I’m not crazy when I say that beans and legumes fuel my running; however, many others seem to think I am. “But how do you get your protein?” That is always the first question I’m asked when I make the statement that I am a vegetarian. The second question I get is “Do you have low iron levels?” It is then followed by a series of other questions concerning my health and how I am able to run without eating meat. For the past six years, I have been eating a vegetarian diet. For all of those six years, I’ve heard these statements.
During this time I have constantly been involved in sports. The sport I spent the most time on was running. I have found a lot of success in running; I have been on varsity both my freshman and sophomore years so far and have ran at the state meet once. I did this all on a meatless diet.
Many people have the opinion that it is not possible to run fast while on a meatless diet. The founder of Bulletproof Nutrition, Dave Asprey, contributes a vegan diet (no meat, eggs, or milk) to the decline of famous Olympic sprinter Carl Lewis. Asprey says “A vegetarian diet decreases muscle carnosine stores which are needed for optimal sprinting performance” and “Vegans and vegetarian are likely to be anemic” (Asprey). Many others, including many runners, also hold this opinion.
A main flaw people see in the vegetarian diet is a lack of protein. People think that without the protein from meat, vegetarians and vegans will be protein deficient. This would be a big problem for runners seeing as running requires a lot of leg muscle, and without protein and exercise one won’t build that muscle. So how do vegetarian athletes get their protein?
Being a successful runner and vegetarian, it’s obvious that I get some kind of protein in my diet. I get protein from eating a variety of legumes and grains. I eat beans almost every night for dinner, and when I don’t, I eat quinoa or other protein-rich grains. I also eat beans and brown rice for lunch about half of the time. Due to eating these foods, I have never had a problem with a lack of protein.
Ultramarathoner and vegan Scott Jurek also has no problems getting protein. In interviews from Bon Appetit and No Meat Athlete, he said that he gets his protein from brown rice, legumes, soy protein, and protein powder. The assumption that people on meatless diets don’t get enough protein is clearly false. There are a copious amount of sources that vegetarians and vegans can get protein from.
Many people also think that vegetarians are iron deficient. Iron deficiency was one of the main problems that Asprey had with meatless diets, as he said vegetarians were “likely to be anemic”. All female athletes have a chance of being anemic, but being a vegetarian does not increase one’s risk of iron deficiency. According to a No Meat Athlete article, “A 2011 study of female collegiate rowers in New York found that 30% of the athletes tested had low iron stores” (Fergusson). These were non- vegetarian female athletes, and the fact that a large amount of them had iron deficiency shows it is not linked to vegetarianism; it is just something that many female athletes have. A vegetarian diet doesn’t automatically imply an iron deficiency. Vegetarians simply get iron from somewhere other than meat, whether from legumes, leafy greens, or dried fruits.
Not eating meat does not limit one’s athletic performance. Contrary to what many may think, it is possible to be a vegetarian runner who is not deficient in iron and protein. Throughout my time as a vegetarian, I have found success in running. I have been healthy and energized even though I am not eating meat. The disbelief I have received from ignorant people regarding my ability to run without meat has motivated me to run even harder to prove them wrong. However, there is nothing to prove because the facts and my personal experience show that meatless diets allow people to become very successful distance runners.