It seems like everyone is talking about how great it is for your body to become a vegetarian, but how about for athletes. Are you really able to get enough protein without eating meat and still perform at your best? Well, ask Bart Yasso, or triathlete, Brendan Brazier or even body builder, Robert Cheeke. They all are vegetarians, and are achieving greatness in the athletic world.
That raised more questions for me. If they are succeeding, then what are they eating to replace the nutrients and protein that are normally found in meat? Bodybuilding.com emphasizes that to successfully become vegetarian/vegan, you need to remember that you can’t just eliminate meat; you have to replace it with a healthy alternative. Here’s what PETA suggests:
• Nutritionists recommend that most of the calories athletes consume come from complex carbohydrates. While refined carbohydrates like sugar and white bread should be avoided, complex carbs are critical for fueling your muscles with energy in a sustained way. Great choices are whole-wheat breads and pastas, cereals, brown rice, quinoa, and fruits and vegetables.
• Protein can be found in abundance in foods like beans, nuts, tofu, whole grains, veggie burgers, Gardenburger’s meatless barbecue ribs, Boca’s Chik’n Nuggets, and other meat substitutes. Although vegetarians can easily get plenty of protein through these foods, if you’re looking for a post-workout boost, put some frozen fruit and a vegan protein supplement into a blender for a delicious smoothie, mix up a Vega drink, or grab a tasty Clif “builder bar” (weighing in at 20 grams of protein) from your local supermarket.
• A bit of fat in your diet is important, and the fats in plant foods like avocados, vegetable and olive oils, nuts, and seeds tend to be much healthier than the artery-clogging fats found in most animal products. Take a pass on deep-fried foods.
• Adding a multivitamin and a vitamin B12 supplement to your daily diet is a good idea for all athletes.
• Any trainer will tell you that the more calories you burn, the more fuel you need. Vegetarian foods tend to be very nutrient-dense, but they are somewhat less calorie-dense than animal products. So eat plenty of your favorite vegetarian dishes.
And if you want it broken down even more, the No Meat Athlete provides a great list of staple foods for a vegetarian diet.
• 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)
• Agave nectar (as workout fuel, not an all-purpose sweetener)
• Protein powder (hemp protein is a minimally-processed type)
• Soy products (limited): tofu, tempeh
• Tea and coffee (limited)
• Cheese (limited, non-vegan)
• Eggs (limited, non-vegan)
For myself, I’m still not convinced that I can give up meat, but the more information that I read on it, the more I am finding myself intrigued. So if you’re like me and still in the “thinking about it” stage, I suggest you start by maybe having a no meat day, where all your meals are meat – free or maybe make one meal, such as lunch, a day completely meat-free and go from there. There are even some people that still eat some meats, and they’re considered a totally different kind of vegetarian. Bodybuilding.com lists all the different kinds of vegetarians. I honestly didn’t know there where that many different names for it.
• Lacto-Ovo Veggie – The most common type of vegetarian diet in which one omits all flesh from the diet but does include dairy products and eggs.
• Ovo Veggie – The term used to describe a vegetarian diet with the addition of eggs only (no flesh and no dairy.)
• Vegan – Excludes all foods and products of animal origin including honey, wool and leather.
• Raw Vegan – Same as above but consumes raw or ‘living’ food only.
• Semi Veggie – Also referred to as a ‘part time vegetarian.’ Red meat is eliminated from the diet but fish and chicken are still consumed on occasion.
• Pesco Veggie – Eliminates most animal flesh but allows the consumption of fish, seafood, eggs and dairy products.
• Semi vegetarian and pesco vegetarian are a bit of an oxy moron but you will come across people who use these terms to describe their eating habits.
• Pudding Veggie – A vegetarian of any sort who lives on a “meatless” junk food diet.
• Social Veggie – A ‘pick the meat of the pizza and it will be ok’ kind of vegetarian.
Needless to say, this is a new idea in the athletic world, and there is still a lot to learn and research. Vegan athlete lists a number of books to read to help in your quest.