Athletes redefine protein and masculinity


In a recent study published in appetite In the journal, researchers discuss male athletes’ perspectives regarding vegan and mixed diets.

In 2018, the documentary The Game Changers was released, featuring notable athletes who argue that a plant-based diet can enhance their performance and provide a competitive advantage without animal protein. The documentary is set against the backdrop of changing societal discussions regarding meat consumption. Global meat production and consumption has raised concerns about its harmful effects on the environment as well as people’s health in recent decades. However, the perspective of non-dietary athletes in this area remains largely unknown.

Study: Are they game-changers for meat and masculinity?  Perspectives of male athletes on mixed and vegetarian diets.  Image credit: The Image Party/Shutterstock

Stady: Are they game-changers for meat and masculinity? Perspectives of male athletes on mixed and vegetarian diets. Image credit: The Image Party/Shutterstock

about studying

In this study, researchers explored athletes’ perspectives on mixed and vegetarian diets.

The authors used a qualitative methodology known as the Big Q method, as described by Brown and Clark. The current methodology has also been influenced by Brown and Clark’s approach to objective-reflexive analysis. The analysis method was based on theoretical assumptions that have methodological implications. Semi-structured interviews were used as a data collection method.

A total of 13 professional and semi-professional athletes were interviewed. Of these, seven athletes have participated in national competitions, while six have competed internationally. Three retired athletes remain involved in their sports as training or recreational athletes. The study included participants of different European nationalities and residences, the majority of whom were Dutch or Finnish.

The authors conducted the interviews in a semi-structured manner between March and April 2021. The interviews aimed to collect information about the participants’ current diet and eating habits, the reasons and beliefs behind their food choices, their knowledge and sources of information about their diets, the factors that change their beliefs and opinions, their diet history, and their opinions towards others, and the role of their eating habits in their sport. Interviewees were asked to give comprehensive explanations of their daily eating habits and lifestyle. The questions were asked in a frank and undirected manner.


The interviews highlighted the importance of certain foods and nutrients. Athletes discuss their food choices in terms of nutrition and practicality, indicating that they see the nutritional information as clear and appropriate to their needs. Interviewees extensively discussed the nutritional benefits of plant-based and vegan diets, as well as their impact on physical performance, recovery, and general health, particularly in relation to mixed and vegan diets. The athletes’ discussions about nutritional information were biased towards specific topics, suggesting a common dialogue about healthy eating. Notably, athletes prioritize protein over other micronutrients, such as fiber.

Mixed meat is considered by many eaters to be an important source of nutrients for athletic performance. The association between protein and animal products is widely accepted, as meat is generally seen as a primary source of protein in typical diets. Mixed eating prioritizes animal foods as essential to their athletic performance. Vegetarian eaters (PBEs) have challenged the notion that meat is essential for protein intake. They realize that there are other sources of protein besides animal products but still stress the importance of protein in their discourse.

Vegetarian diets (PBDs) were seen as too restrictive by promiscuous eaters, who felt that PBD interfered with their desire for a positive relationship with food. Participants who viewed PBD as restrictive followed a strict diet themselves, with careful measurements and limited food choices.

Some athletes have been dedicated to preparing meat dishes but have found that cooking vegetarian meals is too much work. The study revealed that the athletes’ preference for taste was closely related to the convenience factor in their daily routine. Meat dishes have been found to be more filling and flavorful compared to vegetarian meals, and require less time and effort to prepare. Athletes report that they believe the extra time and effort required for vegan meals can make them less enjoyable.


The results of the study showed that male athletes’ views on diet are influenced by various factors beyond nutritional debates and justifications. These factors include the practical aspects of their daily lives and their moral beliefs. User perspective on PBDs varies from curiosity to admiration, and in some cases, even enthusiastic endorsement. PBDs are viewed positively and curiously, while males who eat meat are viewed negatively. The results indicate changes in the relationship between dominant masculinity and attachment to meat.


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