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Vegan Diet for Runners: Plant-Based Nutrition Tips

vegan-runner

Vegan Diet for Runners: Plant-Based Nutrition Tips

A vegan diet for runners can not only effectively support running performance but can actually improve it if done correctly. 

 

There are several world-class marathon runners that have made the switch to veganism, paving the way for plant-based eating in elite sport. Brendan Brazier, Ruth Heidrich, Scott Jurek, and Fiona Oakes are just a few famous vegan runners.

 

A vegan diet alone won’t guarantee athletic success; but improving the fuel mix that sustains physical activity certainly improves efficiency. A key to achieving peak performance is consuming a healthy balance of all the necessary nutrients while meeting energy needs. 

A vegan diet is a great way to achieve this for marathon runners.

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What are the main nutrition concerns for vegan runners?

Three main factors drive athletic performance: genetics, training, and diet. While there isn’t much control over the genetic aspect, the other factors are modifiable. 

Here are some of the ways to maximize the vegan diet for marathon runners:

Meeting energy needs on a vegan diet for runners

Energy needs vary with age, gender, and metabolism and body size, weight, and composition, as well as the amount and type of physical activity performed. 

Most athletes require 2,000 to 6,000 calories per day. Ultramarathoners, such as Scott Jurek, may reach 8,000 calories per day!

An athlete’s ability for optimal performance can be compromised if the body’s energy needs aren’t met. Vegan foods can meet the high energy needs of athletes, including those who engage in extreme sports. 

However, vegan foods are often bulky and lower in energy density. Vegan runners should ensure to choose plenty of energy-dense vegan foods.

Good snack options for vegan runners to meet energy demands include smoothies, sandwiches, whole grain cereal, healthy baked goods, bean stews, avocados, trail mix, toast with nut butter, power bars, yogurt, and pasta dishes. 

A note on disordered eating in elite athletes

Eating disorder prevalence is higher in the athletic vs. average population

Unfortunately, some athletes may restrict calories in an effort to reduce body fat, improve aesthetics, or fit into a specific weight class. This practice can impair performance, damage mental health, and lead to eating disorders. 

See a registered dietitian if any of this resonates with you. 

Carbohydrates on the vegan diet for marathon runners

Carbs are the primary fuel for runners because they help sustain blood sugar levels during a run, improve exercise capacity, and maintain glycogen stores. 

Evidence repeatedly shows that carbohydrate restriction is detrimental to athletic performance. 

Eating sufficient carbohydrates is important for supplying energy for training and replenishing glycogen stores between training sessions. Vegan runners should aim for 5-12 grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight per day. 

Some examples of vegan foods that provide 50 grams of carbohydrate are:

  • 1 cup vegan yogurt, 1 apple, and ¼ cup granola,
  • ¾ cup rice, 2 cups veggies, 2 oz tofu,
  • 1 banana, 1 cup soy milk, 1 scoop protein powder, 1 cup strawberries,
  • 2 slices bread, 2 tbsp peanut butter, 1 small banana, and
  • 1 pita bread with ½ cup hummus.

Meeting protein needs

A question I get asked frequently is: Can runners on a vegan diet get enough protein intake?

My answer is yes! While athletes often need more protein than the average person, these requirements are easily met by a well-planned vegan diet.

Protein is important in maintaining lean muscle mass and maximizing exercise performance. For vegan endurance athletes, protein intakes of 1.3-1.5 grams per kilogram of body weight per day are recommended. 

So a 150lb vegan runner (68kg), would need a minimum of 88.4 grams of protein per day (68kg x 1.3g/kg/day). 

When runners plan their diet for training, protein sources at each meal and snack need to be considered. Vegans who have difficulty with this may benefit from the addition of protein powder. 

Here are some of my favourite vegan protein sources:

 

  • Tofu: 20 grams per 1 cup
  • Tempeh: 15 grams per ½ cup
  • Legumes: 14 grams per 1 cup
  • Soy milk: 9 grams per 1 cup
  • Quinoa: 8 grams per 1 cup
  • Nut butters: 8 grams per 2 tbsp
  • Steel cut oats: 8 grams per ¾ cup
  • Whole grain bread: 7 grams per 2 slices
  • Nuts: 7 grams per ¼ cup
  • Hemp seeds: 7 grams per 2 tbsp

Healthy fats

After carbs and protein needs are met, the rest of calories come from fat. Reduced fat intakes are not recommended for athletes and have no benefit on performance. 

Vegan runners should rely primarily on healthy fat sources like plant oils, nuts, seeds, soy milk, avocados, olives, and soy foods to meet fat needs. 

Vitamins and minerals on a vegan diet for runners

Not surprisingly, an athlete’s needs for vitamins and minerals is higher than that of the average person. However, I like to use a food-first approach, meaning that you should aim to meet your needs with whole foods before resorting to supplements, processed foods, and protein powders. 

When energy needs are met, athletes can usually obtain all micronutrient needs on a balanced vegan diet, except for vitamin B12 and vitamin D. 

Because whole plant foods lack vitamin B12, all vegans must rely on fortified foods and/or supplements to ensure an adequate intake. Note, however, that there are no performance enhancing benefits from taking a surplus of vitamin B12.

You can obtain Vitamin D from fortified foods, but if you eat minor amounts of these, train indoors, or have limited sun exposure, it is recommended that Canadian vegan runners take a supplement.

Other nutrients that are important for vegan marathon runners include B vitamins, antioxidant vitamins, iron, zinc, calcium, magnesium, and electrolytes. A sports nutrition dietitian can help you ensure you are on the best vegan diet for runners to meet all your nutritional needs.  

Veganism-runner

Need a runner’s diet plan for training?

Optimal nutrition for distance runners is very individualized. 

It is dependent on training schedules, events, and athlete characteristics. History of injury, disordered eating, pregnancy, and specific medical challenges should all be considered when creating a runner’s vegan diet plan for training.

Depending on an athlete’s individual needs, meals, snacks, and hydration status and intensity/duration of a workout, the best vegan diet for runners changes. 

As a vegan sports nutrition dietitian I am passionate about nutrition for distance runners. To book a free discovery call with me, click here. 

The foods and fluids vegan runners consume before, during, and after events or training runs can make or break performance. Let me help you take the guess work out of your runner’s diet plan for training.