katherine Yager vegetarian athlete

Why I Think Vegetarianism and Running Are a Perfect Match

By Katherine Yager

Two years ago, I gave up eating meat. It was a couple months after my first marathon and I was already signed up for another one in the spring.

I decided to become a lacto-ovo vegetarian, which means I still eat eggs and consume dairy. However, I try to reduce how much I eat of both of these, so at least 50 percent of the meals I eat are vegan.

When I made the decision to be vegetarian, I was asked all the questions you might be thinking “Isn’t it hard to be a vegetarian athlete? How would I get enough protein? Will it impact my training?”

However, I also knew that there were lots of well-known vegan and vegetarian athletes, like ultradistance runners Ariel Rosenfeld and Damian Stoy, and ultramarathon legend Scott Jurek who broke the Appalachian Trail record this summer, while fuelled by a plant-based diet.

I decided that if I was going to be a vegetarian athlete, I would have to make sure to get all the nutrients that I might be missing and that I might need to perform at my best.

Katherine Yager

From my experience, these are great ways for runners and other athletes to get everything they need without meat:

I make sure to have diet that includes protein from a variety of sources, such as beans, lentils, tofu/tempeh and eggs. Protein helps with muscle growth and rebuilding, so without it recovery times between workouts would be much slower. When I’m in peek training I need all the help I can get with recovering faster so I try to have a meal with protein as soon as I’m done running. This is usually in form of a second more substantial breakfast..

If a vegetarian is missing something in their diet, it’s usually either vitamin B12 or iron. Not enough B12 or iron makes you constantly fatigued, and running a lot is tiring enough without the added harm of an imbalanced diet. Eggs and milk have B12 and a lot of non-dairy milks are fortified with it. Nutritional yeast—which has a delicious cheese-like flavour—is full of B12. You can also take B12 supplements if you’re really worried.

Iron is found in all sorts of foods including lentils, soybeans, tofu, tempeh, quinoa, brown rice, oatmeal and many nuts and seeds. Iron ensures that your muscles are working properly by helping convert carbs into energy during exercise. Because humans lose iron through sweating, endurance athletes (like long distance runners) are particularly at risk and need to make sure to get enough iron in their diet.

Eat the rainbow:
Different fruits and vegetables have different nutrients in them so the easiest way to make sure that you’re getting some of everything you need is to eat a colourful assortment of foods. I try to eat meals that have leafy greens, whole grains, bright coloured fruits and vegetables and nuts and seeds.

Initially being a vegetarian seemed onerous, especially when I went out to eat or was invited to a friend’s house. It turns out though that restaurants are really accommodating, and so are my friends and family. I also eat out less now anyway because I like cooking and controlling what’s going into my food. Finally, my new diet has had positive effects on my training!

It has been two years since I became a vegetarian athlete and I wouldn’t go back. I feel lighter and I have more energy. Additionally, I used to feel sluggish a lot more because meat is slow to digest. That doesn’t happen anymore. I’m ready to run all the time! This is the main way that being vegetarian has affected my athletic performance. I now feel up for anything anytime, even after a substantial meal.

Vegetarianism isn’t the right solution for everyone, but for me it has made me think more about what I’m putting in my body. It has also forced me to be proactive about eating food from a variety of sources.

As an athlete, I know that if I’m not eating a properly balanced diet I won’t feel good and I won’t perform at my best. I ask my body to do a lot for me during training and competition, so I think it’s important to make sure I eat what my body needs. For me, that doesn’t involve meat!


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