A registered dietitian offers her best tips for runners considering the meatless diet route.
Thinking about going vegan or vegetarian? Before you throw caution to the wind and ditch the meat, take some time to understand the ins and outs of the meatless diet and how it will affect your running routine. What nutrients may be overlooked and how can you make sure that you get enough? We’ve got the low-down on the facts about going meatless and some tips to make it easier.
Have A Plan
Planning out meals is a great way to save time, energy, money and calories. While meal plans don’t happen all (or even most) of the time, they are definitely a necessity for meatless eaters. Many take-out and sit-down restaurants have very few vegetarian and vegan options, so it’s best to plan out your meals on days that you’ll be eating away from home. Look at menus ahead of time. If meatless options are lacking, have a healthy snack before you go. Or mix and match salads, soups and sides to create a well-balanced meal.
Meet With A Registered Dietitian
Many dietitians specialize in plant-based eating and can help you navigate your new lifestyle choice. As a runner, it’s important to eat enough protein to repair tired muscles. A dietitian can help guide you in your food choices and ensure your eating pattern doesn’t have any nutrient deficits.
Know The Benefits
The vegetarian diet consists of heart-healthy ingredients, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and soy products. These foods contain fiber and phytochemicals, which are great for heart health. Studies have shown that vegetarians have a lower risk of death by heart disease than meat eaters. They also have lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure and fewer instances of Type 2 diabetes than their meat-eating counterparts. If that’s not enough, vegetarians tend to have healthier weights and lower incidences of cancer.
Be Aware Of The Drawbacks
Obviously, there are fewer protein options while following a plant-based diet, which makes it easy to skimp on this important macronutrient. With fewer protein choices comes the inclination to overdo it with carbs. Unfortunately, eating a diet rich in carbs and low in protein can definitely cause weight gain. At every meal, ask yourself what your protein is and if you’re getting enough of it.
Think About Nutrients
This might be the thing that people worry about most when going vegetarian or vegan. “Where do you get your protein?” is a question I hear often. The answer is that protein is in many non-meat items, like whole grains, legumes, beans, nuts, seeds, eggs and dairy products. Within those products are other nutrients that you may be lacking, like iron and B12. With a little bit of planning and guidance from a dietitian, it’s easy to get enough protein throughout the day. Most runners need about 0.5 to 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight, which should be easy enough to get if you’re eating well-balanced meals and snacks.
Many new vegans and vegetarians also worry about iron intake, since iron from meat is the most readily available and absorbable form. Luckily, there are plenty of non-meat iron sources, like these 10 options. The other nutrient to look out for is B12, which provides energy, making it a vital one for runners. B12 shouldn’t too difficult to get, since it is abundant in milk, eggs, nutritional yeast and algae. If you don’t eat those foods daily, talk to your doctor about taking a B12 supplement.
Should You Try It?
If all of these tips seem totally doable, then go for it! If you’re still overwhelmed, talk to a vegetarian or vegan you know about their experiences. Or, try it for a week or two and see how it goes. If all else fails, there is always Meatless Monday!