Your nutrition as a runner is very important. We’re all aware of the basic element that need to go into a basic diet and more and more of us are understanding a more detailed picture of macronutrients.
If you’re an athlete, it’s even more essential that you are keeping track of your diet and avoiding any deficiencies. This article aims to give you some tips when it comes to what to eat as a runner on a vegan diet and hopes to help you continue to improve your performance and avoid unnecessary injuries.
Carbohydrates, fats and protein is something that’s been drilled into us since we were of school age. These three main macronutrients provide energy, not only for fueling you run, but also your basic bodily processes.
Vitamins and minerals are known as ‘micronutrients’. These are required in smaller amounts and take on more specific roles.
There is no magical supplement that is going to replace a plant food diet that is well-balanced that meets all your nutritional needs. Obtaining your nutrients on the form of whole foods is better for performance and health. Your digestive system is going to function better when digestion natural whole foods rather than synthetic ‘nutrient X’ than promises to boost one or two specific bodily processes. The body doesn’t work in this segmented way, our metabolisms are interlinking - to improve health and running performance we need to be focusing on the bigger picture.
Beginning to think about your diet as a runner is a vital step you can take to improve your times and strive towards your next PB. It’s important to aim for an overall healthy balanced diet, this should leave you in the best possible state to run efficiently and make on-going progress.
The amounts of each nutrient you should be eating go along the line of:
Carbohydrates - 50—60% of your diet
Protein - 20-25% of your diet
Fats - 15-25% of your diet
Fruit - 2-3 portions per day
Vegetables - to fill at least half of your plate at meal times
And you can still get the ideal nutritional profile for your running!
At first glance, limiting yourself to a diet made up of solely plant-based foods might make getting everything your body needs more difficult. It’s easier than you think!
Many animal foods have easy-to-find vegan alternatives are widely available in almost every grocery store. Getting you well-rounded athlete-tailored diet, while keep it cruelty free, is a simple matter of doing a little research and getting creative. This article is here to help you with the former.
A portion of carbohydrate is roughly the size of your hand cupped. You should be tailoring the timing of your carbohydrate intake around you training to ensure your entry levels are optimal for you runs.
On training days, aim to get slightly more carbohydrates into your meal plan, while non-training days should involve some low-carb meals and snacks.
Baked Sweet Potato
Packed with vitamins, sweet potato counts as one of your 5-a-day as a healthy source of carbohydrate.
Brown or Whole-wheat Rice and Pasta
Brown and whole-wheat carbs are less processed and contains all parts of the grain - including the fibrous bran, nutrias germ and carb-rich endosperm. As these sources of carbohydrate contain many more essential nutrients than their white counterparts, they are considered much healthier.
Edamame, Kidney Beans or Soy Noodles
Noodles packed with extra vitamins and protein are never a bad thing!
This is probably the big one you’re worrying about when thinking about eating plant based. It’s incredibly easy for those who haven’t done their research to assume that most vegans (especially vegan athletes) are protein deficient. However, getting the right amount of protein on a plant-based diet is far easier than you might think.
Tofu and Nuts
Two excellent protein sources, though you might find that they are also quite high in healthy fats. This isn’t a bad thing by any means, just something to consider if you’re counting macros.
Beans and pulses
These are an excellent source of vegan protein that are also high in dietary fiber, aiding your digestive system.
Excellent for a protein boost, sources such a Vegan Quorn tend to be lean and easy to incorporate into any meal.
You should be aiming at two or three portions of healthy fats per day. Healthy fats are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Saturated fats and trans fats are to be avoided.
Olive oil is the best healthy fat for cooking with due to its ideal balance of saturated to unsaturated fat.
Both contain ALA - a form of Omega 3. Omega 3 is an incredibly important nutrient that is difficult to obtain when eating a plant-based diet, so including these foods on a regular basis will really help your health.
Plants as plants
Consuming whole plant foods in their most basic form is the best way of obtaining dietary fiber and essential vitamins and minerals. The less these fruits and veggies can be process and cooked - the better. Snacking on raw carrot sticks and a fresh apple is ideal!
Very low concentrations of vitamin B (specifically B12) can cause anemia and nervous system damage, so it’s important to avoid becoming deficient. Whilst most vegans do consume enough to avoid these major complications, many do not obtain enough to minimize the risks of heart disease and pregnancy complications.
The only reliable source of bio-available vegan B12 are food that’s are fortified with B12. These foods include some plant milks, soy products and some breakfast cereals.
Vitamin B12 supplements are probably worth considering if you’re following a vegan diet. B12 is best absorbed when taken in small amounts frequently, so a one 10mg tablet each morning is ideal.
Water is important for everything. All your metabolic processes utilize water in some capacity. To cut a long story short - you need water to live!
Try and aim to drink between 1 and 2 liters of water throughout the day
What’s the point otherwise? If you aren’t enjoying the food you’re eating, you’re never going to stick to a balanced and nutritious diet. You should make sure you’re including foods you like and look forward to, these could include things such as:
If you frame your nutrition around our vegan grocery list for runners, you’ll be well on track to achieving not only your running goals, but a healthier lifestyle overall. Not to mention one that benefits animals and the environment!
Hayden Cox is a former NCAA DI athlete in Cross Country and Track. He has had the opportunity to work with 2x U.S. Olympian, Robert Gary, and a host of elite athletes at the collegiate and professional level. Hayden's ideal day consists of an early morning long run on a mountain trail followed by a giant bowl of pasta and a chocolate milkshake (just don't tell anyone about the milkshake!)