The study, published in the journal Appetite, questioned 13 male athletes aged 22 to 37 about their views and perceptions regarding plant-based versus meat-based diets. Of these, two were vegetarians, two were vegans, and the rest were mixed eaters (they ate a combination of plant-based food and meat). The athletes came from Finland and the Netherlands.
The article examines how carnism is present in athletes’ perceptions of vegan and vegetarian diets. Carnism, a term coined by psychologist Melanie Joy in 2010, means perceiving a meat-based diet as three things: natural (human beings naturally evolved to be meat-eaters), normal (just the way things are), and necessary. (for your own nutritional needs). health and, in the case of an athlete, physical performance).
A fourth category, that meat is good (as in, tastes good and therefore shouldn’t be abandoned), was added later by researcher Jared Piazza.
THE Appetite The study found that while many athletes consider meat to be normal, good, and nutritionally necessary for their athletic performance, none of the athletes surveyed felt natural with regards to man’s relationship with nature, and it is only natural that people should necessarily eat it.
Also, the idea of a plant-based diet being contrary to one’s masculinity was not found in most of the respondents. Instead, the study found that eating a plant-based diet could be considered a new kind of masculinity, respected even among those athletes who weren’t part of it.
Protein as the key to performance
Traditionally, meat has been considered vital for an athlete, as it is one of the primary sources of protein that is usually considered necessary for good athletic performance.
In fact, when asked, respondents ranked protein ahead of other nutrients like fiber as necessary for good performance, and for many of the mixed-eating athletes, meat was synonymous with that. Meat, they believed, was the key to getting enough protein to be successful in their careers.
However, those following a plant-based diet have questioned this narrative. Conversely, many even believed that a plant-based diet enhanced their performance rather than hindered it.
Although many of the athletes thought the meat was tasty, most considered it unhealthy. They considered giving up a greater sacrifice than the already restrictive but meat-based diets they followed, which often involved measuring food per gram and limited feeding times. They considered a plant-based diet almost an act of asceticism.
They also considered that plant-based athletes had more time to prepare their food to taste good despite being vegan. However, plant eaters argued that preparing plant-based foods was not as difficult or time-consuming as mixed eaters had imagined.
However, athletes have rejected more radical animal diets, such as the keto diet. Even the mixed eaters thought this diet would not lead them to better performance.
None of the athletes in this study followed the keto diet. However, some had experienced it in the short term, eventually returning to their usual dietsHilje van der Horst, one of the authors of the studies, told FoodNavigator.
Several respondents stressed the importance of carbohydrates for their sports performance. The emphasis on animal protein in the keto diet may make people more reluctant to give up animal products, but whether that’s a population-based compensating trend in this study is hard to determine.
Some individuals who were more open to experimentation had tried multiple different diets, going from keto experiments to a plant-based diet, for example.
Difficulty adopting a plant-based diet
Switching to plant-based diets wasn’t just a matter of choice among athletes. There were significant hurdles for them, especially among athletes in team sports.
While solo athletes had control over their diets, many athletes in team sports were limited in what they could eat by coaches, doctors or nutritionists. Even those who want to follow a plant-based diet may be forced to eat meat for this reason.
There has been some change in this. “Some plant-eaters in the study noted a recent increase in the availability of plant-based options offered in caterers, but this issue should be investigated separately. Horst told us.
The document could raise awareness of the problem. At least, this document can illuminate the topics related to athletes and plant-based diets. It can potentially trigger a discussion between sports nutritionists and clubs to evaluate their dietary paradigms.
There is also stigma around veganism. Though it was rare, one respondent to the study said that by becoming vegan, he faced pushback from his teammates, who felt the team had been downgraded by his dietary choice.
There is also a shortage of vegetarian and vegan sports products in Finland and the Netherlands. Vegetarian and vegan sports products are still in the minority compared to animal-based sports products in both countriesHorst told us.
There is, of course, a growing perception across Europe of the need to switch from meat to plant-based products. But the sports nutrition market in Finland and the Netherlands has entrenched some products of animal origin.
It is worth noting that some animal-based sports products have a long and well-established history of production and consumption. For example, whey protein derived from milk has a strong foothold in sports nutrition.
Therefore, only time will tell whether consumers will switch to plant-based options as the selection expands or stick with these more familiar products..
The changing face of masculinity
The study also found that while preconceptions about meat are related to masculinity, this notion is no longer as prevalent as it once was. Gender norms, she points out, are dynamic and don’t always remain constant. Eating a plant-based diet, the study suggests, could also be a way to exhibit masculinity.
Rather than seeing masculinity per se as unimportant, athletes’ views reflect a reformulation of the idea of masculinity as included in veganism. Conversely, they spoke negatively of men who gorge themselves on pork, a more traditional idea of masculinity.
In historical cases, veganism has been adopted in a traditionally masculine way, as an example of men standing up for their beliefs. The study also mentions the hegan archetype, a man who adopts veganism for health rather than ethical or environmental reasons.
However, among the athletes surveyed, those who first adopted plant-based diets to enhance their performance said they were increasingly concerned about things like animal welfare and sustainability. The report questioned whether caring for animal welfare was still considered a feminine trait or whether dynamic gender norms had changed that.
The study provides a window into the changing face of ideas about masculinity. Male athletes, often seen as exemplars of masculinity, can be a weather vane for such changing trends.
We know that athletes are seen as role models for nutrition and healthHorst told us. This is predicting the future, but I think they may be the first, which could be emulated by non-athletes.
Taken from: Appetite
‘Game changers for flesh and masculinity? Perspectives of male athletes on mixed and plant-based diets
Published on: 2023
Authors: H. van der Horst, A. Sllyl, Y. Michielsen
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