Going vegetarian

Yep, I am turning vegetarian. And I am not kidding: I love meat, was even looking for the best burger in Pittsburgh but after a while, I felt a need for a change. This is really not an ethical choice about animals and is rather motivated by sustainability and health concerns. It is obvious that the way the actual industry produces meat cannot be safe for human consumption and the future, we will clearly not be able to produce enough animals to feed everybody without paying a price. Between 1950 and 2000, the world population increased by 200% while the the meat production increased by 500%. At that rate, trying to continue to raise livestock will just kill the planet by the use of intense farming which will be at the expense of earth resources but also ourselves because meat cannot be produced safely and will ultimately impact our health.

Going vegetarian is only part of the answer. You do not only need to remove the meat but think about the food chain and how we feed ourselves. This creates other challenges as well.


The Sustainable Perspective

The impact of the meat production industry is obvious. There are some facts:

  • We kill more than 10 billions of animals a year in the USA only. At this production rate, there is no way to make it tasty (you need to speed up the rate at which the animal grows which make the taste of the meat worst than usual), good (animals are fed with junk food – corn, wheat, all the produces that is not their natural diet) and safe (that is why more than 90% is contaminated with fecal bacteria).
  • This massive industrial production impacts the environment: in France, the pig farms has impacted the beach in Brittany. In the Netherlands, architects are trying to optimize building design to collocate more animals in a small tiny space. These so-called pig towers will then keep animals standing in a tower, feed them and collect waste. But do the maths, the equation is very simple: if you want to overproduce meat, you need to overproduce animals food which will ultimately lead to over production of waste. And this will impact water quality, soil and the global environment. By going vegetarian, you reduce the number of animals used and the potential impact on the environment.
  • This might be a joke for you but cow farts are the third source of methane in the US. And cow farts produce more gas than transportation. By going vegetarian, you then support a more sustainable agriculture and lifestyle. This is pretty serious: as the population increases and developing country adopt a western diet, this will increase over time

The Health Impact


Does going vegetarian really make sense?

Concerns about pesticide and GMO

By going vegetarian, you increase your consumption of fruits and vegetables. As pointed out before, meat consumption is not really healthy (contamination with fecal bacteria, lot of fats, salt when preparing that increase likelihood of heat diseases, etc.). On the other hand, many agriculture practices uses pesticides, which can have an important impact on your health as well. In addition, there is clear evidences that pesticides pollute the soil and the water system. So, if you want to stop meat to get healthier, you also need to be careful about where you get your vegetables and avoid pesticide-contaminated products.

Concerns of GMO have been raised over the last years. Some folks believed there are safe for consumption while other think this might be a big issue. Unlike the pesticide, there is no clear evidence of GMO risks. There was one study done on rats but it as been removed since. On the other hand, it does not mean that GMO are safe to consume: we have to remember the case of asbestos, which has been used for decades (about 100 years) before being declared as unsafe (and there was evidence since decades that is was responsible for many lung cancers). “Better to be safe than sorry”: just avoid GMO as much as possible – let’s wait a few years (probably one or two decades) and see what will happen on the long term.

Buying organic and local

In order to avoid pesticide and GMO food, there is no snake oil or silver-bullet. No matter what, you are going to eat some of it even if you do not want. GMO cultures spread over farms so that GMO products contaminates non-GMO produces. So, even if you buy non-GMO, there is a chance you still get some.

However, the label of organic food are regulated through the federal laws (you can see the USDA website for more details). Buying stuff with the USDA label ensures that at least 95% of the product avoids the typical crap (such as pesticide and other potential hazardous substances). As for GMO, organic products cannot be made using GMO seeds or ingredients. So, by buying products labeled USDA organic, you make a combo by avoiding what is sure to be unsafe (such as pesticide) but also avoid potential unknown issues from GMO. Be very careful about labels – there are a lot of different labels and be careful of what they mean. For example, “all natural” means nothing and is not restrictive and having a “non-gmo” claim does not mean your product is pesticide free. A general rule is to identify a few labels that match your expectations and stick to them.

On the other hand, in addition to buy USDA-organic labeled food, it is also important to buy locally sourced food products. Why buying organic products to reduce your impact on the environment if you package comes from overseas? For that reason, this is better to buy your products from a store that sells local products. In the Pittsburgh area, the food co-op provides food products that are locally sources, located 250 miles around the city as much as possible.


Why not going vegan?

Since a couple of years, many folks are going vegan, which is different from vegetarian: the vegetarian cannot eat meat but can still eat animal produces, such as cheese or eggs whereas vegans cannot eat them. On the other hand, the vegan diet is just extreme: by buying organic vegetables and animal produces (such as eggs, cheese), you ensure not only a good quality but also, animal products does not require to kill the animal early and is more efficient.

There is no way to go vegan and no evidence of health benefits. Eggs, milk, cheese is something I love (after all, I am French for a reason!). Why refrain yourself from enjoying what you like if it does not harm others? I do not think going vegan is an answer to the problems listed: you can embrace the vegan diet, buy vegetables from overseas (that use air transportation) which would be potentially contaminated with pesticides. What the point in that case: such a diet will impact the environment and your health. On the other hand, a vegetarian diet, associated with good choices that limit environmental impacts seems to be a reasonable choice.

Vegetarian? Forever?

I am seriously going vegetarian and reduce significantly my consumption of meat. However, there are some situations where this is difficult not to eat meat: lunch meeting, dinner at work, social events, etc. In that case, eating meat from time to time seems hard to avoid. Because, food is a also a social component in our society, this is difficult and sometimes not the best choice to put ourselves aside for dietary reasons. Of course, this is necessary not to eat something if you have an allergy, but this is another story. The objective is to reduce the environmental footprint and health issues from my diet, not to embrace a specific dogma. For that reason, the main guideline is just to stop buying meat products and just reduce as much as meat consumption when going outside.



Going vegetarian

CTOTW #4: Keep It Simple and (very) Stupid

This is the fourth post of COTW (Coach Tip of the Week). If you want to access previous tips, you can get the full list here.


Carb-loading is bullsh!t and is rather a way to stuff your stomach with a ton of bad food what will makes you hit the bathroom stop before crossing the finish line. Fueling your body is not a matter of a meal before race-day but rather adopting good and sound nutrition guidelines. Running a lot of miles does not allow you to eat whatever you want and is rather a good reason to stick to good nutrition strategy that will help you to replenish your batteries and build stronger muscles.

Several folks already discuss this topic (such as Galloway with his book on running nutrition or Karnazes that talks about his nutrition strategy) and the rules are pretty simple. Just need to stick the the KISS (Keep It Simple and Stupid) rules:

  • Seek for efficiency: avoid empty calories and bad fat. Want carbs? do not take candies (sugar without anything else) but whole wheat bread (low Glycemic Index, fibers, vitamins, etc.). want protein? stick to non-fat greek yogurt (yes to the additional pro-biotic) or fish and avoid the fatty beef patties! A better switch guide is available in the “Eat Smart” section of “Eat Move and Love”)
  • Moderation and balance are keys: avoid extremes, do not follow strict rules or guidelines. Do not follow any extreme diet (paleo, vegan, vegetarian). Rather than decrease your weight, it will decrease the size of your wallet and over consume your time and sanity. Also, indulge from time to time, having a beer, a glass of wine <whatever-is-not-part-of-your-daily-diet> should be an exception, not regular. But it is totally fine to make exception from time to time.
  • Plan ahead and stick with whatever works for you: stop wondering what you are going to take for dinner. For your daily routine, try to know what you like, what you can process and makes you feel good. You can also plan ahead and cook ahead of time so that everything is already prepared and you know what is your food intake (in terms of calories, nutrients, etc.)


Eating the same dinner every day can be ... well ... boring
Eating the same dinner every day can be … well … boring

In fact, most of people think that having a daily routine seems boring, but at the end, this might be efficient for you: you will not have to think about what you will eat, once you composed healthy meal, you can then focus on something else (family time, work, planning your training, etc.).

Also, many people usually ask when they should eat. The old following proverb still apply:

“Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper!”

By taking most of your food intake during the first part of the day, you will ensure you get enough nutrient to fuel your body. In addition, avoiding heavy meals at the end of the day ensures that you do not overload your body with too much food that might then creates discomfort when sleeping. If you are looking for meal examples and other recipes, some are available on the recipes section of “Eat Move and Love”.

CTOTW #4: Keep It Simple and (very) Stupid

CTOTW #3: Forget the carbo load

My grandma used to tell me: “you need to eat in order to run all these miles” Also there is this old saying: “your body needs energy!”. Bullshi!t!

During your training, your body adapts its metabolism and improves its ability to burn fat and turn it into energy. After a certain period (about 45 minutes to 1 hour), your glycogen stores in your muscles are depleted and your body starts to take energy from your fat. That is why you need to (1) not overeat to prevent stomach aches, (2) be prepared to consumes food on your run to get immediate energy and (3) work on getting your body used to transform fat into energy.

For sure, you will need enough fuel to put your ass to the finish line. But overloading your stomach with plenty of sugar (because honestly, most carbs are just sugar) will rather trigger GI issue, bloating and eventually make you sick in the middle of the race. On top of that, carbs (and sugar) are rather factors of diseases and contributors to get diabetes. There comes the question of why you run: if you run to be healthy, getting your body be used to a ton of sugar is just counter-productive.

Your grandma can still argue that you still energy before a long run but in fact, as race day is coming, your training is reduced and, if you do not change your diet so much, your body get (and store) more calories. What matters more is to be sure that your body is well healed and rested. Make sure you get enough sleep during the week before the race.



On the other hand, you need to get enough energy during the run, not before. Your glycogen store (long story short: where your muscles keep the energy before taking it from fat) can last for about an hour. So, make sure you get energy during the run. Energy bar, gels or anything else you want and are able to handle. The idea is to maintain the sugar level within your body rather than playing with it like a roller coaster. Finally, selecting the food you can get during your run is something you have to try while training to avoid any inconvenience on race day. Recently, a trail-runner drops into a course in La Reunion (La Diagonale des Fous) because he did not store his food in a fridge. He got food poisoning, got sick and eventually dropped.

Healthy Salad that follows current diet trends
Healthy Salad that follows current diet trends, best solution for planning a trip to the bathroom at mile 6!

So what should you eat before race day? Same thing as you are used to. Stick to food you can easily process (vegetables, soup, etc.) and do not overeat so that you avoid any GI discomfort and any sleeping issues before race day (an overloaded stomach can trigger discomfort when sleeping). On my side, I eat the same thing as I do every day (mostly peanut butter toast for breakfast, lentils/bean soup for lunch and tomato soup with peanut butter toast for dinner). If I am outside and hang out with some friends, I might take something else (even a burger) but it does not really matter because I stick to healthy rules all week long (which is most important than eating crap all week and just stay healthy before race day). Again, the most important is to stick to healthy choices most of the time and having some exceptions from time to time.

CTOTW #3: Forget the carbo load