… It’s not easy. That’s honestly my main takeaway.
First of all, I’d like to give some background as to why I choose to be a vegetarian.
In addition to just being fundamentally against the way meat animals are treated in this country, I went back and forth for a long time deciding about whether I should and how I would stop eating meat. Real talk, I LOVE meat. But at some point in college I decided the environmental impact – namely how unsustainable the meat industry is and how much it impacts the world and our global environment – were important enough to me that I didn’t want to consume meat anymore.
A friend of mine from college coined the term “flexetarian” – not having an inherent issue with eating animals, but being mindful of where the meat comes from, how the animals were treated and killed, and whether it was sustainably sourced.
All that to say – I do NOT recommend being a vegetarian for anything other than moral reasons. In an age of fad diets and popular food trends, people believe that not eating meat is inherently health. For some, this may be true. But for most, intentionally cutting out a completely viable protein and nutrient source isn’t the best choice if you’re trying to eat healthier, especially if you are active and require a hearty daily protein intake as most of us do.
Trust me, not eating meat and getting enough protein to fuel my body optimally for the way I train and push myself in workouts, is VERY difficult. I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t have personal ethical views on the topic. That being said, I do eat meat if I know where it comes from and I can see that it was sustainably and ethically sourced, but meat is not a part of my regular food intake.
So, here are a few tips on how to maintain a balanced and protein-rich diet if you are a vegetarian for the same reasons I am.
1. Protein shakes are your friend! While I definitely emphasize getting most of your daily nutrient intake from whole/natural food sources, the right protein shake will go a long way in getting you to your daily protein goal. And if you happen to be vegan as well, there are plenty of protein powders that are completely animal product-free – ask your coach next time you’re in the gym for a sample of one of our great-tasting vegan flavors!
2. Eat protein at every meal (and pretty much in all snacks, too). Once you do the math to calculate your recommended daily protein intake, it can be a daunting task trying to get there every day. That’s why I make sure I have a solid protein source at every meal – eggs with breakfast, beans in a wrap or burrito bowl at lunch, and tempeh or tofu with dinner are some examples. Having snacks on hand like greek yogurt with peanut butter, a handful of almonds, or some dry-roasted edamame are some ways to keep you fueled throughout the day while contributing to your protein intake!
3. Enjoy some protein-enriched foods that you would normally eat. I rarely buy normal pasta anymore – it’s carb dense, high in calorie, and not very filling. A few brands make protein-enriched or veggie-based pasta that have higher quality ingredients and more protein – noodles made from pea flour, lentils, or even edamame all taste great while adding more protein and fiber to your day!
4. Supplement your mainly whole-food diet with some imitation meat products. For me personally, I love eating meat and sometimes I just want some really good ground beef in my pasta or chicken nuggets as a snack. There are plenty of imitation meat products that taste just like the real thing to satisfy your craving. Be careful here – many imitation meat products are made with TONS of artificial and processed ingredients to get the product to taste like real meat, so you want to try and find some with whole ingredients that will still satisfy the craving. I buy Dr. Praeger’s black bean burgers and Quorn brand meatless nuggets regularly, and they help reach my daily protein goals as well.
5. Find a protein-rich dessert that you really like. I’m a big proponent of working your favorite treats into your diet in productive ways that leave your craving satisfied while keeping you on track to reach your health and fitness goals. I recently discovered an edible protein cookie dough brand that I love – it’s made with high quality ingredients, is low-calorie and protein-infused, and is entirely plant-based! It also tastes great, and fits right into my daily intake needs. If you’re interested and want to try some, message me on FB and I’ll send you the link, plus a discount code to get 15% off your order!
Again, I can’t stress enough that if you’re choosing to live a meat-free life, ask yourself why that is the right choice for you. If your answer to this question is because you think life is easier and healthier without meat, it may be time to re-evaluate your motives! It is entirely possible (albeit difficult) to live a plant-based life while getting the nutrition you need if you have moral or ethical reasons for not wanting to eat meat.
To all my meatless fitness friends out there – leave me a note in the comments letting me know what your favorite meatless protein sources are!