YLC BLOG: PALATES FOR THE PLANET - APPLYING SUSTAINABLEYOUTH LEADERSHIP COUNCIL | USTA SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA
EATING TO THE ATHLETIC DIET
EATING TO THE ATHLETIC DIET
FEBRUARY 12, 2024 | AVERY YANG
YLC BLOG: PALATES FOR THE PLANET - APPLYING SUSTAINABLE EATING TO THE ATHLETIC DIETUSTA SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA
FEBRUARY 12, 2024
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As tennis players, it is imperative that our diets include enough nutrition and protein to cater to our active lifestyles. We often find ourselves consuming large amounts of meat as well as dietary supplements such as Gatorade and protein powders. While beneficial for our bodies, the production of these food items is detrimental to the health of the planet. Recent studies revealing the concerning impact of food on the environment have set the international diet on a course to more sustainable eating. Fortunately, there are a plethora of ways athletes can incorporate sustainable eating habits into their lives while continuing to enjoy nutritious and delicious food.
When many people hear the phrase “sustainable eating,” they immediately imagine a life of veganism or vegetarianism, however this is often not the case. While it is true that switching to a vegan or vegetarian diet can greatly reduce an individual’s carbon footprint, sustainable eating does not have to be so drastic, especially in the case of a tennis player. Instead, we can opt for a more moderate route and strive to reduce –rather than eliminate– the most negatively impactful foods.
The average US citizen consumes about 347.36 grams of meat each day despite only needing 70 grams of protein to stay healthy. Livestock production accounts for over 18% of international greenhouse gas emissions. By reducing the amount of meat we eat while maintaining an adequate amount of protein, our diets become more sustainable for our bodies and our environment.
One way we can do this is by balancing our palates more evenly between whole grains, healthy fats, and proteins. According to UW Health, these three food groups make up the macronutrient content of a meal which determines energy return and is therefore most important to athletic eating habits. Rather than dominating our meals with meat as the centerpiece, we can distribute the calories between these three food groups.
Whole grains are especially important to an athletic diet since they are complex-carbohydrates which provide longer-lasting energy for a match. They are also significantly less resource intensive than typical grains like those found in white bread. Common whole grains such as brown rice, barley, whole grain bread, and quinoa, can be incorporated as a base to any meal.
Contrary to what many people believe, fats are an essential part of a healthy diet. Oftentimes, athletes make the mistake of embarking on a low-fat diet by overwhelming their meals with protein instead. Not only is this harmful to the planet, but it also prevents the body from intaking important fatty acids and “good” cholesterol, called HDL, which lowers risk of heart disease. Healthy or unsaturated fats are found in foods such as vegetable oil, nuts, seeds, fish, and avocados.
Another way for an athlete to reduce their environmental impact is to substitute the type of protein they consume. Surprisingly, not all meats are created equal. Due to their extremely resource-intensive nature, the production processes of beef, pork, and lamb are by far the most damaging types of farming in the livestock industry. The farming of these animals –often called red meats– takes up valuable land, pollutes rivers and releases greenhouse gasses. Fortunately, we can replace the consumption of red meats with the significantly less damaging consumption of white meats. This includes rabbit, chicken, and turkey meat. Almost all recipes that require red meat can be easily replaced by white meat. The production of white meat is much more sustainable in regards to environmental impact. It also reduces lethargy while providing good amounts of HDL (healthy cholesterol) which are both huge benefits in tennis. By simply making the switch away from red meat, we can discourage previous harmful practices and improve our own health and ability to compete.
There are also many meat alternatives that are beneficial for both our bodies and the planet. Players who can integrate plant-based proteins into their everyday meals can help offset environmental detriment. Plant-based protein can come in two forms. For one, there are plants that naturally have high amounts of protein such as lentils, quinoa, beans, nuts, chickpeas, and soy. Plant-based protein staples such as falafel and tofu are derived from some of these food items. Plant protein can also come in the form of a faux-meat. This type consists of various meat substitutes made from plant mixtures that are designed to taste and appear like genuine meat. Impossible Meats or Beyond Meats are examples of companies who have revolutionized this type of meat substitute. Athletes who incorporate plant based protein into their diets can maintain the same nutrient intake of a fully meat-based diet while offsetting environmental effects.
There are also sustainable alternatives to dietary supplements such as protein powder and energy drinks. Protein powders and gels are usually highly-processed and have large carbon footprints. Luckily, many sustainable sports brands are making plant-based dietary supplements more accessible. For protein powders, brands that base their products off of whey and plants are typically lower impact compared to animal based powders. Momentous, Klean, and Gainful are just a couple examples of these up and coming brands. Energy gels can be substituted with dried fruits, honey, or applesauce packets. They are simply concentrated amounts of sugar and carbohydrates that can easily be replaced by natural alternatives. Energy drinks like gatorade are useful to restore electrolytes to tired players. However, many fruit juices have natural electrolytes including coconuts, bananas, watermelon, and oranges. Bringing a bottle of juice instead of an energy drink will serve the same purpose while saving money and discouraging the harmful practices of large, commercial brands like Gatorade.
Our abilities to sustain both ourselves and our planet are equally important. As luck will have it, these two goals work hand in hand if we can take the time to make our decisions with care. As we have seen through the various ways tennis players can incorporate sustainable eating into their lives, what’s best for our own health is often what’s best for the health of our environment. Athletes who learn to apply the sustainable eating techniques aforementioned can not only maintain their current nutrient intake, but improve it. The path of eco-friendly eating habits is simply reducing the intake of foods that have damaging production processes. We can continue to enjoy the food we know and love, however in mindful and beneficial amounts. Whether we expose ourselves to culinary innovations or revert to natural substitutes, transitioning to sustainable eating is a necessary and beneficial step forward.