Boob SweatTrue Story: I'm a No Meat AthleteSusan Lacke

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?

Absolutely.

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
  • Pasta
  • Whole-wheat bread, pitas and bagels
  • Other grains and seeds: bulgur wheat, buckwheat, farro, millet, quinoa, flaxseed, hempseed, chia seeds
  • Hummus
  • 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:

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?

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  1. It’s great that all of you feel better being vegetarians, but for me it works the other way around, I am full low carbs, high protein, high fat and I have never felt better in my life. We need to learn more about what works for our bodies, we are all so different.

  2. This post = story of my life!
    I feel so much better being a vegetarian and people should just let it go. I think it’s all about being well informed and well rounded when it comes to being vegetarian/vegan. And also, planing stuff out works best!
    Yay for real food!

  3. She’s not a vegetarian because she loves animals. She’s a vegetarian because she hates plants.

  4. I’ve been a no meat athlete for over 13 years now and have never been stronger. I’ve done marathons, Ironman, ultras, body building, and just finished my first 100 mile trail race. I’m stronger and healthier than most people I know younger and older. :-)

  5. My favorite things people have said to me recently are “But don’t you just LOVE chicken? WHY don’t you eat chicken? Why don’t you at least eat fish?!” If I LOVED chicken I would eat it, duh, people! There are so many of options as a vegetarian, though, that no, I am “never bored of salad” (another favorite).

  6. I’ve been a vegetarian my entire life. First question I get: Where do you get your protein? Second question: What do you eat on Thanksgiving? To answer #1, all the things listed in this blog post above, plus I hard boil eggs and eat at least a few hard boiled egg whites every day. I also love Morning Star veggie patties- loaded with protein. I’ve found cow’s milk has more protein and less sugar than almond or rice milk- so I stick with organic cow’s milk. And to answer #2- don’t worry, still plenty of ways to over-indulge without turkey.

  7. The average american eats twice the protein they actually need! Why don’t people realize that protein doesn’t only come from meat and that you don’t need a billion grams of it at every meal?

  8. I’m also a NMA. I’m sick less often, i recover faster and since my body is getting the nutrition it needs, I have more energy and more strength than I did before. Besides a marathon, I’ve even dive a tough mudder.

  9. I find it hilarious that the first question I’m always asked when someone finds out I’m vegan is ‘but how do you get protein?’ followed closely by ‘oh but you must have really low iron levels?’. what so many people don’t realize is that some veges, beans etc contain more protein per gram than certain meats, and iron wise i just always say i became a vegetarian at 13, vegan at 21 and have NEVER had an issue with my iron levels (tested every 6-12 months) whereas my 5 siblings and 2 parents all have different levels of anemia and are ‘forced’ to take supplements.

  10. I too have lost a lot of weight- 120 pounds! And going veg was the best thing to ever happen to me. Cholesterol is down, weight is way down, energy is WAY up! Hidden bonus- when hubby also went veg the ‘excitement’ factor increased… ;-)

  11. This makes me so friggin’ happy.

  12. You’re getting protein from oil? I just did a check using the online nutrition tracker at SparkPeople.com and I don’t see protein in the nutrition facts.

  13. I’m also a No Meat Athlete! I’m vegan, have been doing it for five years, and love it. I do it mostly for ethical reasons, but find that it goes along with my active lifestyle. I’ve been running on and off for a few years and although I still have a long way to go, I’m at 1:31 for my half-marathon, 18:42 for my 5k, and I try to be a living example that vegans can be healthy, fit, and active.

  14. I’m a vegetarian and I’m so tired of people calling me weak. They’re all like: What do you eat then? OMG you can’t do that, you’re not gonna get all the protein you need.

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