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Should Filipino athletes switch to a plant-based diet?

This is a follow-up post on my commentary about the REAL game-changer in the Netflix documentary “The Game Changer”.- A message to Active Individuals (PART 2)

In case you may have missed the first part, you can read the first part here

So should Filipino athletes switch to a plant-based diet? A BIG and RESOUNDING YES! It may come as a surprise, but my reason is NOT based on the ideology being pushed by the Netflix documentary “The Game Changer” which is to be a VEGAN.

In the beginning of this documentary, James Wilk said that he goes by the philosophy of Bruce Lee: research your own experience (READ and UNDERSTAND*); absorb what is useful and reject what is useless (ANALYZE*); add what is specifically your own (CONTEXTUALIZE*)

If after watching the movie you felt the desire to read more about plant based diet (or browse through the IG accounts of known plant-based eating athletes) then I take it as a good sign. Because (1) the awareness for the need to change is heightened and (2) there is an acknowledgement of the benefits of eating more fruits and vegetables.

But this process of READING and UNDERSTANDING cannot be counted as a form of research, as what was being projected in the documentary; that JAMES WILK spent 1000 hours reading scientific journals. It was nothing but an overstatement so that the campaign will look trustworthy.

Scientific research is a method wherein scientists (i.e. researchers) follow a well-thought, step-by-step process of testing a theory or concept or notion, called a hypothesis; including analyzing and writing research results. I may have spent numerous hours reading, understanding, and analysing scientific papers in the last 15y of my professional practice but I can NEVER CALL that a research practice. It is just a process of continuing education and/or self-learning.

I am not against this vegan "ideology” neither with any other forms of diets for I will only RECOMMEND to athletes what is applicable to them given the following factors:

  1. type of sport

  2. weight and body composition goals

  3. performance goals

  4. supplementation practices

  5. food preferences

  6. lifestyle habits

  7. living condition

  8. financial capacity

  9. cooking skills

  10. nutrition IQ

  11. medical condition, if any.

In-depth understanding of these factors will determine whether or not an athlete can or should follow an absolute plant-based diet versus a customized nutrition program with whole food consumption as the foundation. All of these things must be carefully analyzed, both by the “adviser” and the athlete, before jumping into the bandwagon of any “new” diet. Sadly in most cases, it is only factor #2 that is usually considered that’s why they always end up trying and testing whatever is the “in” thing, never finding the ONE THING that will suit them best for good.

Eating at a "Carinderia" or a local eatery with the Philippine Squash Team. As a nutrition coach, it is my responsibility to understand where the athletes I'm handling are coming from. It is is my role to see the menu for myself and give them advise on what they should select based on their food preference and their budget.

Given my experience in handling different levels (i.e. beginner to elite) of Filipino athletes across all socio-economic conditions, I can attest that only a handful of them are eating whole foods (i.e. fresh fruits and veggies, nuts, beans, potatoes, sweet potatoes, quinoa, etc.). And it is not primarily because they don’t like them. It is because of the other factors mentioned above that by and in itself are limiting to our athletes. Their lifestyle habits, living condition, financial capacity, cooking skills and even their level of nutrition knowledge prevents them from getting the right overall nutrition that is appropriate for their sport, weight and body composition and performance goals.

Nutrition wise, the Filipino athlete is never hindered by their intake of animal proteins but rather by the lack of deeper understanding, both by the adviser and by the athlete, of where they are truly coming from that affects their compliance to any nutrition program. We simply do not take the time to analyze and all the more contextualize. WE DO NOT TAKE THE TIME TO GET TO KNOW THEM. The implementation of a template program is not and will never be effective over the long-term.

It is without a doubt that a 100% plant-based diet improves overall health and athletic performance but so is consuming a whole foods based diet with appropriate amounts of protein. Changing habits take TIME, MONEY, AND EFFORT.

Given the big budget allocated for the the professional teams of the Philippine Basketball Association, food selection is not as big of an issue compared to members of the national team. Hence menu and food preparation every practice and game is meticulously prepared by the team's caterer. It is my role to supervise the method of preparation and to monitor compliance of the caterer. In this picture, the team is having a balance meal of rice, grilled chicken, and salad greens.

To all athletes who want to eat healthier and perform better, focus on adding fruits and vegetables (even local ones like pechay, kangkong, replyo, sitaw, kalabasa, etc) for lunch and dinner. Substitute highly processed breads and noodles with oats, kamote, saba, and brown rice (white is ok if budget is limited). Replace processed and canned meats with plant proteins like munggo, beans, and nuts OR animal proteins like fish, chicken, or meat that has less fat (lean) and are healthily prepared like nilaga, sinigang, paksiw, inihaw, etc. The key is finding the right nutrition plan/program that will suit you best. It may be 100%, 80%, or 50% plant-based, whatever is manageable and sustainable for you.

Never let fear drive you but rather let wisdom be your guide in everything that you do.

Have you seen the Netflix documentary "The Game Changers"? If yes, please let me know your thoughts on the comments section and how it is applicable to you as an athlete.

*my simplifications

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