The first question people ask when they find out that I am a vegetarian and an athlete is, “how do you get enough protein?” I once thought the same thing about vegetarians or vegans. I quit eating any meat except chicken and turkey when I was 15 and I am 46 now. I never really had the desire to eat it and honestly I didn’t really like chicken and turkey I just thought that all my muscle would wither away if I didn’t eat it. Reluctantly I ate chicken and turkey and not think about the fact that it was once alive. I didn’t like to eat any chicken on the bone because it grossed me out I just ate chicken breast or turkey breast and tried not to think about it too much. Last year I finally had enough and I told myself that I was going to slowly eliminate it from my diet. I wasn’t telling myself I couldn’t have it but I was going eat less of it. My boyfriend who is a huge meat eater was not too happy but I told him it wouldn’t have any impact on him at all. I went about a week and didn’t miss chicken at all and when I tried some I didn’t even want or like it. Its been over 6 months and I am so glad I decided to stop eating it and I know I will never go back. I think I actually eat healthier getting more vegetables, good grains such as quinoa, and lentils and beans. I rarely ate quinoa, lentils and beans before and I can’t believe what I was missing!
Since I stopped eating chicken and turkey I have kept track of my muscle mass, which I originally thought was going to wither away. I am still the same weight, same body-fat with the same amount of muscle. I feel great and have lots of energy and I do get enough protein from many different sources. I eat eggs and egg whites, cottage cheese, beans, legumes, quinoa, nuts, humus (beans), and once in a while a protein shake. I personally don’t love shakes so I don’t drink too many of them and that’s just my personal preference. I am not opposed to using shakes I would just rather eat my food if I can. Honestly I am not obsessed with getting protein I know I eat a variety of foods and I know my body composition has remained the same. My main focus is on eating healthy foods with lots of nutrients and slowly limiting my bad choices. I am not perfect with my food choices but I do eat pretty well and make more good choices then bad choices.
If you want to eliminate meat because you love animals then I am 100% for that. If you want to become a vegan or vegetarian because you think you will lose weight then don’t bother. Being vegetarian is a way of life and it takes some work because you have to think more about what you are going to eat. Things should be planned and I always make more than enough to have it left over for a few days. Its not as easy to grab something quick to eat that is healthy when you don't eat meat. The first time we went to a neighbor’s house for dinner it was a bit of a challenge since 90% of the meal was meat. Turkey, chicken, duck, and meat lasagna with a salad was what was for dinner. I opted for salad and then ate when I got home.
Many people become vegetarian and eat too much processed food. In most cases these vegetarians are overweight and not very healthy with various health issues. If you don’t cook and want to become vegetarian then you will have tough time eating healthy. You may get caught up eating all the fake meat you will find in your frozen section in the store. Most of this contains processed soy and other things that are not very healthy. I personally don’t like how my body reacts to soy that is why I don’t eat tofu (I also don’t’ like it). I would rather eat something that I prepare that is healthy. You can get lots of veggie burgers in the frozen food section but you can also make your own.
Black Bean Veggie Burger Patties
2 cups cooked rinsed black beans
1 cup rolled oats
2/3 cup cooked whole-grain brown rice
1/3 cup nutritional yeast
¼ cup of your favorite shredded cheese or dairy free cheese
1 large cooking onion, peeled and grated (or chopped in blender)
1 large handful of fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
2 tbsp ground coriander
1 tbsp paprika
1 tbsp grainy mustard
2 tbsp tamari sauce
1 to 2 cups fresh bread crumbs made from sprouted bread
3 tbsp sea salt
In a medium bowl, combine the black beans, oats, rice, nutritional yeast, and cheese. Mix thoroughly with your hands.
In a blender, combine the onion, cilantro, coriander, paprika, mustard, and tamari. Blend just until mixed.
Add the onion mixture to the bean mixture and mix well, adding salt. After mixing, adjust salt if necessary to taste. Add the bread crumbs and mix with your hands until the mixture is firm to the touch and no longer sticky. You will find that the bread crumbs and oats absorb the moisture and it will become harder to mix.
Form the mixture into 3/4 – inch thick patties.
Heat a skillet over medium heat. Add a little coconut oil. Fry patties until lightly brown, about 1 minute per side.
You CAN eat vegetarian and be a top performing athlete. I have the book and cookbook called Thrive and it has some great information about being vegan and being an athlete. Since I stopped eating chicken I have read a few articles on how the chicken in the US is being shipped to China for processing and then being shipped back to the US. This is horrible especially because in China the standards for processing are non-existent. I am so glad I made the decision to quit eating chicken and turkey making me a real vegetarian! Here I am in my most two recent races and one of them I was the overall female finisher so I guess it hasn't hurt my performance!