Journey to Sustainable Eating as an Athlete—A Food Log

Can you eat sustainably without compromising on your training and athletic ability?

PB&Js and kombucha were my staple foods on a two week road trip through Idaho, Utah, and Wyoming.

Context: I’ll preface by saying that this is entirely an experiment. For the last couple of years I’ve been intrigued by the environmental impact of reduced meat diets. About two years ago I tried—and failed—at eating a vegetarian diet while training and ended up with legs that felt like a ton of bricks every time I tried to ride my bike. There are a lot of possible reasons why that may have resulted—insufficient calories, macro deficiencies (despite my diligent tracking), or how quickly I tried to force my body to adapt (I effectively tried to force overnight adaptation and just power my way through). I didn’t do any tests, and so I will never know the cause of the problem.

But, it’s off season, so I decided to try it again—slower this time. And, I decided I’d just remove, or I should say, dramatically reduce, my meat consumption and swap it out for plant-based proteins, fish, and eggs (last time I didn’t do any eggs/fish).

What is sustainable eating?

Different protein sources have a wide range of carbon footprints, meaning how much they impact the environment greatly varies. See the chart below, which compares different food sources and their respective CO2e/serving:

To learn more about sustainable protein,see this post, “What is Sustainable Protein?” which covers the topic in more detail.

Now, the experiment

Knowing that the environmental impact of protein sources varies dramatically, I wanted to find the sweet spot between eating mindfully and training the way I want to.

I decided to run a simple experiment: reduce the amount of meat I consume while training the same.

To kickoff my experiment, I took to Instagram for advice from anyone who trains/eats a more sustainable diet. To my surprise, all but one thing of the responses I received fell into one of two categories:

  • People who do it currently and love it. Most were vegetarians who ate eggs on occasion.
  • People who really want to try it but don’t know how to make it work (like me!).

Upon realizing that people, specifically athletes, were actually interested in this type of diet, I thought I’d track my little experiment to share what I do and how it goes.

Important when talking about food: We are all different and I honestly do not believe there is any one-size-fits-all diet.

Disclaimer 1: I am not advocating for any particular diet, be it pescatarian, vegetarian, vegan or otherwise. I just like the idea of a more sustainable lifestyle and diet is an accessible change (I think).

Disclaimer 2: This is my experience. What works for me will not work for everyone–that is guaranteed. We are all different and I honestly do not believe there is any one-size-fits-all diet; it kind of annoys me when people say otherwise.

Disclaimer 3: This is an experiment and it is entirely possible that it will flop on its face.

Anyways, here goes. For Day 1, scroll down to the bottom. I will put the latest log at the top.

Day 8—8/5/19

Breakfast: Breakfast tacos (2 eggs, cheese, 3 corn tortillas)

Mid-morning snack: Protein shake w/ 2 scoops Herbalife protein

Week 1 recap:

It’s been a full week of recording this no-meat experiment. I feel absolutely great. To be clear, I don’t feel a major wave of difference; I just feel really, really good.

I’ve been adamant to just eat. I eat when I am hungry—until I am no longer hungry. I don’t worry about calculating calories or protein, I just have been listening to what my body is saying. I think that’s key.

And, riding has not been affected at all. This week, I’ve ridden about 214 miles/13.7K feet of climbing. Despite the 13 or so hours of riding, I don’t feel any extra fatigue, which is both very nice and somewhat surprising given how I felt last time I tried this.

Reflecting on the difference in environmental impact

When I stop to think about the environmental impact of just this week, it does give me some pause. Just avoiding meat one day a week makes a difference and it’s pretty cool to have done that for a week. Onto next week!

Day 7—8/4/19

Breakfast: Breakfast tacos (2 eggs, cheese, 3 corn tortillas, sauteed sweet potato)

Ride food: a Clif bar, 1/2 of a cinnamon bun

Lunch: Cobb salad (without chicken/bacon) with grilled tilapia, fries

Dinner: 1/2 box of Annie’s mac ‘n cheese with 3/4 cup of Greek yogurt with an egg on the side

Did I ride? Yep! About 40 miles.

Day 6—8/3/19

Breakfast: Breakfast tacos (2 eggs, cheese, 3 corn tortillas, grilled onions)

Ride food: A snickerdoodle cookie, lots of granola bars, slice of Costco pizza

After ride: Protein shake with 2 scoops Herbalife protein

Dinner: Delicious sushi! (miso, sushi rolls, veggie dumplings)

Did I ride? Yep! A little more than 90 miles w/ about 5K ft of climbing. Still feeling really good. Haven’t had meat on record in almost a week; probably closer to 2-3 weeks in actuality, and I feel great. I wouldn’t say better, just really good 🙂

Day 5—8/2/19

Breakfast: Breakfast tacos (2 eggs, cheese, 3 corn tortillas)

Mid-morning snack: 1 cup of oatmeal, peanut butter, honey, and cinnamon

Dinner: 1/2 pack of tofu, roasted brussel sprouts with goat cheese, artichoke from the garden.

Evening snack: Greek yogurt with honey

Did I ride? Nope!

Day 4—8/1/19

Happy August!

Breakfast: Breakfast tacos (2 eggs, cheese, 3 corn tortillas, grilled sweet onions)

Mid-morning snack: 2 scoops Herbalife whey protein powder mixed with water

Lunch: 1/2 pack of Madras lentils, 1 cup of red/white quinoa, 1/2 cup of brown rice, 2 eggs, 1 tablespoon of goat cheese.

Afternoon snack: 3/4 cup of Greek yogurt with honey

Dinner: Chips and sales, 2 fish tacos (cod), rice, and black beans

Did I ride today? Nope! Day off to hang out with my guy 🙂

Other notes: Tummy felt a little funny today; my guess is it’s from the amount of tofu I had yesterday (1 pack total). Will have more eggs today to see if that helps.

Day 3—7/31/19

Breakfast: Breakfast tacos (2 eggs, cheese, 3 corn tortillas, grilled sweet onions)

Lunch: 1/2 can of refried beans, 1/2 pack of firm tofu.

Snack: Banana with peanut butter and Greek yogurt on the side.

After ride: protein shake with 2 scoops Herbalife protein

Dinner: 1/2 package of tofu, 1 cup of rice, 2 eggs

Did I ride? Yep! Felt good. Still surprised about that.

Day 2—7/30/19

Breakfast: Breakfast tacos (2 eggs, cheese, 3 corn tortillas)

Lunch: 1/2 packet brown rice, 1/2 packet Madras lentils, banana with peanut butter

Snacks: Mixed nuts and cottage cheese, Whalebird kombucha (been really helping my tummy as I get used to a different diet)

After ride: 2 scoops of Herbalife chocolate protein with a glass of 1/2 milk 1/2 water and some apple pie on the side 😛

Dinner: Cod fillet w/ lemon garlic butter sauce, sautéed zucchini from the garden, sautéed sweet potato, and apple pie 😀

Did I ride? Yep! About 2 hours with some good climbing. Felt great! Have not yet noticed the sluggishness I did two years ago.

Day 1—7/29/19

Ok, it’s not really day 1. I’ve been low key not eating meat for about a week now. But this is my first day of actually logging.

Early days, but so far so good!

Breakfast: Breakfast tacos (2 eggs, 3 corn tortillas)

Lunch: Quinoa, lentils, 1 egg

Between lunch and dinner: Protein shake (2 scoops Herbalife, which is whey)

Dinner: Brown rice (1/2 microwavable pack because we are still cleaning out our roadtrip food), 2 eggs, roasted brussel sprouts picked from my garden with roasted walnuts

Between lunch and dinner: Protein shake (2 scoops Herbalife)

Did I ride? Yes. Felt great on the bike actually. Beat Blake up on a climb but he says “it was just a spin ride.” Okay.

How did I feel: Really good. Didn’t eat enough at dinner, though. I ate the recommend serving size on the back of the rice packet and was hungry before bed so I pounded some peanut butter, much to Blake’s amusement. Lesson learned: ignore portion sizes; eat more.

Other notes: Today I got lots of great advice from non-meat-eating athletes. The food they recommend:

  • Quinoa
  • Eggs
  • Protein shakes (non-vegan)
  • Lots of veggies
  • Eat until you’re full