Venturing Into Vegetarianism As An Athlete
As a FitFluential Ambassador I had the opportunity of being a Guest Blogger on the FitFluential Blog. This is the post that was featured. I hope to write more for the FitFluential blog in the future. In the meantime I invite you to not only read this post but the many other posts other ambassadors have written.
I’ve seen so many people push the idea around, yet they ask, “Can I still be an athlete AND a vegetarian/vegan?” I answer that with a resounding, “YES!!”
There are many levels of vegetarianism, from the basic lacto-ovo vegetarian, who still integrates dairy and eggs in their diet, to the strictest vegan, who not only changes their diet, but also their lifestyle to exclude all animal-derived products. Some are driven by moral/ethical issues, others are focused on their health, and for some it’s all the above. Whatever the reason, it is possible to thrive on the lifestyle.
Let’s delve into some concerns that many athletes have:
What about protein?
This is the question that everyone asks. My question in return is always, “How much protein do you think we need?” Most people look at my dumbfounded since they have absolutely no idea and are surprised to find out that the average protein intake of individuals in the U.S. is only 16%. Of course there are those that believe athletes need higher amounts of protein, and I am not going to dispute their opinions. However, what you should know is that you can achieve just as much, if not more, protein from plant-derived sources. For instance, 30% of the calories from spinach are protein, whereas an egg contains 37% of it’s calories as protein. Not much difference.
What about Vitamin B12?
Vitamin B12 deficiency is not limited to vegetarians and vegans, as it is also common to those eating a Standard American Diet. Although Vitamin B12 is found in animal products such as meat, shellfish, milk, cheese, and eggs, many people have a difficult time absorbing the Vitamin B12.
Will I have to take a ton of supplements?
Chances are you won’t be on any more or less supplements than you already are, especially if you are a fitness, health-minded person. Supplementation MAY be required, but I will get to that in a bit.
The diet seems so limiting. What will I eat?
On the contrary, I have found this diet to open my eyes to so many different food options I would’ve never tried before. Kale, quinoa, dates, figs, tofu….the list goes on! Prior to living a vegan diet, I would’ve never given them a second look.
You’d be amazed at how many dishes can be what I call “veganized”. I have found very few dishes that I cannot substitute an animal-derived ingredient with a vegan friendly ingredient. For instance, using Ener G Egg Replacer or making your own egg with other ingredients you already have around the house.
At this day in age there are so many ready-made vegetarian options that no one should go hungry. With that being said, just like a Standard American Diet, it’s easy to be an unhealthy vegetarian. For instance, French fries are considered vegetarian, but that doesn’t mean that you should eat them on a daily basis or that they should be your sole diet.
And for endurance athletes: What about my fueling options during training and racing?
Believe it or not most options are vegetarian and surprisingly many are vegan too! Of course you have the option of the VegaSport line and Chocolate #9 Energy Gels, which are specifically vegan-made. But you also have products such as Hammer Nutrition Gels, Clif Shot Energy Gels, and Clif Shot Bloks, which are oftentimes more readily available. And don’t forget, easy-to-pack dates are a fantastic energy source as are homemade energy bars.
Still not convinced you can be a vegetarian/vegan athlete? What about these successful elite plant strong athletes?
Triathlete - Hilary Biscay
Triathlete – Brendan Brazier
Cyclist – Molly Cameron
Bodybuilder – Robert Cheeke
Endurance Athlete/Ultrarunner - Rich Roll
MMA Fighter – Jake Shields
Former Track & Field Athlete – Carl Lewis
Snowboarder – Hannah Teter
So, are you ready to become a plant strong athlete??
Here are a few helpful hints:
Realize your beliefs may not be accepted by other
Most people are against the idea because they don’t understand the lifestyle. It doesn’t mean that you can’t succeed!
Surround yourself with a support system that encourages your lifestyle change
With the dawn of social media you can “surround yourself” with like-minded people that are either moving towards the same goal or already living the lifestyle. Take advantage of their positive energy and knowledge!
Read, read, read. Buy several books and soak up the information that they provide. By educating yourself you will feel certain in your decision and when those that doubt your lifestyle raise questions you can confidently answer them.
Invest in a few cookbooks
Cooking for a vegetarian lifestyle can be as complex or as simple as you’d like.
Have routine checkups with blood work
No matter what your lifestyle this is a good idea. Supplementing from the beginning or waiting to supplement after finding where you’re deficient is a hotly debated topic and should be discussed with your doctor. If possible, I would highly recommend blood work to be performed prior to going vegetarian. This will provide you a base line to go off of in the future. I would also recommend blood work be performed a minimum of every 1-2 years as deficiencies may take time to develop. Specific blood values to target: CBC, Iron, B12. Here’s a link to my most recent blood work and what my course of action is regarding the results.
Don’t worry about being perfect
You will have hiccups along the way. Maybe you crave something or maybe the chef at a restaurant puts butter on your vegetables and you don’t realize it. Don’t lose sleep over it! You’re still moving in the direction in which you desire.
Don’t feel overwhelmed
I transitioned to a vegetarian lifestyle in 2008 and never dreamed I’d ever become a vegan. I thought, “How is that even possible?!” Surprisingly after two years of living a vegetarian lifestyle, making small changes, it was only natural for me to become vegan. All the while I was living an active lifestyle as a runner and triathlete. I have not only modified my diet but also my personal care products and clothing. (Search ‘vegetarian’ on this blog and you can see all of my transitions over the past several years) I’m not saying this is the route everyone takes, nor should you. Make this your own journey.
Have you ever considered moving towards a plant-based lifestyle? Are you living one right now? If so, what recommendations would you give to others thinking about trying it out?
Keep Smiling and Be Grateful =)