How to Succeed as a Vegan/Vegetarian
- Embrace nuts, beans and greens as a source of protein.
- Watch your calories — too few, especially for athletes, can lead to malnourishment.
- Avoid vegan “junk food,” such as processed soy.
- Supplement your diet with vitamins B12 and D, iron and iodine.
Source: Matt Frazier, author of “No Meat Athlete: Run on Plants and Discover Your Fittest, Fastest, Happiest Self”
Protein is an integral element to any athlete's diet — something that becomes even more crucial to monitor when meat and eggs are cut in a vegan diet. It's the biggest question new vegetarians or vegans have: How can they replace protein that normally comes from meat? Matt Frazier, who runs the popular blog “No Meat Athlete,” said it's not as difficult as most people make it out to be.
“A lot of people have trouble envisioning: 'How would you possibly eat all day? How would you get 2,500 calories without any animal products in it? Do you eat just salad all day?' ” Frazier said. “It's very far from that.”
Nuts, beans, soy, hummus and a wide variety of greens are composed of at least 15 percent protein, he said. Switching to a vegetarian or vegan diet not only can be manageable for an athlete in need of protein, but it also can be better.
Frazier is traveling the country to promote his book, “No Meat Athlete: Run on Plants and Discover Your Fittest, Fastest, Happiest Self.” His tour included stops last month in Omaha and Lincoln.
Frazier talks to tour audiences about his experience going vegetarian, then vegan. In 2009, while training for the Boston Marathon, he made the switch to a whole-grain-heavy vegetarian diet.
Immediately, he lost 5 pounds, leading to a drastically improved time, qualifying him for the race.
“That made me much lighter and I noticed I hadn't lost any strength,” Frazier said. “I think that played a huge role in becoming immediately faster.”
Lincoln native Andrew Sutter, 32, became vegetarian in December, joining his wife, Sara. Sutter likens his story to Frazier's and is hoping he can find the same success. So far, the couple has run in seven half-marathons and two full-marathons, with a plan to run more.
Since turning vegetarian, Sutter said he and his wife have had to fend for themselves at food-centered events such as Thanksgiving dinner, to which they now bring their own food. On the whole, he said, he has no problem finding food they both like.
After making the switch, he noticed an improvement in his health.
“I felt better,” Sutter said. “My runs felt better, I was able to run longer, I was able to just get up and feel more alive.”
All diets come with some drawbacks, though Frazier said he can't pinpoint many with his, outside the inconvenience of finding food away from home. The most common pitfall that non-meat eaters fall into is a simple lack of calories.
Runners who need 3,000 calories or more per day — and who are used to getting those calories from meat — often find themselves struggling at first. Salads and veggies fill you up just as fast, with fewer calories potentially leading to a shortfall.
Frazier suggests keeping an eye on caloric intake to make sure it's high enough, especially for athletes. Nuts and beans are high in calories, helping to make up the difference.
For those craving a chicken wing from their carnivorous days, there are substitution meats. Frazier warned that some overly processed ones can be harmful.
Instead of trying to re-create flavors, Frazier tries to create new ones with recipes he has included in his book.
“I don't think of (being vegetarian/vegan) as replacing stuff,” Frazier said.
As with any nontraditional diet, it's necessary to monitor food choices — and not just protein intake.
Everything should be fine, Frazier said, as long as vegetarians and vegans monitor calories and stay supplemented with vitamins B12 and D, iron and iodine
And don't forget to eat some nuts for protein.
Check out Frazier's blog here.