Runners need lots of protein to aid recovery, so there is a misconception that a vegan diet will hamper performance. However, there are plenty of high-performing vegan runners out there, including ultramarathon runners Scott Jurek, Harvey Lewis, and Damian Hall, and let’s not forget about Mike Freemont, who qualified for the Boston Marathon at the grand old age of 83!
Switching to a plant-based diet is feasible for anyone, not least runners. But you must focus on eating the right foods to fuel your training needs. You can’t just cut out meat and dairy and expect to be fine. Vegans more than most people are vulnerable to nutritional deficiencies, which will have a disastrous effect on your performance.
Protein Is Vital
Protein helps muscles recover from a strenuous workout. For endurance running, it’s vital to have a protein recovery meal within 30 mins of a workout. Often, this is a protein shake, but many products use whey protein, which is unsuitable for a vegan diet. Luckily there are alternatives.
Brussels sprouts and broccoli are high in protein, although perhaps not very tasty first thing in the morning! If you regularly run before breakfast, have a bowl of steel-cut oats with plant-based milk, as these are a great source of protein and will sate your post-run appetite. Add a handful of pumpkin seeds or chia seeds for extra protein. Another tasty alternative is avocado on a toasted pumpkin bagel. It contains less protein, but it is healthy and filling. Peanut butter is higher in protein; add to a banana smoothie for a breakfast recovery drink.
Vegans Need B12
B12 is found in meat and eggs, so vegan runners need to look for alternate sources. There are a few for vegan runners, including nutritional yeast, fortified plant milk, meat substitutes, tempeh, and seaweed. But if you want to be doubly sure you are consuming enough B12, take a daily supplement, ideally a vitamin B-Complex that contains B12.
Running can burn a lot of calories, so you need to replenish your energy stores with healthy foods. Since high-calorie options like cheese and meat are off the menu and binging on junk food like fries isn’t a good idea, you need healthy alternatives.
These can include avocadoes, nuts, and seeds. Snack on cashew nuts, almonds, walnuts, pecans, and different seed mixes. They will fill you up and boost your heart health and mental cognition.
Don’t eat a high-fat meal for a few hours before a workout, as it takes a while to digest, and you could suffer a tummy upset mid-run that involves a desperate dash into the bushes. Remember, timing is everything!
Vegan runners need to spend more time meal planning and will likely have to consume more food overall to meet their nutritional requirements. If you get sick of cooking, eat out, such as at Native Foods – vegan restaurants, where meals are carefully balanced and delicious too.
Don’t let being vegan slow you down. In fact, you’ll probably end up being a stronger runner once you switch to plant-based eating!