All right, I have to be honest, I am not vegan. I am vegetarian - lacto-ovo vegetarian if you want to get technical. Whether vegetarian or vegan, I have been asked it all. Do I eat fish? Do I eat chicken? Why don't I eat meat? Where do I get my protein? When someone finds out I am vegetarian, I am guaranteed to be asked at least one of those questions.
I decided to cut out meat when I was 18. It was neither for health reason nor for animal rights. 13 years later, I remain meat-free and more on the side for health reasons and animal rights. I've been running long distance for 9 of those 13 years and have never questioned bringing meat back into my diet. If you happen to be (or have ever considered being) a vegetarian or vegan, there are several things to account for in order to become, and stay, a strong and healthy runner.
The Obvious - Protein
Yes, the highest amounts of protein are easily found in meat. However, nuts, seeds, beans, fruits, vegetables, grains, pasta, quinoa, meat substitutes such as tofu and tempeh, and other soy products are just a handful of plant-based proteins suitable to meet your daily needs. The important thing to take away is to consume protein from multiple sources throughout the day in order to get all of the essential amino acids. You can easily add protein powder to a recovery smoothie for those fast-paced days. Nowadays, it's that easy.
Iron, B12, Zinc, Calcium, Vitamin D
As I have grown in my vegetarian diet, I have been repeatedly reminded to take a multivitamin to keep a normal level of these micro-nutrients. These help aid red blood cell production, immune function, and bone health - all vital to an everyday healthy lifestyle, not just an athlete's. Yearly blood tests help me keep an eye on my levels.
Still not ready to give up meat? Start small. Try meatless Mondays or substitute soy products in your next salad or homemade meal. Resources, recipes, and tips are all just an internet search away. A stroll down the food aisles in your local natural food store can help spark ideas, flavors, and new tastes. Check it out, you may be surprised what you find!