In December last year, I turned vegetarian. Up until then I had been trying to cut down my meat consumption, but I found I had been constantly finding excuses not to. It was always more convenient, or tastier, or was a treat.
So I decided to go completely cold turkey (pardon the pun). It was mainly from environmental reasons. I’m very conscious that, with all the travelling, my carbon footprint is criminally high. I don’t really have a choice to stop flying if I want to play beach volleyball professionally, so I decided to try to do something else.
Now, this post isn’t about trying to convince you to become vegetarian. I am not a evegalist. However, what I will try to do is answer all the questions I normally get. If you have any more, then please comment them at the bottom and I will try to answer them too!
Aren’t you always hungry?
It’s true, veggie food doesn’t fill you up as much as meat does. But I remedy that by eating more often, which is also a good idea when you are training a lot anyway! I try to make sure that I always have some snacks in my bag. Personal favourites are rice cakes, fruit and nut, and date and nut bars. I will always have a snack straight after training, and then try to get a concrete meal in too. When I cook I make sure I make plenty, so that I can have seconds (and thirds) if I’m still hungry.
How do you get enough protein?
By taking care over what I eat. Yes, it’s not as easy as cutting up some meat and cooking it. But it’s definitely manageable! I cook most of my own food, and make sure that I cycle through lots of different plant-based protein sources. These are principally lentils, beans, eggs, nuts, and dairy. There are loads of different recipes that contain these, and it makes you get really creative with these ingredients!
It’s important that you do eat a mixture of these sources, as they don’t all contain all the amino acids that you need. I try to make sure that every meal I eat in a day has a different source of protein with it (as well as a source of energy and some fresh veg). As I said, I normally cook big pots of food, so when I have some left I freeze the leftover sauces. That means I always have a nutritious, protein-filled meal ready when I need it in the freezer.
Have you ever been tempted?
Yes. Mainly when I’m away at tournaments. When I went to Cambodia, I did have a break, as I had no idea (and no way of knowing) what I was ordering. Poland was also a bit difficult, as we were being fed on site with all the Polish volunteers, who seemingly live on a diet solely consisting of slices of meat and cabbage soup. Safe to say, I had had enough of cabbage by the end of that week.
Do you supplement anything?
I try not to when I can avoid it. This is not necessarily the right way, but I don’t like taking things. I’m also really careful that anything I do take has to be batch tested. There are certain things that vegetarian athletes tend to lack: iron, vitamin B12, and omega 3.
To make sure I get enough iron, I eat lots of fresh vegetables and make myself smoothies with green leafy vegetables every morning.
For vitamin B12, I eat lots of marmite and vegemite, which are both very high in them.
I do take omega 3 tablets, which are batch tested, and the source of which is taken from seaweed.
The advice I have received over the years on supplementation is this:
- Always make sure that what you are taking has been rigorously tested.
- Only take what you need. The products with lots and lots of different things mixed into them might mean that you are over-supplementing on certain things. If you need protein, just take a protein powder-not protein + 5 different minerals and vitamins + caffeine. That way, you can also check what is working and isn’t!
- Supplementation is to supplement a healthy diet, not instead of one. Make sure that everything else you are eating is right before you think about supplementing anything.
Do you have any recommendations for vegetarian recipes?
I have three sources of inspiration that I turn to again and again.
Nigel Slater. He has a real concentration on how to make vegetables taste good, and has lots of books with some really yummy recipes. I am currently working through his Greenfeast books.
Anita Bean. She has a brilliant book, available here. It’s written from a sports nutrition perspective specifically for vegetarians, so tells you exactly what and when you need it, and also has some great recipes in there too.
BBC Good Food. There are some great recipes on here, and what I like is that you can search by ingredient. When I shop, I just buy lots of fresh things-this helps if you need some inspiration on how to use your beetroot!