The top 10 things you should know about nutrition for vegetarian runners. Learn how to create a running nutrition plan & increase performance.
Running is a fantastic way to stay fit, relieve stress, and challenge yourself both mentally and physically. Whether you’re a seasoned marathoner or just starting on your running journey, your nutrition plays a crucial role in your performance and overall well-being.
For vegetarian runners, figuring out the best foods to eat is crucial to ensure you have the energy, stamina, and muscle recovery needed to excel in your sport. But, believe it or not, nutrition for vegetarian runners is very similar to nutrition for meat-eating runners.
In this blog post, we’ll explore the top 10 nutrition tips for runners, with advice specifically tailored to vegetarians. Following this advice will help you achieve peak performance while staying true to your dietary choices.
1. Eat pre-run fuel
Your body is like a car and it needs fuel to move. Food gives you energy, and you need energy to run–it’s that simple. Running on an empty stomach will make you feel fatigued.
Carbohydrates are your body’s primary energy source. Incorporate complex carbohydrates like whole grains, sweet potatoes, and oats into your diet to provide sustained energy for your runs.
As a rule of thumb, these complex carbs are best to include in a well-balanced meal 2-3 hours before a run. If you’re eating within 60 minutes of your workout, opt for a simple carb, like fruit or crackers. [Learn more about what to eat before a workout here.]
I describe this in detail and offer examples in The No-Brainer Nutrition Guide For Every Runner.
Whether you’re plant-based or not, hydration is incredibly important and often overlooked. People associate hydration with summer and sweating, but it’s important to think about hydration year-round. Most people don’t drink enough water on a daily basis, which can be detrimental to your running success.
Make sure you’re properly hydrated going into a run. Dehydration can lead to decreased performance and even injury. Drink water consistently throughout the day and consider electrolyte-rich drinks for longer runs.
To determine your hydration status, take a look at the color of your urine–pale yellow means you’re hydrated, and dark yellow means you need to drink more. Or consider conducting a sweat test.
3. Recover properly after every run
After your run, refuel with a mix of carbohydrates and protein. Post-run carbohydrates replenish glycogen (carbs stored in the muscle and liver) to enhance recovery. Protein aids in muscle repair and growth.
A smoothie with spinach, banana, protein powder, and almond milk can be a quick and effective post-run recovery option. Or if you have more of an appetite, try a whole-grain wrap with beans and veggies to kickstart muscle recovery.
Prepping your recovery meal ahead of time is a great way to ensure you have a well-balanced dish that will aid in recovery. This potato, tofu and greens bowl is so easy to make and great for vegetarian or vegan runners.
4. Opt for whole grains at meal times
Choose whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, whole wheat pasta, and oats to provide long-lasting energy through complex carbohydrates. These grains are also rich in fiber, which aids in digestion, protects the heart, and stabilizes blood sugar. And, they also offer some protein, which is important for runners who don’t eat meat.
That said, don’t eat too much fiber right before a run, as it may cause stomach issues. Instead, incorporate whole grains into post-run vegetarian meals.
5. Incorporate healthy fats into your recovery
Runner’s “hanger” (being hungry and angry) is real. Your new sport will make you ravenous, and one of the best ways to satiate this hunger is with fat, yes fat!
Eating healthy unsaturated fats, like those found in avocados, nuts, fatty fish, and seeds, after a workout is a great way to keep you feeling full and satisfied. [Learn more about recovery foods here.]
6. Prioritize protein
As a vegetarian, it’s essential to get protein from a variety of sources to ensure you’re meeting your protein needs on a daily basis. The amount of protein that vegetarian runners need varies from person to person.
But most runners need about 1.2- 2.0 grams/kilogram or 0.5 – 0.9 grams/pound of body weight per day. The ranges depend on mileage, intensity, and goals.
Since plant-based foods have less protein per gram than animal foods, it’s necessary to eat a larger volume of food, as well as more diverse protein sources.
Opt for a variety of beans, lentils, tofu, tempeh, quinoa, nuts, seeds, and dairy or dairy alternatives throughout the day. This will ensure you obtain all essential amino acids for muscle repair and growth.
7. Fuel during long runs
For runs that exceed 60 minutes, the body needs excess fuel to maintain energy. Glycogen and dietary carbs are used up after about 60-75 minutes of running, so you may start to feel your energy levels dip during long runs. To prevent that, carry easily digestible vegetarian snacks like energy gels, chews, or dried fruits to maintain energy levels and prevent muscle fatigue.
8. Practice your race-day nutrition
If you signed up for a race (and I think you should because it gives you something to work towards), practice your eating routine before the race.
For example, wake up at the same time, have the same breakfast and then go for a run that is the same distance as your race. See how your stomach feels and tweak accordingly. This will help you avoid any unwanted tummy troubles on race day.
9. Supplement to prevent deficiencies
While the best way to prevent nutrient deficiencies is to eat a well-balanced diet, some vegetarian runners may benefit from supplements like iron, vitamin D, or vitamin B12.
Iron is vital for transporting oxygen to muscles. Incorporate iron-rich foods like spinach, chickpeas, fortified cereals, and pumpkin seeds into your diet. Pair these foods with vitamin C-rich options like citrus fruits to enhance iron absorption.
Calcium is essential for maintaining strong bones. Athletes who eat dairy probably get plenty of calcium in their diet, but those who don’t may need to increase their intake of calcium-fortified plant milks, tofu, almonds, and leafy greens like kale and collard greens to meet your calcium needs.
Vitamin D goes hand-in-hand with iron and helps protect the bones from stress fractures. Most people don’t get enough Vitamin D, since the main source is the sun. Talk to your doctor about adding a Vitamin D supplement into your daily routine.
Since vitamin B12 is primarily found in animal products, vegetarian runners should consider B12 supplements or fortified foods to prevent deficiency, which can lead to fatigue and anemia.
Read more about all the important nutrients for plant-based runners:
- 12 Plant-Based Iron Sources
- 10 Vegan & Vegetarian Sources of Vitamin B12
- 12 Best Plant-Based Sources of Calcium
- 3 Supplements Plant-Based Athletes Need (And 4 To Stop Wasting Money On)
10. Listen to your body
Every runner is different, and your nutritional needs may vary. Pay attention to how your body responds to different foods and adjust your diet accordingly.
Hey, that’s what I’m here for! I’m a Registered Dietitian, and I created a really handy guide to nutrition for running, called The No-Brainer Nutrition Guide For Every Runner. It goes into every single one of these topics in depth and offers practical examples.
Or reach out on Instagram (@greenletes) and tell me about your nutrition goals.