What about protein?
"Someone asked me, 'How could you get as strong as an ox without eating any meat?' and my answer was, 'Have you ever seen an ox eating meat?'”
— PATRIK BABOUMIAN, WORLD-RECORD HOLDING STRONGMAN
The question about protein is the most common when it comes to eliminating meat. We were taught protein = meat, calcium = milk, vitamins = vegetables.
Hard-working muscles run primarily on glycogen, a form of carbohydrate stored in our liver and muscle. Carbohydrates, which come almost exclusively from plants, also provide our brain with its primary and preferred fuel — glucose — which helps us stay sharp and focused during intense training sessions and competitions
Performance-based diets built around meat and other animal products often provide dietary fat at the expense of carbohydrates. Unlike carbohydrates, fat can’t produce energy fast enough to meet the demands of intense exercise, so diets that sacrifice carbohydrates typically impair high-intensity performance. Low-carbohydrate diets, including the ketogenic (keto) diet, have been shown to cause so much fatigue that they even affect our motivation to begin a training session, let alone finish it.
Protein can also be used as a fuel source, but it’s highly inefficient, wasting 20-30% of each calorie as heat.
All told, carbohydrates are the ideal source of energy for optimized performance, whether it’s doing squats, playing football, or running a marathon.
And as we’ll discuss later in Getting and Staying Lean, despite the common misconception that “carbs make you fat”, unrefined carbohydrates — like those found in whole plant foods, including oats, sweet potatoes, and bananas — are consistently associated with decreased body fat, another advantage for most performance goals.
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