The doors of the Malley Fitness and Recreation Center at Santa Clara University always seem to be in constant motion, with a steady stream of students filing in and out of the building throughout the day. These students range from those looking for something fun and active to do in their spare time to those looking to build muscle and seriously improve their athletic performance. With regards to the student athletes and gym rats looking for massive gains, we all understand that exercising and training is only half the battle; the other half is nutrition and diet.
We surveyed several of these SCU students who are serious about their athleticism and asked them several questions about their diet regarding how it reflects their goals in the gym. While every person was unique, there was one commonality: most SCU students who are concerned with building muscle often go to The Bronco to order chicken breasts after their daily workout in order to maintain a high protein intake. Several students said they follow this routine as advice from a coach or close friend. The athletes we interviewed tended to have the mentality that “more is better” when it comes to protein after a workout, and they believe that chicken breasts from Benson are the best choice because of its high protein content, low amount of fat, and accessibility due to location and price. Some examples of responses from the interviewed students regarding why they choose chicken breast include: because it “sounds like the healthier option,” it’s “easier and cheaper to eat, and red meat just has a lot of other stuff you don’t need after a workout.” In addition, the location of Benson on campus makes chicken breasts especially desirable because a student does not need to put out much effort to get there, and when they do get there, they can simply buy them with $3.79 worth of meal points instead of spending money out of pocket.
However, what many SCU students fail to realize is that there are healthier, alternative non-meat protein options that are as easily accessible on campus as chicken breasts. Alternative non-meat protein sources should be considered by SCU athletes because they preserve the consumer’s health, they sustain the environment, they provide more protein per dollar, and they avoid supporting factory farm cruelty. These sources include soy and whey protein powders, pea products, rice products, and other plant-based sources. In the bigger picture, non-meat protein sources are more beneficial than meat to every party involved because of the various factors mentioned; the problem is that many students are not aware of this information and/or the fact that these protein alternatives are available to them in downstair Benson’s Cellar Market. If SCU student athletes could learn about these alternative non-meat protein sources and incorporate them into their training routines, they could improve their health, save their wallets, and be more considerate to both animals killed for meat and the environment all at the same time.
One important aspect of the food choices we make as college students is cost. Santa Clara University athletes, like other college students, usually try to budget correctly to make do with what little spare cash they have, and they rely on their dining points to sustain them throughout the year. Regarding food prices in any grocery store like Safeway, it’s easy to notice that meat costs significantly more than vegetables and legumes on a pound-for-pound basis. A pound of Safeway’s chicken costs $2.99 and a pound of potatoes from the same place is just $0.59. However, one might ask: what do plant-based foods have to do with protein intake? Do they really compare to meat?
Based on the answers during the interviews we conducted, most Santa Clara University students would probably disagree, as nearly everyone claimed that chicken was the healthiest and most cost-efficient source of protein and that they had rarely thought of plant-based alternatives. A notable financial incentive students have for choosing Benson chicken is price: a grilled chicken breast from Tailgaters costs $3.79 in meal points. Its protein content is also considered fairly high. According to the USDA, 85 grams of chicken contains 28.83 grams of protein which makes chicken 28% efficient in terms of protein source per mass (Basic Report: 05000). Also, a grilled chicken breast from Tailgaters weighs around 80 grams on average. Therefore following the USDA’s data, we can calculate that one Tailgaters’ chicken breast would contain around 22 grams of protein which turns out to be around 6 grams of protein per dollar spent.
While this does seem like a cost-effective choice, alternative protein sources prove to be even better– The students we interviewed would be shocked. Plant-based foods such as beans and quinoa are a natural source of protein that contain 22% and 14% by mass respectively. (Watanabe). Buying and consuming a pound of these legumes would provide an athlete with 99 and 63 grams of protein respectively. Hence, it is possible to buy 13 grams of protein per dollar in beans and 8 grams of protein per dollar in quinoa. Both of these values are greater than that of chicken, which contains 6 grams of protein per dollar amount, therefore making vegetables a more financially sustainable source of protein. Another big advantage of eating healthy plant-based foods is that beans and quinoa can be mixed with other high protein foods like peas, corn, or spinach to create a very diverse and nutritionally balanced diet for an athlete.
These alternative protein sources are also surprisingly just as accessible as Tailgaters grilled chicken breasts. Students can buy fresh plant-based sources like beans and quinoa at Benson’s salad bar by the pound, and Santa Clara University’s mini grocery store, the Cellar, has many other alternative non-meat protein sources available for meal points. These sources include various protein bars, nuts, and protein powders. The Cellar’s protein bars actually contain up to 8 grams of protein per dollar or dining points making them 33 percent more cost-efficient than chicken breasts.
In addition to various protein bars, Quest whey protein powder is also offered at the Cellar. Whey protein is made from cheese byproduct, which is less harmful to the environment and is much more sustainable– it’s made of ingredients that would have otherwise been wasted. A jar of Quest protein powder contains 900 grams of product which is equivalent to 29 servings that each contain 23 grams of protein. Based on our calculations, a $48 jar of Quest protein powder has 667 grams of protein and results in a whopping 14 grams of protein per dollar. Therefore, it contains 233% more protein than chicken breasts per dollar-worth of meal points.
Students aren’t the only ones who pay the price for meat; the environment and our water supply do too. Sustainability is a subject that is greatly emphasized at Santa Clara University. As stated on the school’s sustainability web page, “Santa Clara University understands sustainability as finding the balance and illustrating the connections among a vibrant economy, a just society, and a healthy environment that meets all fundamental needs currently and in the future, especially those of the global poor.” (“Sustainability for SCU”). The school strives to educate their students about sustainability by implementing sweat powered machines in Malley, but does not inform students that eating meat may not be the best option to keep our environment healthy.
Eating meat negatively affects the sustainability of the world around us. Eighty percent of antibiotics produced in the United States are given to farm animals, which leads to harmful effects on our environment. These farm animals produce about seven million pounds of waste per minute (Cowspiracy). Any antibiotics that have not been digested typically end up in the two trillion tons of waste that are produced from these farm animals. The antibiotics in the waste eventually result in damaging effects, managing to enter plants, animals, and human bodies by contaminating surface water and groundwater (“Antibiotics in your meat”). Imagine the harmful antibiotics that enhance the chickens found in the seven million pounds of waste excreted per minute going into the water that we drink. Would you sacrifice your clean water just to have chicken in your diet?
Apart from contamination, the current drought has become a major issue in California. People are advised to conserve water in ways such as taking shorter showers and making use of greywater. However, environmentalists are forgetting the big issue that growing feed for livestock uses about 55% of the water in the United States (Cowspiracy). Only five percent of the water that is consumed in the United States is used in private homes. However, fifty-five percent of the water is used for the meat industry (Cowspiracy). We are only approaching the surface of the problem by conserving the water we use at home. The athletes who we interviewed probably have no idea that their coveted chicken breasts contribute so much to California’s drought. They are unaware of the environmental impact that comes from a simple food choice.
Most students would agree that they wouldn’t want to watch a chicken get beheaded for the sake of their chicken McNuggets, yet they have no problem with it when the deed is done behind closed doors. Going to Benson, an SCU student, hungry from just working out, is likely to see a multitude of different ways chicken is offered to the college community. One can get a whole grilled chicken breast from Tailgaters or get grilled chicken added to salads at Fresco or in pasta and rice bowls from Sauté. No matter where they go, they are likely to find some sort of chicken option to fulfill their protein desires and replenish their lowered fuel levels. However, what most Santa Clara students will not see is the immense animal cruelty that underlies these protein packed meals.
Each year billions of chickens are tortured and slaughtered in factory farms for consumption. Globally, about 51.2 billion chickens that go on to become meat only live up to about 42 days, compared to their normal lifespan of about 10-15 years. (“17 Chicken Facts”). There are no federal laws that prohibit animal cruelty on farms and many states agricultural businesses are exempt from animal cruelty statutes, no matter how abusive their practices are (Factory Farming). Chickens are boiled alive, have their beaks cut off, and have their throats slit all while they are still alive. In the narrative of Cody Carlson, an animal activist who went undercover in a factory farm, Carlson discusses the sadistic practices he sees performed in the factory farms in which he saw animals “suffering a fate worse than death….to satisfy our habit for cheap meat, eggs and dairy.”
In an effort to get the greatest amount of product out, chickens are packed, one on top of the other, into small wire cages and minimally fed. Because of this, chickens develop an “ammonia burn” and other respiratory problems from great amounts of ammonia, found in feces, and lack of fresh air (“17 Chicken Facts”). Likewise, these chickens endure health problems such as brittle bones and distorted bodies from being pumped with hormones that cause their bodies to grow at exceedingly unnatural rates. According to Free from Harm, many as “12.5 billion chickens suffer leg problems, including lameness, due to their breeding for rapid growth.”
Not only do chickens suffer bodily harm, but they undergo great mental duress as well. Due to overcrowding in cages, chickens “passive[ly] adapt to a deadening environment” in which they become “brainless and unresponsive” (Davis). Chickens are stuffed into cages the size of paper sheets, and go crazy, helplessly scratching one another, or throwing themselves against the cages, out of frustration, and in an effort to escape. Because these birds are minimally and only occasionally fed, they start to peck at food where none exists and ravenously go after food when it is provided, unsure of how much time will pass before they are fed again (Davis). Factory farms also disrupt the hens social structures, leading to increased aggression and decreased social interactions within the animals (“Farm Animal Welfare”).
Alternative protein sources, such as pea protein and beans, promote using safer and more ethical practices. Tempeh is made from cooked soybeans that are drained and fermented until the beans bind together. Tofu, another non-meat protein alternative made from soybeans converted into soy milk and then solidified into the final product of tofu is a great option for SCU students, due to its availability at The Bistro, Sauté, and Fresco. In addition to consuming protein products that do not support animal cruelty, by avoiding meat proteins, students are less likely to contract foodborne diseases, common among factory farm chickens.
Ironically, chicken is considered by many SCU athletes as a healthy protein option since it’s lean in comparison to red meats. As studies are conducted on chickens and their factory farm environments however, data is exposing an increasingly threatening set of health risks when consuming the white meat. In fact, consuming chicken has shown to cause a decreased quality of health due to anthropogenic causes. The addition of antibiotics and additives, as well as crowded living conditions, results in chicken posing threats for human consumption. Nonetheless, those who workout can ingest the same amount of nutritional protein without consuming chicken. Alternative sources of protein are available which do not pose the same health threats that chicken does. Ultimately, non meat-based protein sources are healthier for people who workout at Santa Clara University than the daily intake of chicken breast.
Of all the farm animals in the United States, about 80% of them are given antibiotics. Typically administered orally through feed, antibiotics are given to animals with the intention of preventing disease. The dosage is meant to target one or several bacterial diseases and kill the strain when coming in contact with the host. Due to the crowded nature of factory farms, antibiotics are almost seen as a necessity in order for the chickens to live and become edible products. Naturally, it would seem intuitive to keep administering antibiotics to chickens if it protected their health. However, just as antibiotics are meant to protect one’s health, they can also create serious problems (“Antibiotics in your meat”). When continually fed antibiotics, chickens internally grow bacteria which start gaining resistance to the drugs. Hence, not only is the chicken subject to hosting a “super strain”, but the consumer is also at risk for hosting a bacterium that is immune to available drugs. The Campylobacter bacteria exemplifies the danger antibiotics have to chicken and consumer health. In 1996, the FDA allowed for an antibiotic to be used on poultry which would treat the Campylobacter bacteria. In 2001, the human resistance level of Campylobacter grew to 19%, meaning that 19% of humans who were infected with Campylobacter still had the disease after antibiotic treatment (“Antibiotics in your meat”). In essence, antibiotics could result in a super strain of viruses or bacteria which advance the development of drug treatment.
In addition to antibiotics, natural and artificial compounds present in chicken present health risks for consumers. For example, nitrates are commonly added to chicken for color preservation, flavor improvement, and bacterial prevention. Common in the form of sodium nitrate, nitrates can form cancer in the stomach and bowel areas (Arnarson). Another dangerous factor is heterocyclic amines (HCAs), which are naturally occurring compounds which form when meat is cooked at high temperatures. Hence meat, such as chicken, cooked well-done is at risk for containing the dangerous compound. When given to animals in large amounts, HCAs have been found to cause cancer.
Unfortunately, not everyone is aware of the antibiotics nor the compounds which could lead to serious disease. In fact, not one athlete interviewed outside of Malley was aware of the potential dangers associated with chicken. As previously mentioned, they actually saw chicken as the “healthy” protein to eat. Perhaps the most troubling sign was the confidence such athletes had in chicken being the optimal source of protein to nurture their bodies. Thankfully, one can gain awareness and avoid the health risks associated with chicken. By replacing the white meat with alternatives such as vegetables, beans, and soy, athletes will not only make gains in muscle, but also gains in preserving their overall health.
Ultimately, alternative protein sources get SCU athletes the biggest bang for their buck. For college students, money, taste, and convenience are at the top of the list of things to consider when finding food, specifically protein. But as an athlete, they need to consider the effect that specific protein sources will have on their body. However, some athletes don’t know that proteins alternatives, other than powders, even exist! Many of the athletes interviewed automatically think of tofu and close the door to exploring other alternative sources of protein. Do athletes only react this way because of lack of information?
Santa Clara University is a school dedicated to creating students of competence, conscience, and compassion so it only seems natural to assume that these qualities apply to every aspect of their lives. If so, then Malley Center and Benson’s Bon Appetit can surely do something to help athletes familiarize themselves with protein quality, protein sources, and protein availability. For example, brochures or posters listing sources of alternative protein in Bon Appetit’s locations can be placed on the tables, near the places where people wait in line, or even shown on the slideshows played on the TV’s around campus. The gym advertises for many healthy life choices but there is not a single board that has information about where students can get viable protein options after their workout. Flyers explaining why athletes need protein and the different types of protein can be posted around Malley. While an SCU athlete does not need to go undercover, like Cody Carlson, making simple choices, such as swapping out chicken protein for non-meat protein substitutes, can be a beneficial way to preserve their health and the environment and show opposition against cruel factory farm practices.
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