“So where do you get your protein?” is consistently the first question I get asked when I mention I don’t eat meat. Truth is, ever since making the switch to a plant-based diet I feel stronger than ever.
It all happened in March 2021 at a training camp in Tenerife. We were working with a high-level yoga practitioner from India, Anand. A big part of yoga swimming is being aware of how energy is moving through your body. One morning, as I was eating my smoked salmon toast, Anand looked at me from across the table and said “if you want to deepen your practice you must change the way you eat.” That’s all it took. I instinctively understood what he meant. Right then and there I quit meat, cold turkey.
Think of it like this, the name of the game is energy. How to increase it, sustain it, conserve it, and eliminate any loss points. So where does this source of energy come from? The sun. The light source that gives life to plants. Animals eat these plants. In some instances, animals eat these animals. Then finally they are processed packed and appear on grocery store shelves. Why not cut out the middle man, the animal? Your body takes energy to break down the meat to get to the source of energy. By eliminating this energetic loss point we cut straight to the source. I don’t claim these statements to be hard science, but they made sense in my brain.
Consider this statement- “you get out of it what you put into it.” Our bodies are the most amazing chemical factories on the market. We are the byproduct of the inputs we feed our systems. We quite literally become the food we eat, the sounds we take in, and the environment we see. If our goal is to operate in a highly energetic state we must nourish our system with high energy inputs. This perspective radically changed my relationship with how I treat my body. If I want quality, I have to give it quality.
Taking this idea of source connection a step further I began to consider my food systems coursework at UCLA. Studies have been done showing there is a significant amount of nutrient loss in produce that is shipped over 500 miles. The produce is picked before it has fully ripened to avoid spoiling before reaching grocery store shelves. Leaving it less flavorful and void of its full nutritional potential. Imagine the difference in taste between a store-bought tomato and a garden fresh tomato. Case in point.
Connection to source became my mission. Not just from a performance standpoint but for the sake of overall well-being. At first, it took some deliberate planning. But like anything else, it soon became a habit. On the one hand, I wanted to be sure each meal had a source of complete protein. On the other, how could I source the plants I was eating to be as fresh as possible?
As athletes, we are constantly told to make sure we are getting enough protein. Come to find, most of this protein goes to waste if we are not getting adequate amounts of fiber to move it through our system. The great thing about legumes – it’s a two-for-one! Legumes fair on the higher side of protein when it comes to plants and provides the fiber necessary to capture all their energetic value. There is such a wide variety to choose from and they are found across cultures worldwide. Meaning there are tons of ways to mix it up. It doesn’t have to be tofu and plain lentils all the time. I found that following my advice of “eat a rainbow every day” was pretty on point for ensuring I was getting adequate levels of daily nutrients.
I feel fortunate to live in places where fresh produce is easily procured year-round. Even still, much of the produce at local stores is imported from around the world. I did some homework and made it a point to incorporate foods that were in season where I live. The change was instant. I could feel an energetic shift in my body. I felt lighter, more balanced and better connected. Not just physically but emotionally as well.
I was putting on muscle and my Whoop consistently measured higher rates of recovery. The adaptations from rigorous training were occurring at a faster rate, meaning I could go through long stretches of high intensity without breaking down. Honestly, the hardest part of switching to plant-based has been international competitions. Especially in European countries where carbs and meat are staples of every meal. But where there’s a will, there’s a way. So far I have managed to find some form of legume, tofu, eggs, or hummus to spice up the hotel salad bar and ensure all the bases are covered.
I’m not here to convince you to eat one way or another but to encourage mindful, intentional eating. Understand how the food you eat is nourishing your body. Whatever you feel fuels the system the best, go for it!
About the Author
Linnea Mack is an Olympic athlete and All-American from UCLA. She is an exceptional athlete with a passion for health and nutrition. Linnea continues to work towards her goals and care for her wellness through mindfulness and intentional nutrition.