Meat – free January

Our journey of cutting down on meat started in January last year when we started doing Meat Free Mondays as our new years resolution. As the year went on our meat free days increased and by the end of the year we were usually only eating meat for about 2-3 days a week.

Fast forward one year and when Christmas morning arrived, we found that we’d bought each other a vegetarian cook book so we took this as a sign and decided to go meat free for January. We drew the line at Veganuary because we felt that cutting out eggs, cheese and milk would be a step too far for us at the moment.

We’ve really enjoyed it and haven’t missed meat at all, our favourite dishes have included nut roasts, lots of different curries, green lasagne, spicy bean casseroles, too many soups to count and numerous vegetable burgers.

Our favourite recipe books have included:-

  • Anita Bean’s Vegetarian Athlete Cookbook – this book has been essential. The first few chapters are so informative and the recipes are amazing. We loved the nut roast and the blueberry porridge. Every recipe has got a nutritional value as well which is very helpful
  • Joe Wicks Veggie Lean in 15 – not quite as good as Anita Bean in that some meals can be quite lacking in protein. We’ve enjoyed the Mexican bean stew for lunch and the halloumi burger was amazing!
  • BOSH – probably our favourite vegetarian recipe comes from this book – the thai curry. These recipes can be quite a bit of faff.
  • The Cycling Chef – Not a vegetarian cookbook but it does include the veggie chickpea, cauliflower and broccoli curry which has become a regular weeknight meal. We’ve also adapted some of the other recipes to be meat free such as the gnocci dish and the Vietnamese broth
Halloumi burger from Veggie Lean in 15 – a post race treat!

January was the month where our “off season” finished and we started increasing our training hours again so we really didn’t want to find our new diet affecting our training. The beginning of Anita Bean’s book was really informative in advising what we needed to look out for when cutting out meat from your diet such as the best sources of protein (pulses, grains, nuts, seeds, dairy and soya). One thing I learnt was that a reference to protein is actually a reference to amino acids which are the building blocks of protein. Some plant sources of protein do not have all of the amino acids that you need so you should try to combine two sources of protein in a meal in order to try and get all of the “complete set”. Easy examples given in the book and that we’ve eaten a lot of include bean chilli (pulses) with rice (grain) or toast (grain) with peanut butter (nuts).

The Cycling Chef’s cauli, broccoli & chickpea curry

Iron is another nutrient discussed in the book. Athletes run a higher risk than non-athletes of becoming iron deficient because when we train aerobically our body creates more red blood cells – and we need iron in order to do this. Iron can also be lost in sweat, bleeding and even by our feet hitting the floor over and over as we run. A lack of iron equals less oxygen being delivered to the muscles and it can also have an effect on bone health so something we really wanted to avoid. Iron can be found in wholegrains, nuts, seeds, pulses, green leafy vegetables and dried fruit. It is also important to eat plenty of vitamin C rich foods because it helps your body increase the absorption of iron.

One of our favourites! Bean chilli, rice, avocado and grated cheese in a wrap

According to Anita Bean Omega 3 Fatty Acids, Vitamin B12, Calcium and Vitamin D are also incredibly important and we needed to make sure we were still consuming enough of these if we were not going to let our new diet affect our training.

I’m sure you’ll agree, that realistically, on a day to day, meal to meal basis this is a lot to keep track of so we both downloaded the My Fitness Pal app (a food tracker app) which really helped us see what we were eating in the terms of protein, carbs, fat and also vitamins and other nutrients such as iron etc.

After the first week or so I noticed the following:-

  • Protein. In order to reach my goal amount I really needed to concentrate on adding a protein source to every meal. Milky porridge replaced toast and jam for breakfast, various beans and egg dishes became a staple at lunchtime and we now go through tonnes of greek yoghurt!
  • Iron – I was not getting enough at all. Despite really trying to ensure I was eating enough iron I was finding that I was falling short of the recommended amount daily. For this reason I started taking a supplement to ensure I was getting all of the nutrients I needed. I chose one specially designed for female vegetarians and I take this every morning with a glass of juice.
  • Calories generally. I was not eating enough when taking into account my training every day. I think this would have been the same even when I was eating meat.. I just hadn’t noticed then because I wasn’t looking at my nutrition as closely.
Sweet potato and kale satay from Veggie Lean in 15

I definitely feel good as a consequence of my diet. I’m not sure this is because I’m not eating meat or because I am now concentrating on my protein intake, eating more calories generally (at night these might be in the form of cake and chocolate!), taking the supplement and eating a lot move vegetables than usual!

Meat-free January was a huge success, we’ve kept it going with only one or two meat or fish dishes a month. I will definitely eat meat and fish as and when I fancy it but at the moment we are not really missing it at all!

Not roast from Anita Bean’s Vegetarian Athlete Cookbook

*thank you to my dietician sister, Carys Davies for her help with this blog post!

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