Dylan Wykes shunned meat for a vegetarian lifestyle because of ethical concerns. So like other vegetarians, every day he finds substitutes for protein, bolsters meals with supplements and yoyos on whether it was a good choice to ditch meat.
A pretty typical story of a vegetarian, except that Wykes is the fastest marathoner Canada has fielded in decades and will be toeing the line at the London Olympics, where he’ll race against some of the world’s fastest runners.
A high performance athlete, Wykes can dust off a 10K run in 30 minutes and run at a sole-wearing pace of 3:05 a kilometre for 42.2 kilometres. Food is fuel and while Olympians tune their bodies to perfection -- to go higher, stronger, faster -- the food choices they make are as crucial to their gear or training regimes.
“I’ve gone back and forth on whether it’s good to be vegetarian (and an athlete) and at times I’ve stopped,” Wykes told HuffPost Canada as he was prepping for his Aug. 12 race, one of the final events of the 2012 Games.
For non-meat eaters, the deficiency is often seen in protein and in certain minerals like iron that are seen in meat. Wykes takes in many high-protein foods that vegetarians commonly eat, like quinoa and lentils as part of every meal, meaning he’s not just consuming cheap carbohydrates.
Wykes, a native of Kingston, Ont., is one of a deep field of three athletes who are representing Canada at the Olympics. His time of 2:10:47 puts him at the world elite level, but the Canadian says his dream is to place top 10 in a field of runners who have previously clocked in from 2:04 to 2:06.
“If you do it right it can be done as an athlete,” Wykes said. “It helps you really pay attention to what you’re taking in each day.”
So here are some of Wykes’ favourite foods with high performance in mind -- and scroll down for a list of other vegetarian athletes:
Almond butter and banana
Canadian Marathoner Dylan Wykes often eats a breakfast of toast with almond butter and a banana. The meal gets him protein, carbs while bananas carry a good amount of potassium, carbs and vitamin C.
Quinoa (pronounced "Keen-Wah") is an ancient grain that is gaining popularity. It's a complete protein making it a great protein replacement for runners. It's typically cooked with water or a broth (two cups of liquid per cup of quinoa) and goes well with chopped vegetables and over flavorings. It has a similar consistency to couscous and is also free of gluten.
Wykes says that he often eats lentils as part of his diet. Lentils are a great source of low-fat protein and contains fiber and iron. Iron is often needed by endurance athletes, helping your red blood cell growth, and a great source for iron for vegetarians.
Eggs for vegetarians who can eat animal products, contain a good source of protein and is versatile so it can be used in all meals.
Wykes often uses fake meat as a boost of protein to his rice and pasta. There are many soy products that are common in grocery store. Another source of protein, soy products also come in similar form that meat eaters are used to, such as ground soy. That makes soy a low-fat alternative to meat products and can sub in a lot of recipes that call for ground beef.
Tofu is soy in the traditional form used in Asian cuisine. It comes in various textures (soft to firm). It's relatively neutral taste means that it can be paired with many cuisines.
Pasta or rice
Wykes' pre-race diet doesn't stray much from any other long distance runner, where the reliance is on carbohydrates and less emphasis on protein. His pre-narathon meal will be rice or pasta, maybe with some vegetables.
Supplements and shakes
Wykes takes in some extra nutrition -- and likely hydration -- by taking supplements and shakes. Many runners post-workout shakes to get in extra protein and any minerals and electrolytes lost through sweat. Recently, chocolate milk has become a popular cheap after-run drink for the sugar/carbs and some protein.
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