I like to think of myself as not your average personal trainer.
For one, I was not an athlete growing up. I was the “fat kid” who would rather be in a corner with a book than outside playing. I didn’t find fitness until my early 20s. Thankfully, I have been hooked ever since.
Another reason is because I am a vegetarian. I have met more than one prospective client who’s also a vegetarian who breathed a big sigh of relief when they found out I am one as well. It seems when you mention this to some other trainers, they either insist you must eat meat to be healthy or give you a blank stare because they know nothing about a vegetarian lifestyle.
Due to their lack of knowledge or unwillingness to find out more, it can become a very awkward relationship.
The beginning of my own fitness journey actually started when I became a vegetarian for the second time. I was a vegetarian for a couple of years in high school, but not in a good way. Believe me, a vegetarian diet is not inherently a healthy one. I lived off of bread, cheese, french fries, pizza, and any other number of carb laden fast food options.
In college, on my own for the first time, I drifted back to eating meat. Over time, though, I could tell my body didn’t feel right. So when I made the resolve to get healthy and fit I knew meat had to leave my diet again.
Despite what some trainers might think, my health and fitness improved without meat in my diet. My energy level immediately improved. I ate a more varied diet because I couldn’t rely on the staples of chicken, tuna and salmon. I became more creative in the kitchen, especially as the years went by and I moved away from many of the processed vegetarian options like veggie sausages and veggie frozen meals. I believe my health and fitness level owe a great deal to being vegetarian not in spite of my vegetarian lifestyle.
If I am working with a client who is a vegetarian, or who is interested in making the transition, we always cover some basics as part of their nutrition plan.
- First lesson: Eliminating meat from your diet will not automatically cause you to lose weight. As I mentioned, from my own experience, you can still eat plenty of junk non-meat foods. Eating too much of anything, including bread, fruit and nuts, can make you unfit and overweight.
- Second lesson: You still need plenty of protein. Many proponents of a plant based diets advocate a pretty low percentage of calories from protein. For an athlete, I typically recommend 1 g of protein per lb of bodyweight. My personal goal is around 110-140 g per day.
- Third lesson: Where do I get my protein? Most foods have protein, just some more than others. If you’re still eating eggs they are, biologically speaking, one of the best sources of protein out there. Tofu, seitan, beans, nuts, nut butters, lentils, peas, edamame, quinoa and tempeh are all excellent sources of protein.