Moving to a plant-based diet for the month of January is a global trend, and a non-committal way to give the lifestyle a try. Reducing our reliance on meat has many proven environmental benefits, but will the transition negatively affect your training? What does the science say?
In a recent article on www.nomeatathlete.com the writer emphasizes that its no longer about making a meat-free diet work for your training, but about thriving as you do so. Athletes of multiple disciplines have noted an improvement in their performance and general wellness after cutting animal products from their diet.
“Scott Jurek, one of the greatest ultramarathoners of all time, is vegan. So is Alex Morgan, co-captain of the US Women’s Soccer team. Most of the Tennessee Titan’s linebackers are plant-based, and Carolina Panther’s star quarterback Cam Newton is too. Then there are the strength and bodybuilding athletes like Robert Cheeke, Natalie Matthews, and Patrik Baboumian who not only excel on a plant-based diet, but have been wildly successful in competition.”
Transitioning away from a traditionally meat-focussed diet can take many forms. Change it up for a month and try it. Go with meat-free Mondays and decide if its for you. Forced creativity to learn new dishes and try ingredients that you would otherwise ignore can assist in gaining a better spread of macro and micronutrients, better fuelling your long runs and recovery periods. You might suddenly find a renewed interest in meal planning and food preparation.
Where will you get your protein?
It is the question that vegans and vegetarians get in the neck every time they mention their eating choices. Truth is, it is easy to eat plenty of protein without meat, if you keep your diet varied and rich in seeds, nuts and beans. There is some protein in most of our commonly consumed vegetables, and those wanting to actively build muscle mass can add a protein powder.
If your plant-based diet is vegan pizza and slap chips, you’re doing it wrong.
Is it more expensive?
No. Categorically not. Think lentils, veg stock, fresh veg as a staple, and compare that to lean beef mince and pasta as an equal alternative. Your lentil dish is far cheaper per kg. If you only shop specialist vegan food, you will probably spend the same as if you shop meat daily. Going veg can ease the grocery budget load substantially.
No Meat Athlete recommends the following list of basics to get started. There are blogs, recipe books and Pinterest ideas a-PLENTY for meal ideas, but your kitchen cupboards should contain some or all of these:
- All kinds of vegetables, cooked and raw
- Vegetable sprouts
- All kinds of fruits, usually raw
- Beans and other legumes: lentils, chickpeas, black beans
- Starchy vegetables like potatoes and sweet potatoes
- Brown rice
- Whole-wheat bread, pitas, and bagels
- Other grains and seeds: bulgur wheat, buckwheat, farro, millet, quinoa, flaxseed, hempseed, chia seeds
- Nuts, nut milks, nut butters: almonds, cashews, walnuts, almond milk, hazelnut milk, peanut butter, almond butter, sunflower seed butter
- Protein powder
- Soy products: tofu, tempeh
You do not have to forage through your local health store to find most of the above. Mainstream grocery stores are well stocked in veg and vegan products. Restaurants across South Africa are increasing the variety and creativity of their veg options, too. You won’t be stuck with a Greek Salad and a plate of chips.
Try these local resources for guidance on how to join the #MeatFreeAthlete (its quite a buzz) crew. Don’t worry, there is absolutely no pressure to become a preachy vegan or to recruit all your trail running mates. You do you.
www.lisaraleigh.com Plant-based fitness and wellness guide
K's Vegan Kitchen Cape Town trail runner hosts vegan cooking classes in Noordhoek
The South African Vegan Cookbook by Leozette Rhoode (great gift option!)
Words by Kim Stephens (yes, I’m one of them…)