Meatless Mondays: How to Adopt a Plant-Based Diet

Cutting meat completely out of your diet and can be a shock to your lifestyle. You can still reap the benefits of a plant-based diet by going "meatless" one or two days a week.

Limiting meat intake and emphasizing on fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains and healthy fats even just one day a week has been shown to reduce your risk of heart disease and other chronic conditions, while still allowing you to be fueled and ready for training and competition, according to the American Heart Association Nutrition Committee.

But just like any sports-nutrition regimen it take some time and planning to adopt a plant-based diet—even if it's only for a few days a week.

More: 6 Reasons to Try a Plant-Based Diet

A plant-based diet is built around vegetables, beans, grains, nuts and seeds. Athletes may be concerned about fueling for optimal performance, especially meeting daily protein needs. Eating a variety of plant-based foods will help you meet both your energy and protein needs.

There are a few different kinds of plant-based diets that will help guide how you approach your "Meatless Mondays." The three most common are the vegan diet, lacto-vegetarian and the lacto-ovo-vegetarian.

The vegan diet includes no animal products such as meat, eggs or dairy products. The lacto-vegetarian includes no meat or eggs, but dairy products are included. And the lacto-ovo-vegetarian includes no meat but dairy products and eggs are included.

More: Plant-Based Diet Tips for Weight Loss

Plant-based proteins include legumes, tofu, textured vegetable and soy protein, quinoa, nuts and seeds. Eggs, low-fat or non-fat dairy products can also be added if they fit into the type of diet plan you choose to follow.

You'll also want to include complex carbohydrates like whole grain bread, whole-wheat pasta, whole grain cereal, oatmeal, brown rice, quinoa, bulgur, barley and other types of whole grains. A variety of different colored fruits and vegetables and healthy fats from nuts, seeds, nut butters, avocado and olive oil will also need to be added into your plant-based diet.

As long as you are getting all the energy and nutrients you need through a variety of foods then your athletic performance won't suffer.

More: 3 Steps to a Plant-Based Lifestyle

Choosing the Right Foods

Some common deficiencies include iron, zinc, B12, riboflavin, calcium and vitamin D. Knowing about these deficiencies and being conscious on choosing the right foods will help avoid complications.

  • Sources of calcium include: milk and milk-based foods, kale, broccoli, bok choy, legumes, figs, almonds, chickpeas, oranges, tofu and fortified soymilk or orange juice.
  • Sources of iron include: pistachios, cashews, chickpeas, dried apricots, spinach, legumes, wheat germ, whole-grain products, fortified cereals and tofu.
  • Sources of riboflavin include: enriched whole-grain cereals, enriched breads, dark-green leafy vegetables, broccoli, avocados, nuts, dairy products and eggs.

Food Preparation tips for "Meatless Mondays"

  • Substitute beans for animal protein in some of your favorite dishes.
  • Use beans and legumes in casseroles, salads, soups and chili.
  • Make a black bean burger instead of the traditional hamburger or turkey burger.
  • Add eggplant and mushrooms for a healthy and tasty lasagna, pasta dishes, or pizza topping instead of meat.
  • Mix tofu with vegetables and spices for a delicious meal, like stir-fry.

More: 3 Plant-Based Power Meals for Athletes

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About the Author

Michelle Ulrich

Michelle Ulrich, MS, RD, CNSC, works as a clinical dietitian at Sharp Memorial Hospital in San Diego, California. She's also the sports dietitian for ETA Coach, an endurance coaching company. She has a passion for food, nutrition and sports.

Michelle Ulrich, MS, RD, CNSC, works as a clinical dietitian at Sharp Memorial Hospital in San Diego, California. She's also the sports dietitian for ETA Coach, an endurance coaching company. She has a passion for food, nutrition and sports.

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