What Is The Flexitarian Diet? Is It Good For Runners?

Runners care about what they eat and want to be sure to provide enough fuel to their bodies to take on daily distances. Some may even want to lose weight and gain some muscle after a long winter or perhaps after recovering from an injury. The Flexitarian Diet is one answer to their needs.

What is the Flexitarian Diet? Is it good for runners? The Flexitarian Diet is simple, eat way to cut back on meat portions, increase fruits and vegetables and still not have a regimented by-the-book diet plan.

It is considered by doctors and health experts to be a more sensible approach to eating and ranks #2 as the Best Diet Overall on the list of U.S. News Best Diet Rankings.

What Is The Flexitarian Diet?

Rather than call the Flexitarian Diet a diet, it is more accurate to describe it as an eating style. The name is a mashup of the words flexible and vegetarian. It is known as a blend of vegetarian and vegan diets but also allows for occasionally eating meat, so it isn’t a vegetarian or vegan diet.

How It Differents From The Vegetarian Diet

The flexibility of eating meat makes the Flexitarian Diet different from a strict vegetarian diet. The Flexitarian Diet emphasizes decreasing your meat consumption but allows for a burger every once in a while.

One of the major differences between the Flexitarian Diet and a vegan diet is you eat meat by-products, like eggs, yogurt, and milk, in the Flexitarian Diet. Vegan diets don’t allow for these food groups at all.

The Flexitarian Diet is also different from being an omnivore or someone who eats from all the food groups. The difference is that those on the Flexitarian Diet are cutting back on their meat consumption.

According to registered dietitian Dr. Kate Patton, its flexibility is why many people are interested in it. It’s a good alternative to a vegan or vegetarian diet and allows you to focus on implementing more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and beans into your diet without a dramatic shift.

The Stages

Implementing the Flexitarian Diet is done in three stages. Stage 1 is where you pass up meat for two days a week with a total consumption of a maximum of 28 ounces for the week.

Stage two is when you emphasize a fully vegetarian diet up to four days a week. Total meat consumption for the week is reduced to 18 ounces. Stage 3 moves you to follow a vegetarian diet for five to seven days a week with total meat consumption totaling no more than 9 ounces.

There aren’t specific meats you can or can’t eat, but the goal is to eat more nutritious food and more plant-based food. The meats you choose should be free-range, organic, pasture-raised, or grass-fed beef, chicken, or turkey that is a lean cut.

While pork isn’t on a diet, you can eat that as well as long as you choose organic, lean cuts. Fish and seafood are also good as long as you get wild-caught.

Why Are Runners Considering It?

Proponents of the Flexitarian Diet for runners claim it immediately affects performance. It also adds many great nutrients to a daily diet.

Protein is essential for runners to carry themselves long distances. While meat is a major source of protein, the Flexitarian Diet also shows how things like lentils have more nutrient density than most types of meat.

The flexibility allows for runners to consume meat if they want but shifts their diets into a more nutrient-rich plant-based version over time without causing them the guilt of eating something that’s not on a diet.

The Flexitarian Diet is a great option for runners, according to Jennifer Sygo, registered dietician and sports nutritionist. Sygo said a plant-based diet can improve a runner’s performance and is a healthy alternative for them as well as for the environment.

Two Runners Who Are Vegans

Many exceptional runners are vegans, including Samantha Taylor and Harvey Lewis. Taylor, who hails from Great Britain, represented her country in both the triathlon and Taekwondo. She started competing internationally when she was 16 and is most known for her martial arts skills, although her running carried her well in triathlon competitions.

Harvey Lewis of the U.S. has made an impact on running that few can match. He won the Badwater Ultramarathon, a 135-mile extreme race, twice. His name is synonymous with ultramarathon in the running world.

Pros of the Flexitarian Diet

There are plenty of advantages to using the Flexitarian Diet. It’s lower in calories and high in fiber, minerals, antioxidants, and vitamins. It also reduces the risk of chronic ailments, including heart disease and cancer. Semi-vegetarians tend to live 3.6 years longer on average than heavy meat-eaters.

It also helps with weight loss. Boston Tufts University researchers researched to find that semi-vegetarians are 11 percent less to be overweight than meat-eaters. However, you must focus on whole foods like grains rather than processed products like pasta and bread to make the pounds drop on a Flexitarian diet.

Other benefits include:

  • Lowered risk of Type 2 diabetes and better management of pre-diabetes.
  • There is a wider variety of foods than in a regular diet where you depend on meat.
  • Better diet alternative for the environment.

Cons of the Flexitarian Diet

The Flexitarian Diet has some challenges, and runners will notice these.  Runners need all their daily nutrients to keep up with their miles and speed. It’s hard to get Vitamin D, iron protein, Vitamin B12, and zinc included in a vegetarian or vegan diet. Including some meat and dairy will help keep these important elements in your daily diet and fulfill nutritional requirements.

Another challenge is meal planning. You will need to do it, and it will soon force you to be creative. You will need to learn to use things like hemp seeds, quinoa, and soy-based items like tofu and tempeh.

You will also be working with a lot more fruits in your meal planning and will likely need to get some Flexitarian cookbooks to get innovative with your meals, so they don’t become boring.

The Best Way to Start

Dietitians state those interested in trying the Flexitarian Diet should start testing it out by going meatless one day a week. A good day seems to be Monday because it doesn’t have all the stress of the weekend social events and eating out.

Use the one day to test out some new recipes or foods that are plant-based. Make it fun, and don’t stress yourself out over it.

A good advantage of the Flexitarian Diet is you don’t have a time limit to increase your meatless days. You can take as long as you need to adapt and move forward with the diet.

Try for two meatless days once you feel comfortable with the one. They don’t have to be on the same day either. You can make one on Monday and one on Thursday to have a break.

Soon, you will be up to three or four meatless days. You can then treat yourself on some of the other days as long as you don’t overdo it in meat consumption.

For Runners Only

Runners need to pay attention to their bodies as they move into a new diet. Some advice nutritionists offer for runners going onto the Flexitarian Diet include:

  • Use protein powders made from rice, soy, hemp, and rice for a lot of your proteins.
  • Eat some animal protein occasionally, and don’t give it up completely.
  • Go to natural foods rather than processed foods, even if it means switching sports brands.
  • Don’t eat as many refined carbohydrates as white rice cakes, bread, biscuits, and pastries. They are treats, not staples.
  • Limit or eliminate junk food, sugar, and highly processed meals. While you may not be able to do away with them completely, they shouldn’t be a major part of your daily intake.

Safety of Flexitarian Diet

Runners are understandably cautious about what they eat as they want to remain healthy and strong for daily runs, marathons, and competitions. The Flexitarian Diet is one of the best healthy alternatives, and it has a variety of foods included and encourages reducting of foods with a negative impact like sugar and carbohydrates.

The key point dietitians make about the Flexitarian Diet is to get enough daily protein to improve your running performance.

Flexitarian Diet Alternatives

Assuming that you don’t want to go full-fledged into vegan or vegetarian diets, the one good alternative to a Flexitarian Diet is the Mediterranean Diet. The Mediterranean Diet is the number one diet on the U.S. News Best Diet Rankings list, so it is a suitable alternative.

The Mediterranean Diet has many of the same foods as the Flexitarian Diet, like nuts, beans, whole grains, vegetables, and fruits but it also focuses on lean meats like seafood and things like Greek yogurt. It also includes eggplant and leafy greens as its go-to foods.

Related: Which Diets Are Best For Runners? Paleo, Mediterranean, Whole 30 Diet, Vegan, or Keto?

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Coach Scott's Credentials:
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He has published over 20 books including, Beginner's Guide to Half Marathons: A Simple Step-By-Step Solution to Get You to the Finish Line in 12 Weeks! (Beginner To Finisher Book 3), which has become an Amazon International #1 bestseller. Scott specializes in helping new runners become injury-free race finishers. He recently completed his 22nd half marathon race. 

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