One thing I have noticed working as a dietitian in a consulting-type environment is that individuals will often be told to see me if they are on any type of restricted diet — especially vegetarian diets. This is definitely a positive thing — any time a food is eliminated or limited, I think the total diet needs to be assessed for completeness. However, I feel that these diets — particularly vegetarian — cause coaches and others to be immediately concerned that the individual is not meeting their nutrient needs. While vegetarian athletes should certainly be cautious and ensure that they are meeting their nutrient needs – so should everybody else. I like to emphasize that meat itself is not a nutrient, but simply a food.
This is true for other foods and diets as well. I don’t necessarily think a gluten-free (or grain-free) diet is best for all individuals, but that certainly does not mean that individuals who need to follow this type of diet or choose to follow this type of diet cannot meet their nutrient needs. Wheat is a food, not a nutrient. Soy is a food, not a nutrient.
I do not advocate a low-carb or Paleo style diet to people I work with — nor do I necessarily advocate another specific type of diet. Everybody is different — that’s why I love working with individuals! An athlete recently came in who was interested in Paleo-style eating — I talked with the athlete about being careful to meet energy and nutrient needs during training, offered some guidelines, and said I would be available for any questions or concerns. A few weeks later, the athlete returned, thrilled with the new diet and the huge variety of foods now being consumed — far greater variety and far greater nutrient density than the previous diet. The athlete was also spending more time and enjoying more meals with friends who had already been following a Paleo-style diet. For this individual, this style of eating helped maximize relatedness with teammates and also improved overall diet quality. Who am I to say the diet is inappropriate?
If a guy comes in to my office and tells me he doesn’t like carrots, or spinach, or oatmeal, I certainly don’t tell him he’ll fall short on his nutrient needs — just choose other foods to help him meet those needs. There is no one food that everyone needs, and people can meet their personal needs with many different eating styles!