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Vegan Runner Diet: Staying Fueled and Healthy as a Plant-Based Runner

A vegan runner diet might sound a bit foreign or unfulfilling if you are not familiar with the idea, but it actually can be quite nourishing and beneficial for athletes. Following a vegan or plant-based diet is becoming more and more popular – and for good reason.

Is a vegan diet good for runners?

A vegan diet is great for runners, endurance athletes, and people of all kinds. The stigma that meat or dairy is necessary for protein and other nutrients is slowly starting to fade away, and being replaced with the knowledge that plants are capable of providing these nutrients.

Vegan runners are capable of building just as much muscle, enduring just as much distance, and training for races of all distances and difficulty levels as those who consume a standard American diet.

Plant-based foods provide just as much protein, macro-nutrients, vitamins, minerals and fiber as animal products – in fact, many provide even more.

A vegan diet is a great way for runners to fuel their body for all of the workouts, long runs and cross training that is required during training.

What should a vegan runner eat?

If you are new to the vegan diet, it can feel overwhelming to try and decide what is best to eat. Runners who have recently removed animal products from their diet might find it difficult to come up with replacements when they first get started.

Here are a few great options of fuel sources in a vegan runner diet.

  • Vegetables – many vegetables offer a surprisingly high amount of protein (broccoli especially)
  • Fruits – fruits are a great source of carbohydrates for quick fueling options
  • Whole grains – another great source of carbohydrates that can be quickly digested
  • Seeds – many seeds offer high levels of protein and healthy fats (chia and flax seeds especially)
  • Beans – beans are a wonderful source of protein, fiber and a great way to stay full
  • Nuts and nut butters – nuts provide more healthy fats as well as protein to help runners fuel up and stay full
  • Potatoes and starches – provide a healthy source of carbohydrates and are a great way to boost your caloric intake during meals
  • Pastas (whole wheat, brown rice, chickpea and more) – pasta is an excellent source of carbohydrates, and some gluten-free options provide protein as well
This vegan runner diet will help you stay fueled and healthy during training. Try some of these plant-based meals for runners!

The Basis of a Vegan Runner Diet

Understanding the building blocks of a basic vegan diet can be very helpful for runners to help meet their unique caloric and nutritional needs.

The first key for any runner, especially long-distance runners, is understanding their own caloric needs. As mileage increases, it’s important that you are adequately fueling with enough calories to prevent the cycle of overtraining and under-fueling.

Many runners feel that switching to a vegan diet during training will leave them lacking in some capacity – whether that be protein, fat or just calories in general. However, the good news, is that all plant food contains protein, and with a well-rounded vegan diet, it is just as easy (if not easier) to meet your daily nutritional needs than with the standard American diet.

Try using Dr. Greger’s “Daily Dozen” as a guide when deciding on your meals and snacks throughout the day.

9 Tips for Plant Based Runners

  • Eat as much as it takes to feel comfortably full
  • Caloric density is lower in most plant foods, so higher volume is needed at meals
  • Nuts, soy products, beans, legumes and seeds are great sources of protein
  • Utilize a plant-based protein option if needed or wanted (not whey based)
  • Nearly all vegan foods are carbohydrate based, so loading up and refueling is easy
  • Consume healthy fats from seeds, nut butters and avocados
  • Avoid saturated fat from oils and butter
  • Monitor fiber intake and adjust before a run if necessary
  • Try Athletic Greens (AG1) first thing in the morning to fuel your body with the nutrients you need to stay healthy during training

Vegan Diet Caloric Breakdown for Runners

  • Carbohydrates (~65%): all plant foods; vegetables, fruits, beans, legumes, whole grains, pastas
  • Protein (~10 – 15%): all plant foods; beans, nuts, seeds, legumes, vegetables
  • Fat (~15 – 20%): nuts, nut butters, seeds, avocados
  • Fiber: all plant foods – might need to monitor during a diet transition as the body adjusts

Micronutrients to Observe on a Vegan Diet

  • Vitamin D – this is only obtained naturally through sunlight; many foods are fortified, such as plant-based milks, but it is one to consider supplementing
  • Vitamin B12 – some fortified foods such as cereals and nutritional yeast; another nutrient to consider supplementing
  • Selenium – can be difficult to obtain on any diet; found naturally in Brazil nuts, tofu, whole wheat and couscous
  • Iodine – can be difficult to obtain on any diet; found in iodized salt, dulse, or can be supplemented
  • Calcium – a key nutrient for runners to pair with vitamin D for healthy bones; found naturally in many plant foods such as broccoli, soy products, beans, peas, lentils, tahini, chia and flax seeds
  • Iron – another key nutrient for runners and all people; iron is found naturally in lentils, chickpeas, tofu, beans, cashews, dark leafy greens and many seeds

Staple Foods for a Vegan Runner

  • Whole wheat bread, bagels, pitas
  • Pastas: whole wheat, brown rice, chickpea
  • Potatoes: white, red, sweet potatoes
  • Beans and legumes: black beans, chickpeas, kidney beans, pinto beans, great northern beans, peas
  • Seeds: chia, flax, hemp, sunflower, pumpkin, sesame
  • Hummus and tahini
  • Nuts and nut butters: peanuts, cashews, almonds, walnuts, pistachios, pine nuts, hazelnuts
  • Vegetables: dark leafy greens, broccoli, cucumber, bell pepper, tomato, onion, mushrooms and more
  • Fruits: bananas, strawberries, blueberries, apples, watermelon, kiwi, mango, pineapple, cherries and more
  • Soy products: tofu, soy milk, soy sauce, miso, edamame, tempeh
  • Plant-based protein powders
  • Natural sweeteners: agave nectar, maple syrup, dates, coconut sugar
  • Tea and coffee: green tea, black tea, black coffee, matcha
  • Sprouts: broccoli, alfalfa, mung bean, wheat grass

Meal Ideas for Vegan Runners

Coming up with meal ideas is often the hardest part of transitioning to a new diet or lifestyle. It can be challenging to truly embrace and enjoy a vegan diet if it feels like all of the meals and snacks you used to eat are no longer compatible.

However, the meal, snack and smoothie options for runners on a vegan diet are truly endless. Once you have a few favorites in your back pocket it’ll make things so much easier and enjoyable. As time passes, most runners find that they are feeling better than ever before, able to train harder, have more energy, and truly enjoy their food after switching to a vegan diet.

Breakfast

  • Oatmeal with bananas or berries
  • Toast with nut butter, avocado or fruit
  • Pancakes made with oat, almond or whole wheat flour
  • Teff porridge
  • Tofu scramble
  • Breakfast burritos
  • Muffins or breads made with whole foods
  • Parfait with plant-based yogurt and granola
  • Smoothies

Lunch

  • Salads
  • Tacos
  • Stir fry
  • Vegetable panini with hummus
  • Power bowls with grains, beans, vegetables and starches
    • Example: brown rice, chickpeas, broccoli, and red potatoes with tahini and lemon juice
    • Example: white rice, sweet potatoes, red onion, bell pepper, black beans with avocado and salsa
  • Toast with nut butter, avocado or fruit
  • Smoothies

Dinner

  • Black bean burgers with sweet potato fries
  • Loaded sweet or baked potatoes
  • Power bowls with grains, beans and vegetables
    • Example: brown rice, chickpeas, broccoli, and red potatoes with tahini and lemon juice
    • Example: white rice, sweet potatoes, red onion, bell pepper, black beans with avocado and salsa
  • Stir fry with soy sauce, tahini, avocado, or lemon juice
  • Curries
  • Tacos, fajitas or burritos with tofu or tempeh
  • Vegetable based soups
    • Example: minestrone based with vegetable broth and diced tomatoes
  • Pastas with vegetable sauces
    • Example: spaghetti with marinara
    • Example: rotini with coconut milk and vegetable broth base

Snacks

  • Muffins or bread made with whole wheat flour and natural sweeteners
  • Toast with nut butter, avocado or fruit
  • Yogurt derived from plant-based milk
  • Fruit
  • Smoothies
  • Vegetables with hummus or guacamole

Smoothies for Vegan Runners

A simple, delicious way to both fuel and refuel a run on a vegan diet is with a smoothie. It’s an easy way to pack in some greens and healthy fats with seeds or nut butters. If you’re wanting or needing to increase your protein, adding plant-based protein powders to smoothies is a great option.

Many runners enjoy refueling with smoothies post-workout as they benefit from being able to consume both carbohydrates and protein all at once. In addition, a single smoothie itself – when built correctly – can often substitute an entire meal. Here are some great smoothie combinations to try on a vegan runner diet.

  • Spinach, almond milk, chia seeds, bananas, strawberries, optional cacao powder
  • Spinach, water, flax or chia seeds, bananas, grapes, apple
  • Kale or spinach, water, almond butter, blueberries, flax seeds, bananas
  • Kale or spinach, water, chia seeds, bananas, mango, pineapple

Runners can greatly benefit from a daily smoothie in their diet. Smoothies can easily be packed with micronutrients while providing a healthy serving of carbohydrates, protein and fat all in one. To successfully build a smoothie, you’ll want to be sure to include some of each of the following.

  • Liquid base: water, almond milk, soy milk or another plant-based milk
  • Dark leafy greens: spinach (has very minimal taste), kale, collards, bok choy
  • Omega 3 fatty acids: chia seeds, flax seeds, cold-pressed flax oil
  • Protein: comes from either the seeds, nut butter or plant-based protein powder
  • Ripe bananas, spotted brown is best for sweetness
  • Carbohydrates: easily consumed with the bananas and added fruit for flavor

Want to become a plant based runner?

A vegan diet for runners is not only possible, but it might actually help improve performance. Removing foods from the standard American diet that are packed with chemicals, oils, additives, salt and saturated fats has been shown to help prevent and minimize the risk of developing certain diseases and illness.

According to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, fueling your body with whole, plant foods has the potential to optimize your recovery time and even improve your performance on the run.

It’s important to remember that making a sudden change to a vegan diet might initially have you feeling bloated or uncomfortable as your gut adjusts. However, this digestive distress is nearly always temporary, and once it has passed, most find themselves feeling better than ever before.

If you’re looking to take your running and health to the next level, adopting a vegan diet is a great first step. Unlocking your potential is easy!

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