The study, published in the journal Appetite, questioned 13 male athletes between the ages of 22 and 37 about their views and perceptions regarding plant-based diets compared with meat diets. Of these, two were vegetarians, two vegans, and the rest were mixed-eaters (eating a combination of plant-based food and meat). The athletes were from Finland and the Netherlands.
The article examines how present carnism is in athletes’ perceptions of vegan and vegetarian diets. Carnism, a term coined by psychologist Melanie Joy in 2010, means perceiving a meat-based diet as three things: natural (humans have naturally evolved to be meat-eaters), normal (simply ‘the way things are’) and necessary (to one’s nutritional health and, in an athlete’s case, physical performance).
A fourth category, that meat is nice (as in, it tastes nice and thus should not be given up), was added later by researcher Jared Piazza.
The Appetite study found that while many athletes consider meat as normal, nice and nutritionally necessary to their athletic performance, none of the athletes questioned considered it natural in regards to man’s relationship with nature, and natural that people should necessarily eat it.
Furthermore, the idea of a plant-based diet as contrary to one’s masculinity was not found in the majority of respondents. Instead, the study found that eating a plant-based diet could be considered a new kind of masculinity, respected even among those athletes who weren’t on one.
Protein as the key to performance
Traditionally, meat is seen as vital to an athlete, as it is one of the primary sources of protein which is usually viewed as necessary to good athletic performance.
Indeed, when they were asked, the respondents put protein ahead of other nutrients such as fibre as necessary to good performance, and for many of the mixed-eater athletes, meat was synonymous with it. Meat, they believed, was key to getting enough protein to succeed in their career.
Athletes often see meat as a key to accessing protein, which they view as vital for good performance. Image source: We Are/Getty Images
However, those on a plant-based diet questioned this narrative. Conversely,…