This cartoon depicts the most frequently asked question I received when I was training for a half marathon last year on a vegetarian diet. But, where on Earth do you get your protein?! It’s still ringing in my ears. For years I was asked this question, but people seemed super concerned when I started running long miles with no meat. I would answer with my typical line “There is plenty of protein in beans, soy, nuts and grain; and, not to mention, Americans get too much protein on an average diet which has adverse health effects.” The repetition of this question didn’t bother me so much – I just had to remind myself that non-vegetarians needed more information to understand that I was still being healthy and getting my protein while training. What shocked me was when a nutritionist asked me this million dollar question – now, she should have known better.
Back in the fall after my second half marathon, I injured my foot. I haven’t been able to exercise as much as I did last year. But that’s all changing as I heal. Now that I’m back on the road to recovery and trying out a vegan diet, I’ve made a deliberate effort to eat whole foods that will keep me energized and healthy. I’ve cut back considerably on processed food, but that’s a topic that deserves a whole different blog post. Anyway, I went to spin class for the first time on the vegan diet last night, and I felt great afterwards. Typically the next day I feel really sore after that class, and this time I felt awesome. I’m looking forward to incorporating more exercise into my daily routine while also being on a vegan diet.
I’m sure people will be even more concerned about my new diet when I start exercising more, so I did some research on vegan athletes. I’ve read the article that was posted about Scott Jurek in Runner’s World awhile back and I plan to read Scott Jurek’s Eat and Run. He is everywhere. People are fascinated by him, and rightfully so. He was even mentioned in this article I found titled “Can Athletes Perform Well on a Vegan Diet?” from the New York Times. The author of the article interviewed three different experts, who all provided very insightful information. Once again, the hot topic of protein came up in this Q&A:
Q. Is it hard for someone who’s training vigorously to get enough protein on a vegan diet?A. David Nieman: The foods that vegans like Scott Jurek avoid, like dairy products and eggs, are the easy ways to get protein in a plant-based diet, obviously. But you still have grains, nuts, soy. Eat enough of that and you’ll be fine. The one issue is vitamin B12, which is found only in meat; B12 is important for endurance athletes, since it affects red blood cell production. But many cereals and soy milks are fortified with B12 now, or you can take supplements.
Nancy Clark: You do have to be diligent about protein intake if you’re vegan. I have clients, especially women, who say, ‘Oh, I put a few chickpeas in my salad.’ But that’s not going to do it. Women need about 60 to 90 grams of protein a day, and athletes are on the high end of that. That means you have to eat cupfuls of chickpeas. And you can’t eat a quarter of that cake of tofu. You need to eat the whole thing. It’s not that there aren’t good sources of vegan protein. But it’s not as bioavailable as meat. So you need to have more.
For the vegan athletes out there, how do you deal when people ask you about your diet and lifestyle? I’d also be curious to hear if there is a particular exercise routine that you favored when you first became vegan.