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Why (and How) I Became A Plant-Based Athlete

Greenletes / Sports Nutrition / Why (and How) I Became A Plant-Based Athlete

In the intro episode of the Greenletes Podcast, Sports RD Natalie Rizzo shares why and how she became a vegetarian and plant-based athlete.

I’m Natalie, an NYC based RD, specializing in sports nutrition. In my 20’s, I changed careers to become a Registered Dietitian because I had an interest in healthy food and fitness, and I loved to cook healthy recipes.

While I was in school studying nutrition, I decided to become a vegetarian and I’ve never looked back. Here’s my story…

Why I became a vegetarian

When I went back to school to study nutrition, I started to learn a bit more about the food system. I was raised eating meat and animal products, and I didn’t think twice about it because that’s how I grew up. 

In doing some of my own research, I started learning a bit more about factory farming and how meat is raised and processed. I have to be honest, I didn’t love what I heard about animals being forced into tiny spaces and additives in meat. 

I also never really enjoyed the taste of meat. When my mom cooked chicken, I often complained that I wanted something else for dinner. In other words, it wasn’t that hard to start cutting meat out of my diet. 

Becoming a vegetarian wasn’t an overnight decision. It wasn’t like I said, “I’m a vegetarian” one day and then stopped eating meat entirely. Instead, I just decided to eat less meat. I didn’t really tell people about my decision, I just did it on my own. When I went out to eat, I ordered vegetarian items. Or when I was cooking for myself, I cooked plant-based options. 

natalie rizzo eating a strawberry

Bu a situation arose where I had to make a decision about my “label” as a vegetarian. I was babysitting while in grad school. The family went out at night and offered to leave dinner for me. They asked what I wanted to eat, and I didn’t really want to be difficult but I also didn’t want to eat meat. 

To make it easier, I told them I was a vegetarian and they were obviously fine with it. I don’t know why I was nervous to take on that label, but it wasn’t as scary as I thought. From there on in, I called myself as a vegetarian. 

Was it difficult to ditch meat?

Transitioning to a plant-based diet wasn’t as difficult as I had imagined. I live in NYC and there are so many food options.

There were a few instances where I had some difficulties, like being the only person at the BBQ eating a veggie burger or not being able to enjoy meatballs or lasagna with meat sauce at family holiday gatherings. But I got around these situations by making my own vegetarian versions (like these lentil meatballs) and surrounding myself with people who were accepting of my new lifestyle. 

I’ll be the first to admit that I made some mistakes when I first became a vegetarian. I probably ate more carbs than was necessary. After all, it’s easy to replace meat with grains, like pasta or rice. 

The good news is that I had knowledge of nutrition, so I was able to take that and figure out how to create a healthy plant-based diet. I wasn’t really into tofu or tempeh yet, so I started with beans and lentils as protein sources. It was a trial and error thing– I had to figure out what worked for me. 

Now I’ve been a vegetarian for over 10 years. I have standard foods that I eat on a daily basis. I certainly think about the types of macronutrients that go into each meal, but I don’t have to struggle to get certain nutrients. 

Plant-based running

Right before my 30th birthday, I put my name in the lottery for the NYC Half Marathon. I gained entry and had to train for the race. In doing so, I didn’t even really consider how my plant-based diet might affect my performance. 

I was a vegetarian, and I wasn’t going to change that because I became a runner. I just figured running and plant-based eating could go together. But there are certain things to take into account when being a plant-based runner or athlete. 

For example, some plant-based foods can upset your stomach or make you gassy during a workout. I quickly found out that cruciferous veggies (like broccoli and cauliflower) or beans can make you feel bloated or gassy. Or other foods, like onions, garlic and tomatoes, can cause reflux. And the ingredients that plant-based eaters use to spice up food, like vinegars or certain spices, might not sit well in your stomach during a run. 

You really have to think about when to eat these foods in relation to your workout. But although I had to do some trial and error to figure out what worked for me, I really felt great. I never got injured, and I always felt like I was recovering properly after every workout. 

How I can help you

Although I share my story about what works for me, I realize that every single person is different. I am not here to judge anyone about whatever they choose to eat. I recognize that  vegetarian and vegan diets don’t work for everyone. But if you do want to try more plant-based eating for your sport, I am here to give you more science based information and practical tips. 

1. Listen to the Greenletes Podcast (and leave a rating)!

Listen on Apple Podcasts

2. Follow me on Instagram for more practical tips

3. Download  free plant-based meal plan

4. Sign up for the PB roadmap

Learn more about how you can become a plant-based athlete in just 4 weeks here!

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I’m Natalie Rizzo, an NYC-based Registered Dietitian.

My mission is to help everyday athletes fuel their fitness with plants.

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