Mushroom for improvement

Why I swear by a vegetarian diet as an athlete

Somewhere between listening to too much Morrissey and wanting to mark my individuality as a teenager, when I was 16, I decided to become a vegetarian.

At the time, I’ll be honest – it wasn’t so much about the animals as about wanting to do my own thing and try an ‘alternative lifestyle’. What can I say, it sounded cool. It was something my parents didn’t approve of. It was something I felt was my own.

Fast-forward 13 years and I’m still a spinach-loving veggie and I can honestly say there’s not one time I have thought about going back. And no, the smell of bacon did not crack me – if anything, it made me want to crack a window.

When I was 16, if you’d have told me that I’d have run 19 marathons by the time I was 29, I would have laughed in your face. Like eating meat, exercise just didn’t seem that cool either. I wasn’t sporty at school. I was never encouraged to be active. It just wasn’t something I grew up with.

When I went to uni, all that changed. I had my first serious boyfriend and he used to run a 5 mile loop each night. I decided one day that was something I could do. But instead of taking to the streets (the horror!) I’d jog up and down in place in my university room. Seemed like a good idea at the time (doesn’t everything)…

I graduated university and also graduated to taking my run outside – around the streets and up and down the field footpath at the back of my parents’ house.

To cut a long and arduous story short, with time and perseverance, I got quicker, entered races and won trophies. Sure, there were setbacks along the way – stress fractures, a depressing stint of permanent employment, doubt in my own ability – but one thing remained, I stayed true to my vegetarian roots.

And here’s why…

  1. It’s bloody tasty – without any blood spared from any vegetables. A lot of people still think that a vegetarian diet must be bland and tasteless but it’s really quite the opposite. I never feel like I have to deny myself – no food is off limits and all those foods deemed ‘naughty’ – pizza, lasagna, bread are firmly on the menu.
  1. Carbs are your friends – every runner loves a good plate of pasta or chunk of crusty bread to mop up that spaghetti sauce to fuel for tomorrow’s long run. And veggies are no different. In fact, carbs and veg pretty much make up my entire diet as they’re the ideal foods for keeping you full up and delivering the adequate amount of energy so you’re never running on empty.
  1. Bean there, done that – beans are great sources of protein and are pretty tasty in the form of bean burgers too. Did you know that the world’s tastiest burger is actually a vegan one? Most of us get too much protein – not too little so before someone asks you ‘where do you get your protein from?’ point them towards one of the extensive ranges in the supermarkets these days.
  1. No death for distance – carbs, rather than carcasses, are the main fuel source for runners. And last time I checked, no bread roll ever had to be slaughtered for you to run your next marathon.
  1. Lean, mean running machine – since I’ve been a veggie and a distance runner, I’ve stayed the same shape and weight. I’m a UK size 8 and stay around the 8.5 stone mark regardless of how much I eat. My hair is strong, my skin is clear and people often tell me I look younger than my 29 years – which I credit to a healthy, vegetarian lifestyle!

If you’re curious whether you’d become a leaner, stronger runner once you’ve switched to a vegetarian diet, why not give it a go? You can always switch back if it’s not your cup of green tea.

Check out nomeatathlete.com for inspiration!

Hope you’ve found those tips useful and that you’re all enjoying your running :]

Keep up!

TRG