One of our New Year’s resolutions at City Road is to start promoting the health of the planet as well as the health of our members and community. I believe a comprehensive definition of health should include the health of the planet. Caring about our own wellness while disregarding the environment in which we live is a bit like being one of those bodybuilders who has enormous arms but tiny legs. It is a blinkered, incomplete and inconsistent position and when observed from the outside, it looks ridiculous. What is our own personal health worth if the planet is being irreversibly damaged?
As fitness fanatics, what can we do to minimise our impact on the environment while still pursuing ambitious performance, health and fat-loss goals? How can we be green and lean at the same time? In today’s post I’m going to outline some simple strategies you can employ to be a green-warrior that will not leave you weak, thin and under-recovered.
The environmental impact of fitness
The typical CrossFitter’s paleo-style diet is effective for performance and fat-loss but it comes with a high environmental cost. Like it or not (and ethics aside for now), meat is highly destructive to the environment. Conservative estimates calculate that 20% of all human-caused greenhouse gases are produced by livestock farming (see reference). Other studies have found that the number is over 50% (see reference). When you consider the possibility that our burgers may be creating a larger carbon footprint than all the fossil fuels burned for other industries and transportation combined, that gives you pause for thought. On the other hand, we also know that protein is crucial for recovery and muscle-mass. So what to do, short of going fully vegan?
1. REDUCE OR ELIMINATE RED MEAT
The good news is that you can significantly reduce your carbon footprint by eliminating certain protein sources while keeping others. Beef, lamb and pork are much more costly in terms of carbon emissions and water use than chicken and fish (see graphics below). Eliminating beef, lamb and pork from your diet can make an enormous difference. 1kg of beef is associated with 15kg* of CO2 emissions. 1kg of chicken causes just 3.37* of CO2 emissions (source). That’s nearly an 80% reduction with one simple change. Eggs are better still with less than half the carbon cost of chicken! Now, look, I like steak as much as the rest of you. And I’m not saying you necessarily have to stop eating these things altogether. But I think it’s reasonable to assume our grand-parents’ philosophy: red meat is for special occasions. It should not be a weekly or even a monthly thing. Equally, don’t believe someone who tells you you should live off rice and potatoes if you want to save the planet. These things are not much cheaper than chicken in terms of carbon cost.
(*Sources differ on the exact quantities but the ratios are agreed on. Another source quotes the cost of 1kg of beef at 27kg of CO2 and 1kg of chicken at 6.9kg)
2. USE VEGAN PROTEIN. DITCH THE WHEY
It’s time to ditch the whey. Since whey is a dairy source of protein, it is highly carbon intensive. It is also generally bad news for your stomach and gut health. In times gone by zealots would argue that vegan proteins tasted terrible and had poor amino acid profiles. That is just not the case any more. Form Nutrition, for example, offers a delicious product with a full amino profile built from rice, hemp and algae protein. We will be stocking Form at City Road soon, so watch out for that.
3. THINK CAREFULLY ABOUT YOUR PROTEIN REQUIREMENTS & EAT MORE VEG!
I think we’ve evolved a little bit in terms of our understanding of how much protein we need to perform and recover. I know that I used to think I needed vast quantities of meat and milk in order to support muscle-mass and recovery. As I have reduced my protein intake more and more and focused more on nourishing myself with micros rather than macros, I have noticed no drop-off in performance. Of course you do need protein, but if you focus on making sure your body is well supported with vitamins, minerals and other micros and prioritise sleep, stretching and recovery protocols, you can get away with less and in the process reduce your impact on the planet.
So how much do you need then? I think the absolute maximum you need is 2g per kg of bodyweight unless you are training exceptionally strenuously. So long as you are getting 1-1.5g/kg along with a nutrient dense diet, I think you’ll be fine.
4. BE MINDFUL OF PLASTIC
I haven’t touched on plastic yet but it’s a huge issue, as I’m sure you know. The oceans will contain more plastic than fish by 2050 according to some estimates. We are destroying our oceans and killing its inhabitants. Food is a major contributor to plastic waste. The best way to combat this is (a) to use a food supplier with a sound environmental strategy like Abel & Cole and (b) to make sure you recycle everything you can.
As CrossFitters, we all love coffee and water but it behooves us to be mindful of how we consume these things. Think about getting a reusable coffee cup like this one from Ecoffee Cup and a reusable water container like this one from Stay Sixty.
5. GO MEAT-FREE ON MONDAY!
I know some of you will want to do more and some of you probably already restrict red meat. If you want to go a little further, why not think about going meat-free on Monday? Don’t be alarmed! You can still make your protein requirement with eggs and vegan protein. But going meat free one day per week can have a huge impact on your personal carbon footprint. You can learn more here. Though please note that I don’t necessarily agree with the idea that meat is bad for your health! That being said, having a day where you focus much more on vegetables and fruit and less on meat would be a good thing for most people in terms of health and performance as well as for the environment.
If you want to learn a bit more about climate change and particularly the relationship between climate change and livestock agriculture, get stuck into these docus below. As you know, documentaries always have to sensationalise in order to get watched and I’m not on board with everything these films say, but they are all incredible resources nonetheless.
Before the Flood (available on iTunes store and Amazon Prime Video)
An Inconvenient Truth (available on iTunes store)
Inconvenient Sequel (available on iTunes store)
Cowspiracy (available on Netflix)
PURSUING A BETTER YOU AND A BETTER PLANET
These are pretty straightforward lifestyle changes to implement. They will not negatively impact your training or physical health. But they will go a long way to moving you towards personal carbon- and plastic- neutrality. We want to be strong and fit. But we also want to live in world that reflects our personal health. Pursuing a better you and a better planet. That’s the mission.
If you have any questions or comments, as ever, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org