As one of the many plant-based vegetarian runners, I receive a ton of questions about my eating habits and how they affect my running. Although I don’t think a vegetarian or vegan diet is right for everyone, it’s a totally doable and healthy lifestyle—with a little bit of knowledge and effort. Still, I/we do field questions regarding our diet that just need to be answered finally.
Here are five questions vegetarian runners wish you would stop asking and why.
How do you get your protein?
Even though I don’t eat meat, there is still plenty of protein in my diet. As a matter of fact, most Americans meet or exceed their protein needs on a daily basis. While the RDA for protein is 0.8 grams/kilogram of body weight, the International Society of Sports Nutrition recommended that athletes that train moderately consume 1 to 1.5 grams/kilogram of of protein daily. For someone like me (about 115 pounds), that’s only 52 grams of protein per day.
For myself and my vegetarian clients, I recommend adding more pulses to the diet. Pulses are the superfood group, which includes chickpeas, lentils, dry peas and beans. I refer to them as “superfood” because they are loaded with protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals. Although quinoa is regarded for its protein content, lentils actually deliver twice the amount of protein per serving than quinoa. You can’t go wrong with beans, lentils or peas in your vegetarian diet.
Do you get enough iron?
Believe it or not, it’s absolutely possible to get enough iron on a vegetarian diet. “I know we think of red meat as being a major source of iron, and it is. But there are plant-based sources of iron, like beans, legumes, whole grains, fortified foods and leafy greens. I also love cooking in my cast iron skillet because every little bit helps,” say vegetarian Dietitian and runner, Cara Harbstreet, MS RD LD. Plant-based sources of iron include:
- One serving of black beans has 1.5 times the amount of iron in a 3 oz. serving of flank steak
- Dark leafy greens
- Fortified breakfast cereals and enriched rice
- Whole-grain and enriched breads
And, eating iron with Vitamin C enhances the absorption, so go ahead and throw some orange slices on your spinach salad.
If you don’t eat fish, how do you get your Omega-3s?
“Yes, fatty fish are rich in omega-3s, but there are several plant-based sources of omega-3s as well. I have at least two Tablespoons of flax seeds or chia seeds each day in smoothies, yogurt, chia pudding or on toast,” says vegetarian dietitian Angie Asche MS, RD, LMNT. She also suggests starting your morning with a bowl of oats topped with omega-3 rich walnuts or eating eggs frequently. “Make sure you eat the whole egg and not just the whites—the yolk is where all the nutrients are!”
What about branch chain amino acids (BCAA)? Aren’t those only found in meat?
Many people supplement with BCAA because they are believed to enhance performance, reduce muscle damage and promote muscle-protein synthesis. While BCAA are most prevalent in meat, they are also in plant foods. “You can find these essential amino acids in dairy, eggs, or by combining beans and nuts together such as almonds, peanuts, cashews, lentils, chickpeas, or soybeans. I also like to incorporate vegan protein powders (such as VEGA and Garden of Life) that contain a blend of both pea protein and brown rice protein. These contain adequate amounts of both protein and branched-chain amino acids,” says Asche.
And my personal favorite—can I eat meat in front of you?
Yes, go ahead! Being a vegetarian is my own personal choice and has no bearing on what you choose to eat. If you don’t judge me, I won’t judge you.