I used to have a love affair with bacon. Corn dogs, too. And steak. Oh, my…steak.
I also used to be about 70 pounds heavier.
Though I’m slimmer and much more active today, the weight loss and health didn’t start with running or triathlon. In fact, the snowball started rolling when I became a vegetarian. From there, a healthy lifestyle gained momentum pretty quickly.
Vegetarian? You Filthy Hippie!
When I reveal my status as a veggie lover (and that I also write for a website called No Meat Athlete), people typically assume one of three things about me:
- I’m a member of a bull-horn carrying, red-paint throwing militia.
- I play hacky-sack and have unshaved armpits.
- I’m weak.
I can assure you I’m none of those things. (Okay, sometimes I’m a little lax on the armpit maintenance, but that’s a lazy thing, not a veg thing.) Most vegetarians and vegans are pretty normal, too. In fact, as more people become aware of the value of a plant-based diet through Oprah’s veg week or Michael Pollan’s “Food Rules,” the ranks of the veg-loving (and veg-curious) are growing.
But Can a Vegetarian Lifestyle Sustain You and Your Fitness Goals?
Ultramarathoner Scott Jurek, Ironman champion Hillary Biscay and tennis great Martina Navratilova are just a few of many professional athletes who dispel the opinion that vegetarians and vegans can’t hack it as athletes. Thousands of everyday runners, yogis, and crossfitters, just like you and me, have also discovered that focusing on plant-based foods actually helps them perform at a higher level, maintain an optimal weight, and recover faster from tough workouts.
So Where Do You Get Your Protein?
Without a doubt, you need protein, especially if you are an active person. But don’t be so quick to deduct a vegetarian diet is lacking in protein. Protein is found in all kinds of foods besides meat, just in lower quantities. It takes some effort to make sure you get some protein in every meal, but it’s not as hard as you may think.
If your idea of a vegetarian meal is a grilled cheese sandwich, french fries and a brownie, then you won’t get enough protein. But if you eat a wide variety of foods and make smart choices to include some protein at every meal, chances are you’ll hit your protein needs – and you may just feel better than ever.
So where do you get your protein? From a lot of places, actually:
- All kinds of vegetables, cooked and raw
- Vegetable sprouts
- All kinds of fruits, usually raw
- Beans and other legumes: lentils, chickpeas, black beans, pinto beans, adzuki beans
- Starchy vegetables like potatoes and sweet potatoes
- Brown rice
- Whole-wheat bread, pitas and bagels
- Other grains and seeds: bulgur wheat, buckwheat, farro, millet, quinoa, flaxseed, hempseed, chia seeds
- Nuts, nut milks, nut butters: almonds, cashews, walnuts, almond milk, hazelnut milk, peanut butter, almond butter, sunflower seed butter
- Oils: grapeseed, olive, canola, coconut, flaxseed (unheated), hemp (unheated)
- Protein powder (hemp protein is a minimally-processed type)
- Soy products (limited): tofu, tempeh
Ready to give it a go?
Make a plan that works for you. Whether you want to start by giving up meat for one meal a day or become a full-on vegetarian immediately, make sure you’ve read up on your resources. Just like you wouldn’t run a marathon without training for it, you shouldn’t jump into a major lifestyle change until you’ve prepared.
Check out some of these great articles on going vegetarian:
- How to Become a Vegetarian — Scott H. Young
- Gradual Vegetarianism: The Easy Way to a Slim Waist — Zen Habits
- 7 Steps to Eating Less Meat Now — No Meat Athlete
- Going Vegetarian: Plain, Simple and Sane — Huffington Post
- Get Started - Choosing Raw
If you’ve wondered what all the plant-based buzz is about, give vegetarianism a shot and find out for yourself if it works with your health and fitness goals.
Are you a No Meat Athlete, too? How has it impacted your health and fitness? What tips do you have for those looking to get started in a plant-based lifestyle?