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What About Vegetarians?

30 Comments

Christy posted the following comment/question:

Why is it that most Crossfit sites don’t think eating a Zone diet that is vegetarian is effective? Yet Dr. Sears says that incorporating more soy protein into your diet as part of a Zone diet can actually be more effective than meat sources of protein?

Good question, here’s the deal:

1-Failure to thrive. I have seen 2 crossfitting vegans who were able to pull it off and have what I’d consider top-tier performance. Most do not. This based on nearly 9 years of coaching people and working with what amounts to thousands of people now. So, can it be done, yes. Is it easy OR better than a mixed diet? Absolutely not.

2-Lack of variety. Christy, if you had not noticed, we talk a bunch about topics extending well beyond performance. There are people who happen onto this information who are VERY sick and who benefit immensely from the change to a paleo/zone diet. You will also notice that it is the EXCLUSION of things like soy that facilitate this shift. The two example I cited above, of the “successful” vegan crossfitters, they had “no” variety in their diets. This leads to food intollerances especially when the food is some kind of concentrated legume food like tofu.

3-Barry Sears is right on with some stuff, completely wrong with other stuff. He completely ignores post work out nutrition, fasting and host of other topics because it does not jibe with his over-arching scheme. He wrote the Soy Zone, sang the song of soy…then dropped it when issues like thyroid disregulation began come to light.

My take on this is try everything. Crossfit for a month and do it vegan. Do it for a month and do it paleo. Do it for a montha and follow the high carb, low fat ADA plan. See how you do.

What I’m putting forward may seem like dogma to some, and I guess perhaps it is, but it is dogma won from experience and experimentation. I’ve done vegan, i’ve done high carb-low fat….I DO paleo. What have YOU done?

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  1. Christy
    February 25, 2009 at 12:33 am

    Thanks Robb. It makes a lot of sense to try different things to see what works for you. That’s what got me started on a vegan diet to begin with. I also understand food intolerance and the importance of variety. I tend to get frustrated with the lack of options for a lean protein when eating vegan. It boils down to Tofu or nothing. I recently started incorporating egg whites back into my diet (good eggs of course, vegetarian, cage free, antibiotic and hormone free). It seems to be helping with curbing hunger, in fact I find myself not even hungry for my between lunch and dinner snack. Maybe I don’t need it? Nutrition is something I’ve always tried to keep clean and healthy. It’s a constant battle and I learn something new everyday. Thanks again.

    Also, thank you so much for your information about sleep. I feel fantastic when I get 9 hours of sleep. I’ve never felt more refreshed and ready for the day. Not to mention my WOD times are drastically improved. Now it’s time to work on my diet again.

    Christy-
    I’m glad the site’s been of help! I’d keep the yolk in the mix if you are getting high quality eggs…just amazing nutrition in there. Keep us posted on how things are going.

  2. Bill
    February 25, 2009 at 12:40 am

    I’m 51 and was raised to fear meat and fat. In my society the “best” diet was vegetarian, the “purer” the better. Macrobiotics was considered a pinnacle, an ideal. I spent my first fifty years looking under every rock I could find for the sources of my health problems and failures to Thrive, except under the rock created in my mind by the low-fat, low protein, high carb regimen. I wanted vegetarianism to work; I pretended it worked; I sacrificed a lot to get it to work. I fooled myself for a LONG time because I swam in a low-fat, high-carb sea of ideas. I have never felt better since I embraced Paleo and Crossfit. It simply works.

  3. JC Veggie
    February 25, 2009 at 12:58 am

    Christy,
    I was a lacto-ovo vegetarian for almost 2 years until this past Christmas. I did veggie both zone and non-zone. My blood chemistry was fantastic (it was well within the healthy range before I went veggie too though) and my performance really didn’t seem to be affected. However, the issue I found I was having was that in order to fulfill the protent content of the zone with lacto-ovo I was ingesting a lot of dairy and soy products. All that tofu and soy burger and simulated chicken breast product, lactose and saturated fat made me really ponder about how healthy the diet really was for me.
    I never really had a problem with the killing of animals for food. Life feeds on life. There is nothing that you eat that at one time wasn’t part of a living being, be it plant or animal, fungi or monera (I try to limit the monera content personally :)). However, I did have a big “beef” with the treatment of animals on farms and the use of hormones and antibiotics. So in order to get around that I have started buying local animal products that were free range and hormone free etc. Natural. (Isn’t it disgusting that in our society we have to have a guarantee written on our food saying that someone HASN’T pumped it full of chemicals. It should really be the other way around) So after two months of Paleo I am looking better than I ever have. My abdominal fat that was lingering around for years that I just couldn’t get rid of is now gone. I feel good and my performance is where it should be and increasing. So for me, there is no going back. Best of luck with your training and nutrition.

  4. SD_Mikey
    February 25, 2009 at 2:20 am

    This is a great post. No name calling. No my diet is better than your diet. Just try each diet and see what works. Brilliant!

  5. Dani
    February 25, 2009 at 2:56 am

    Good points Robb. I’m looking forward to your Nutrition Cert in Chicago during April. Will there be any study material for us to read up on or should I just educate myself on your website?

    You will receive a BOATLOAD of reading material. Check that out, my FAQ, Loren Cordain’s site and you are rolling!

  6. Mike S
    February 25, 2009 at 4:27 am

    It’s paleo for me, “casually” informed by the zone, with a bias toward fat (pretty much unrestricted fat). I feel like crap and simply cannot perform well if I stray into eating a couple hundred calories of grains or sugary sweets.

    It was important for me to weigh and measure for a couple of months, which I think got my body reset to normal levels all around. Now it seems I have a lot of built-in forgiveness if I stray (reasonably) here and there.

  7. Riayn
    February 25, 2009 at 4:32 am

    You have made some very sound arguments about CrossFitters who are vegan and vegetarians who get all their protein from soy, but what about vegetarians who get their protein sources from eggs, dairy products and legumes like chickpeas and who rarely consume soy?
    There are vegetarians out there who consume a vegetarian diet not for ethical reasons but because they do not like the taste of meat for whom a paleo diet would be inappropriate.

    I’d just do the best you could to emulate a paleo diet as best you can. If someone has an autoimmune condition I’d be adamant about adopting a paleo diet…but I just like to see people succeed ;)

  8. Ben W
    February 25, 2009 at 6:45 am

    It’s Paleo for me, everthing about it makes sense. My performance really took off when I cut out grains, legumes and sugar. But it wasn’t until I read Lights Out: Sleep, Sugar and Survival that I really got it. That book just blew me away! If your going to eat like a caveman, you might aswell sleep like one too!

    Cheers Robb for spreading some life changing knowledge! Keep working hard on the book brother!

  9. Christy
    February 25, 2009 at 7:13 am

    Thanks JC Veggie. The biggest reason why I decided to give up all animal products is that I really felt like I had no idea what had been put into it or where it came from. It made me feel uneasy. I’m starting to think that finding more local meats that aren’t part of the “mass food supply” (ie: grass fed etc) would be a more appropriate option for me. I have only really looked into the zone, but now I’m really interested in the Paleo diet. I just don’t know enough about it. Another homework assignment!

    right on Girl! Just tinker, see how you feel and perform. This is a nice intro paper on paleo.

  10. Zandhi
    February 25, 2009 at 5:54 pm

    i want to become a vegetarian

  11. Florence Fabiano
    February 25, 2009 at 5:57 pm

    ya me too zhandi

  12. Matt Beaudreau
    February 25, 2009 at 11:03 pm

    I’ve made myself a guinea pig for many diets, and Paleo has honestly kicked the shit out of everything else I’ve done in terms of health, performance, energy, and any other category you can think of.

  13. Stephan
    February 26, 2009 at 12:14 am

    Just wanted to add that unfermented soy (tofu, soymilk etc) is a potent inhibitor of mineral absorption due to the exceptionally high phytic acid content, while an equivalent amount of meat carries a big load of easily absorbed minerals.

    Vegetarians who want to absorb minerals should stick with tempeh, miso and other fermented soy foods. Soy is actually rich in minerals, if you can absorb them. Brown rice is also full of phytic acid and so its mineral availability is basically nil, unless you grind and ferment it. The same is true to a lesser extent for other whole grains. I’m writing about this on my blog right now if anyone’s interested. So if your diet is based around soy and whole grains, which is often the case for vegetarians and vegans, you are severely compromising your mineral absorption, relative to a paleo diet or even one centered around refined grains.

    Then there are the phytoestrogens in soy, which activate estrogen-dependent transcription throughout the body in men, women and children, and pass into the breast milk. Fermentation doesn’t break those down, unfortunately. It’s a good way to get in touch with your feminine side.

  14. Chris
    February 26, 2009 at 6:08 am

    I have dabbled with numerous diets. At first when I was running and lifting for three hours a day I would do it with a vegetarian diet on as little as ten grams of fat per day, grams of protein equal to my bodyweight, and the rest carbs. No red meats, eggs, dairy, and very little white meat in my diet. This lasted for about four years and my running progress was almost nonexistent in the last year. When I found CrossFit I eliminated processed grains and sugar and added eggs and a little more meat, but it didn’t help much. Finally, after 6 months of CrossFit, I read Good Calories, Bad Calories, started reading this blog, and studied the paleo and zone methods. Once I went to a strict paleo with zone portions 3X Fat my performance went through the roof. My running friends wondered why I was destroying them day after day and I won a couple of zone/crossfit converts.

    Chris-GCBC is simply amazing. Not where I’d start a newbie. I’d direct them to Protein Power: Lifeplan (or my book once it’s finished…chapter 2 due to editor this monday). It was so thoroughly done it’s really amazing.
    P.S. Rob, what is your impression of Good Calories, Bad Calories.

  15. gaucoin13
    February 26, 2009 at 4:00 pm

    My doc had me go off protein for 4 days to re-start my digestion/metabolism and by the 4th day my workout was brutal. I went anemic about halfway though and I didn’t like it at all. Meat rules!

    4 days without…BACON!!!?! The horrors!

  16. Chris
    February 26, 2009 at 4:56 pm

    GCBC was not just one of my favorite diet/science books ever, it was one of my favorite books ever. However, it lacked a definite how to eat section. Taubes is clear about the effects of sugar and processed grains, yet is less condemning of whole grains and legumes, does not touch on acid/base balance, omega-3 to o-6 ballance, sleep, IF, post workout nutrition, nutrition for athletes, ext. He only spends a small part of the afterward giving general dietary guidelines. Paleo is a diet book but there are major faults such as the use of artificial sweeteners and stupid BS such as frying things in flax oil. I am looking forward to your book because I think it could be the book that brings all the concepts of zone, paleo, IF, and GCBC together into an understandable guide. Please cover nutrition for athletes and endurance athletes as well.

    Will do Chris. At present, this thing may be over 800 pages…yeesh!

  17. piper
    February 27, 2009 at 6:14 am

    Chris- I’m with you on GCBC…it was not only one of the best nutrition books ever written, but I keep telling people it’s one of the best (and most important) books I’ve read in the last 10 years. I’ve gone a full 180 on my eating over the last year from lacto-ovo vegetarian to full omnivore…and I am so very happy (and stronger, faster, and leaner).

  18. RobW
    February 27, 2009 at 10:37 am

    I was a vegetarian for about 7 years before CrossFit and for about a year after I started. After getting exposed to some real nutritional data via this site and many others I’ve again starting eating lean meats and fish. My performance has absolutely sky rocketed; especially in the strength department. I realized that most of the protein sources I was eating were processed foods that had very little bioavailibilty. Thank you Robb for providing real insight and most importantly, real data, to the table.

  19. Alison
    February 27, 2009 at 8:05 pm

    I am a vegan who CrossFits. I am wondering what changes can be made to accomodate and eat as close to the paleo diet as possibly while still remaining vegan? Or must I be faced with the fact that I will suffer in performance while remaining vegan. Any suggestions? Thank you!
    just try to match protein levels, eat paleo carbs, really consider adding fish oil.

  20. Drew Price
    October 19, 2009 at 2:23 pm

    Good post Robb,

    I though you might like the point of view of a (UK) Registered Nutritionist who has tried it….

    Having just finished a moth of being vegan (well, ‘flexi’) for the ‘thrill of it’ (I like to know what these things are like from the inside) I can say that…

    1) Even with expert knowledge it was very difficult, the amount of planning and prep that went in increased markedly, and stayed at that elevated level,
    2) reliance on supplemental proteins (hemp & pea etc) was heavy, also
    3) the addition of less optimal forms of protein (I’m talking from the point of view of health not BV/IAA etc) like soy and seitan were necessary.

    Even with the above changes and including as many choices as practical variety decreased.

    Interestingly also found it harder to eat as much veg as I would have liked, which I did not expect, fibre intake increased (a little, and also changed in nature) but veg intake decreased. I put this down to slower meal times and a less palatable menu. Of course add to that PUFA choices weren’t optimal either.

    I can see a reason why we ‘should’ greatly decrease the meat in our diet for environmental, not health reasons but vegan…. I’m not going there again.

    At the moment I include vegan meal post training (after any peri training nutrition) and often in the AM as well. This cuts my meat intake (for the reason listed above) and allows me great £££ to spend on higher quality meats/fish.

    • robbwolf
      October 19, 2009 at 9:17 pm

      Drew-
      Good stuff. I think a can of sardines PWO could be a cheap, good way to go.

  21. David
    February 7, 2010 at 8:47 pm

    i enjoy a few small pieces of raw beef. Goes a LONG way. pure energy. Good, local, pasture raised, grass-fed, of course.

  22. Clynton Taylor
    July 14, 2010 at 3:33 pm

    Good advice to give various diets a try. I’ve neverrr had meat in my life so Paleo sounds incredibly, well, disgusting. For me. I think I’m going to try the Scott Jurek vegan diet. Try and avoid gluten, milk products, and refined sugars that promot inflammation.

    • Robb Wolf
      July 14, 2010 at 8:31 pm

      Well, good luck Clynton. Any approach that avoids gluten, sugar and dairy is better than one that includes those items.

  23. Tracey
    August 30, 2012 at 11:21 am

    I’ve been vegetarian for 28 years and vegan since January 1st 2012. I’ve also been an athlete my entire life and recently started Crossfit. But let me be clear – I am a clean eating VEGAN. You can be vegan and eat total crap such as cornchips, fries etc or you can be vegan and eat clean organic produce, legumes, nuts and whole grains. I have never been overweight as a result and have never had a problem competing or even cutting up when I was competing in fitness. I do not believe for a second that only two crossfitters have ever succeeded…. Lets talk Olympians such as Carl Lewis – He won 10 Olympic medals, 9 of which were gold. Bode Millar has been a vegetarian since birth. He has won five medals in the Winter Olympics for different ski disciplines. Murray Rose – He had set 15 world records and won six Olympic medals, including four golds, which made him a sports legend and hero in Australia.Dave Scott – Six-time winner of the Ironman triathlon – Stan Price – World weightlifting record holder, bench press – Bill Pearl
    Four-time Mr. Universe.

    Other vegans include.

    Keith Holmes – World-champion middleweight boxer

    Desmond Howard
    Professional football star, Heisman trophy winner

    Peter Hussing
    European super heavy-weight boxing champion

    Just sayin….

    • Robb Wolf
      August 30, 2012 at 11:25 am

      Tracey-
      Great stuff. Now, try paleo for 30-60 days, track blood work before and after, see how you look, feel and perform.

    • Bee
      November 5, 2012 at 11:15 am

      Tracey, can u post your typical daily bf, lunch, dinners, snacks? Im vegan too and would love to see how you conduct your diet. What are your macronutrient %s and cals? Posting this might help the people following Paleo how eating vegan CAN be done healthfully, especially for an athlete.

      Thanks!!!

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