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Pescetarianism and Veganism

Hadyn Luke posted this on Tuesday 19th of November 2013 Hadyn Luke 19/11/2013

Tags: Nutrition weight management

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This blog looks at the cousins of vegetarians: pescetarians and vegans. Many personal trainers will find themselves working with clients who follow specific diets – from those who have been cutting down their meat consumption to those who won’t eat any animal or diary products whatsoever.

What are pescetarians?

Put simply, a pescetarian eats fish but not meat. They are similar to vegetarians in that they avoid any kind of meat in their diet, including chicken and other poultry; however, unlike vegetarians they do eat fish and seafood.

What are vegans?

A vegan will not eat meat or poultry and, unlike pescetarians, they won’t eat fish and seafood. The distinction between a vegetarian and a vegan is that vegans also won’t eat or use animal by-products. So they don’t eat eggs or dairy products, such as milk, yoghurt and cheese and they won’t buy items derived from animals such as leather shoes, suede clothes, or certain beauty and make-up products.

Personal trainers working with pescetarians and vegans

When any fitness professional starts working with a client it’s important that they assess their general health and fitness levels, ask about any injuries or conditions and discuss the client’s diet.

If a client is following a meat-free diet, a personal trainer should be well-informed enough to advise on any issues that might relate to training and diet. This could range from suggesting alternative protein sources to recommending slow-release carbohydrate for endurance training.

Whatever their diet, all clients should ensure that they have the correctly balanced intake of carbohydrate, protein and fat, as well as the essential vitamins and minerals (see our blog on Do you know your macronutrients?). Personal trainers should also be aware that different metabolic types may perform differently on the same diet.

Pescetarians, vegans and sport

Some people claim that sports people need meat in their diet for optimum performance. This is less an issue for pescetarians, as fish, eggs and milk are all high sources of protein. However, there are also many high-level competitors who are successful on a vegan diet, gaining protein from foods such as lentils, nuts, soy milk, leafy vegetables and beans. A personal trainer should work closely with their clients to develop training programmes that take diet into account, in order to obtain the best results.

The benefits of a pescetarian diet

A fitness professional should be aware that while some people choose not to eat meat because of animal welfare issues, a pescetarian diet is often chosen because it cuts out the high amount of saturated fat found in fatty red meat, which can contribute towards the causes of heart disease.

In addition, fish and seafood are said to offer the following benefits:

  • High in protein
  • Low in calories
  • Good source of Omega 3
  • Rich in vitamins A and D
  • Rich in minerals, including iodine and selenium

Fish oils are also high in EPA (Eicosapentaenoic Acid) and DHA (Docosahexaenoic Acid), which improve circulation, and eating certain types of fish is considered beneficial for the heart, lung and brain function, the eyes, skin and joints. 

The disadvantages of a pescetarian diet

Mercury is present in seafood in varying quantities, in particular in mackerel, swordfish and shark. Although this is generally not at dangerous levels, if a personal trainer is working with pregnant women (see our blog on Pre- and Post-Natal Exercise – the dos and don’ts), they should suggest that they limit their consumption of high-mercury fish as it can cause harm to their baby’s developing nervous system. 

As they are cutting out meat as a source of protein, pescetarians should ensure they consume sufficient protein from fish and other sources in their diet – especially if they limit the types of fish they eat and/or are allergic to seafood. 

As some seafood is eaten raw – for example, oysters or sushi dishes – there can be a risk of food poisoning from bacteria, especially if the seafood hasn’t been kept at the right temperature. 

The benefits of a vegan diet

As with a pescetarian diet, vegans may find that cutting out fatty meat can be beneficial to health. Because vegans don’t rely on meat, fish, eggs and dairy in the diet, they often eat more vegetables, lentils, pulses and other food stuffs that are packed with vitamins and minerals. A vegan diet is cholesterol free, low in saturated fat and high in antioxidants.

The disadvantages of a vegan diet

Those with specific medical conditions may find it hard to follow a vegan diet and should always consult their doctor or a professional dietician. Vegan diets can be low in vitamins D and B12 and in calcium. A radical diet can be difficult to adjust to, both in deciding what to eat and on a social level, for example when dining out.

In conclusion, while both the pescetarian and vegan diets should be no barrier to training, it’s useful for fitness professionals to have an awareness of any specific diets their clients follow and to recommend they consult a doctor should the fitness trainer see any evidence of health issues.

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