Veg-Curious? Start Here.

Have questions about a plant-based lifestyle? We have answers! Credit: Stacy Spensley

When folks find out I’m a vegetarian (and that I also write for a website called No Meat Athlete), a few assumptions are made:

1) I’m a member of a bull-horn carrying, red-paint throwing militia.
2) I play hacky-sack and have unshaved armpits.
3) I’m weak.

I can assure you I’m none of those things. (Okay, sometimes I’m a little lax on the armpit maintenance, but that’s a lazy thing, not a veg thing.) Most vegetarians and vegans are pretty normal, too. In fact, as more people become aware of the value of a plant-based diet through Oprah’s veg week or Michael Pollan’s Food Rules, the ranks of the veg-loving (and veg-curious) are growing.

Plant-Based? But You Still Eat Fish, Right?

The plant-based person typically falls into one of two “categories”:

  • Vegetarian. Eats mostly plants, including fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds and grains. Does not consume meat, poultry or seafood, but may still consume other animal products, including eggs, milk, butter and honey.
  • Vegan. Eats plants exclusively. Does not consume meat, poultry or seafood and also does not consume other animal products. Some also refrain from wearing animal products (i.e., leather shoes).

There are other subcategories under these two, including fruitarianism, raw foodists and more. A person may be motivated for becoming vegetarian or vegan for ethical, environmental, or health-based reasons, to name a few. Someone who still consumes animal products, even if it is “only” fish, is not a vegetarian—he or she is an omnivore (someone who consumes animals and plants) or a pescatarian.

But Can a Plant-Based Lifestyle Sustain You and Your Fitness Goals?

Absolutely.

Ultramarathoner Scott Jurek, Ironman champion Hillary Biscay and tennis great Martina Navratilova are just a few of many professional athletes who dispel the opinion that vegetarians and vegans can’t hack it as athletes. Thousands of everyday runners, yogis and CrossFitters, just like you and me, have also discovered that focusing on plant-based foods actually helps them perform at a higher level, maintain an optimal weight, and recover faster from tough workouts.

So Where Do You Get Your Protein?

This might be one of the most common questions a vegetarian or vegan hears. Without a doubt, you need protein, especially if you are an active person. But don’t be so quick to deduce a vegetarian diet is lacking in protein. Protein is found in all kinds of foods besides meat, just in lower quantities. It takes some effort to make sure you get some protein in every meal, but it’s not as hard as you may think.

If your idea of a vegetarian meal is a grilled cheese sandwich, french fries and a brownie, then you won’t get enough protein. But if you eat a wide variety of foods and make smart choices to include some protein at every meal, chances are you’ll hit your protein needs—and you may just feel better than ever.

So where do you get your protein? From a lot of places, actually:

  • 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
  • Pasta
  • Whole-wheat bread, pitas and bagels
  • Other grains and seeds: bulgur wheat, buckwheat, farro, millet, quinoa, flaxseed, hempseed, chia seeds
  • Hummus
  • 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)
  • Protein powder (hemp protein is a minimally processed type)
  • Soy products (limited): tofu, tempeh
  • Dairy and egg products (vegetarian)

Ready to Give It a Go?

How you transition to a plant-based diet is up to you. Whether you want to start by giving up meat for one meal a day or become a full-on vegetarian immediately, make sure you’ve read up on your resources. Just like you wouldn’t run a marathon without training for it, you shouldn’t jump into a major lifestyle change until you’ve prepared.

Check out some of these great articles on going vegetarian:

If you’ve wondered what all the plant-based buzz is about, just give it a shot and find out for yourself if it works with your health and fitness goals.

Are you veg-curious? What questions about a plant-based lifestyle would you like to see answered on Fit Bottomed Eats? —Susan


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