy replenishment and repair damaged cells and body tissues. More so, crickets contain chitin, a prebiotic fiber, that promotes a healthy digestive and immune system. 

HEAR WHAT A FLEXITARIAN HAS TO SAY…

Vincent Nadon, one of Näak’s proud ambassadors, follows a flexitarian lifestyle. After watching 'Game Changers', a Netflix documentary about how vegan diets improve sports performance, Vincent started slowly transitioning into a more plant-based diet, although he did not strictly cut off meat. 

“I wasn’t feeling constrained, it felt more like discovering than removing” 

- Vincent Nadon 

He enjoys being flexible and experimenting everyday to try new recipes. For example, Vincent started experimenting with jackfruit as a meat-replacement for a pulled pork burger, but still eats meat when he shares a meal with his parents. 

 “It doesn't have to be difficult, it’s just a matter of creativity.” 

- Vincent Nadon

Although Vincent did not see an increase in performance, as shown on 'Game Changers', he mentions that training is not fully dependent on diet. In regards to his athletic performance, he says that “diet is not a limitation”. Moreover, as he has been conscious of climate change and sustainable ways of living, he is proud that his efforts are impactful towards the environment. 

Overall, the flexitarian diet focuses on the inclusion of plant foods more than the exclusion of animal products. It may take a bit of time for your body (and mind) to adjust. Because of how personalized nutrition is to each athlete, trust your body and it will let you know if the flexitarian diet is best for you and your exercise program! 

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