Many of us follow a specific way of eating. I am not going to use the word “diet” because to be honest, I just don’t like that word. Diet implies limitations and restrictions to eating, one that the individual is not choosing for themselves. Diets always fail, plain and simple. You can’t stick to a way of eating if you are not choosing how you want to eat. That’s why I like to think of the way you eat in different terms. There are many different ways to eat. To name a few: vegetarian, vegans, gluten free, paleo, organic, whole food. I think that these ways of eating have changed the way people see food. Instead of being on a limitating diet that keeps you from eating what you want, these options are a choice an individual is making, and there for is a lot easier for one to stick to. A lot of people choose these ways of eating for health reasons. Many people have found that they are lactose or gluten intolerant. Others have moved to a “cave-man” style of eating, where on the contrary, some of removed meat of any kind from their daily caloric intake.
What I am going to focus on is vegetarianism. Why? Because all three of us are vegetarians. I, Hailey, have personally been a vegetarian my entire life and therefore have nothing to compare to as far as if switching to not consuming meat changed my health or training in anyway. Dayna has also been a long time vegetarian, and Courtney made the switch when she was eight. Basically, none of us have consumed meat in a long time. We all train at a high level. We log countless miles, run anywhere from half marathons to ultras, are dedicated to hot yoga and Pilates, cycle, climb mountains and mountain bike to name a few of our passions. Could our training be improved by adding more meat to our plates? Some may say yes, but I am going to stick with the answer being no. The difference however with being a vegetarian or not, is that if you choose to forgo meat, it may take extra effort to ensure you are getting all the proper nutrients your body needs to build and repair muscles, and stay fit and healthy.
The big thing is making sure you are eating enough protein. The first thing I find people ask me when I tell them I am a vegetarian is “where do you get your protein from.” If you are consciously making an effort to cook your own meals, loaded with whole foods, this really should not be a problem. There is plenty of protein in nuts, seeds, and beans. If you are not avoiding dairy products, eggs, cottage cheese, milk and yogurt are also great sources of protein. Peas, spinach, broccoli, asparagus and potatoes have anywhere 2-6 grams in a relatively small serving size. Corn also has protein in it, but I tend to stay away from corn because it is often a genetically modified food and is difficult for your body to breakdown. Soy is another good source of protein, but there are plenty of studies out there discouraging people from consuming it as it is also highly processed and genetically modified. The big thing here is to be sure that you are making a conscious effort of where you are getting your protein from and that you are getting enough. To supplement our protein needs when we are on the go or in a rush, we do add Vega Protein powder to our smoothies. Vega sport combines hemp, rice and pea protein for a complete amino acid complex. Protein is essential for your body to repair and build muscle and tissues. Protein is also an important building block of bones, muscles, cartilage, skin and blood cells. Your body needs a lot of it to function in tip top shape. It is so important to make sure you are meeting your bodies protein needs so you can keep training, and doing the things you love.
The other nutrients to be mindful of when maintain or switching to a meatless way of eating is iron and vitamin B12. Red meat is abundant with both iron and vitamin b12 and can be an easy way to consume enough. The health risks of not getting enough of these two key nutrients are pretty serious. Iron and B12 deficiency can lead to anemia. Anemia is a condition where the blood lacks healthy red blood cells which are responsible for carrying oxygen to the body’s tissues. Without iron and vitamin B12, your body is unable to produce enough hemoglobin, which is a substance in red blood cells that allow them to carry oxygen to the cells in your body. Oxygen transportation is key in maintaining healthy cells and tissues and repairing muscles. It is also vital to proper cardiac function as the heart requires oxygen to continue beating. If you feel that you are feeling more exhausted, weak, dizzy or short of breath, more than normal for you, it could be anemia. So, how can you ensure that you are getting enough of these essential nutrients? Simple! Leafy greens are excellent sources of iron, so load up on that spinach and kale! Raw pumpkin seeds have about 30 percent of the daily recommended amount of iron in them, and it is so easy to toss a handful of them on a salad. Beans are also an excellent source. I am sure we have all heard a thing or two about the magic food quinoa. Now you can add a good source of iron to it’s list of super powers!
Being a vegetarian is an excellent way to eat, as long as you make sure you are mindful to get the proper nutrients. Sometimes it just takes an extra step or two to make sure you are consuming the right amount of protein and iron. Why I believe being a vegetarian is a good option is because to do it right, it takes dedication. You must consciously think about what you are eating each day to guarantee you are meeting your body’s nutritional needs. Red meat is high in saturated fat, and being a vegetarian may reduce the amount of saturated fats one is consuming. Being a vegetarian may also increase the amount of vegetables and fruit on ones diet to ensure enough calories and nutrients are being consumed. Since becoming more aware of what I put into my diet, getting enough nutrients has not been an issue. Sticking to mostly whole foods and cooking from scratch allows me to be cognisant of everything I am putting into my body, and in turn I am ensuring that I am meeting my body’s needs. We will continue to be vegetarians and train at the level we are as long as we continue to take care our body’s and feed them exactly what they need!
What are your thoughts on being a vegetarian athlete? Leave your comments below!