In a recent study published in the Appetite journal, researchers discussed the viewpoints of male athletes regarding plant-based and mixed diets.
In 2018, the documentary ‘The Game Changers’ was released, showcasing prominent athletes who argue that a plant-based diet can enhance their performance and provide a competitive edge without animal protein. The documentary is set against the backdrop of changing societal discussions surrounding meat consumption. Global meat production and intake have raised concerns about their adverse effects on the environment as well as people’s health in recent decades. Yet, the perspective of non-featured athletes on food in this field remains largely unknown.
Study: Game changers for meat and masculinity? Male athletes’ perspectives on mixed and plant-based diets. Image Credit: The Image Party / Shutterstock
About the study
In the present study, researchers explored athletes’ perspectives on mixed and plant-based diets.
The authors utilized a qualitative methodology known as the big Q approach, as described by Braun and Clarke. The present methodology was also influenced by Braun and Clarke’s approach toward reflexive thematic analysis. The analysis method was based on theoretical assumptions that have methodological implications. Semi-structured interviews were utilized as a means of data collection.
A total of 13 professional and semi-professional athletes were interviewed. Among these, seven athletes participated in national competitions, while six competed internationally. Three retired athletes remain involved in their sports through coaching or as recreational athletes. The study included participants of various European nationalities and residences, with a majority being Dutch or Finnish.
The authors conducted interviews in a semi-structured manner between March and April 2021. The interviews aimed to gather information about participants’ current diet and food habits, reasons and beliefs behind their food choices, their knowledge, and sources of information about their diets, factors that alter their beliefs and views, the history of their diet, their views concerning others, and the role of their food habits in their sport. The interviewees were requested to provide comprehensive explanations of their daily dietary and lifestyle habits. Questions were asked in an open manner, without any steering.
The interviews highlighted the significance of specific foods and nutrients. Athletes discussed their food choices in terms of nutrition and practicality, indicating that they view nutritional information as clear and appropriate for their needs. The interviewees extensively discussed the nutritional benefits of plant- and animal-based diets, as well as their impact on physical performance, recovery, and overall health, particularly in relation to mixed and plant-based diets. Athletes’ discussions on nutritional information were biased towards specific subjects, indicating a common dialogue on healthy eating. Notably, athletes prioritize protein over other micronutrients, such as fiber.
Meat is considered by many mixed eaters as a crucial source of nutrients for athletic performance. The association between protein and animal products is widely accepted, as meat is commonly viewed as a primary source of protein in typical diets. Mixed eaters prioritize animal-based foods as essential for their athletic performance. The plant-based eaters (PBEs) challenged the idea that meat is necessary for protein intake. They recognized that there are other sources of protein besides animal products but still emphasized the importance of protein in their discourse.
Plant-based diets (PBDs) were perceived as highly restrictive by mixed eaters, who felt that PBD conflicted with their desire for a positive relationship with food. Participants who viewed PBD as restrictive followed a strict eating regimen themselves, with precise measurements and limited food choices.
Some athletes were dedicated to preparing meat dishes but found cooking plant-based meals to be too much work. The study revealed that athletes’ preference for taste was closely linked to the convenience factor in their daily routine. Meat dishes were found to be more convenient and flavorful compared to plant-based meals, requiring less time and effort to prepare. Athletes have reported that they believe the extra time and effort required for plant-based meals can make them less enjoyable.
The study findings showed that male athletes’ perspectives on diet are influenced by various factors beyond nutritional discussions and justifications. These factors include practicalities in their daily lives and moral beliefs. The user’s perspective on PBDs varies from curiosity to admiration and, in certain instances, even enthusiastic endorsement. PBDs are viewed positively and with curiosity, while typical meat-eating males are viewed negatively. The findings suggest changes in the relationship between hegemonic masculinity and the association with meat.