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Healthy Eating Tips for Vegetarian Runners

by Sylvester Janssens
by Sylvester Janssens

Both vegetarian and a runner? Aren’t you supernatural?

Well, I have great news for you: recent studies have shown that there are no significant performance differences between vegetarian and non-vegetarian athletes, assuming that your vegetarian diet is sufficient, balanced, and varied. So how can you decide the right vegetarian diet for you?

Protein Protein Protein!

Protein is an essential component in many physiological processes, such as boosting the immune system, maintaining nitrogen balance, and building lean muscles. That’s why; the protein intake of athletes in general and runners in particular should be higher than the average Joe. This is probably due to the fact that when exercising causes muscles breakdown, Protein is much needed for the repair and for boosting the increase in lean muscles mass. Accordingly, paying close attention to getting enough Protein intake is indispensable for vegetarian athletes.

Even if you were a strict vegetarian (a vegan), you can take advantage of nutritional shakes and protein supplements as a great source for amino acids. These acids are not made in the body and must be consumed through diet. It goes without saying that varying your Protein resources is a must in order to minimize the risk of protein deficiency. Beans and legumes are highly recommended in that regard.

According to Venderley & Campbell 2006, adults Protein RDA (recommended daily allowance) is a daily 0.36 grams for every pound of body weight or 0.8 gram for every kilogram of body weight. When it comes to endurance athletes, the recommended doze varies from daily 0.55 to 0.64 gram per body weight pound or 1.2 to 1.4 gram per body weight kilogram. During resistance exercises and other forms of rigorous training, the recommended intake further increases to 0.73-0.77 gram per pound or 1.6-1.7 gram per kilogram. Based on the same study, most athletes do not experience much difficulty in meeting these demands.

Veggie Athletes Fat Needs

Athletes should adhere to a minimum of 20% to 25% fat out their total calorie intake. This is because the benefits of fats are endless. For one, they provide bodily fuel and necessary fatty acids; not to mention their importance in absorbing fat-soluble vitamins.

Unlike Proteins, vegetarian/vegan runners have many fat resources to choose from. On top of the list comes avocados, seeds, nuts, nut butters, olives, tahini in addition to plant oils like olive oil. Experts recommend these sources in particular as they are rich in mono and polyunsaturated fats.

Carbohydrate Intake for Vegetarian Athletes

When it comes to the overall bodily fuel and energy, carbs are essential ingredient and again, athletes need higher amounts of it. Still, the specific amount of carbs intake depends on many factors, particularly on whether the type of exercise is a resistance training or an endurance activity.

Generally speaking, the carbs consumption of small athletes and those in light training should be at the lowest end of the range, while bigger athletes who wish to gain weight or those involved in heavy training should aim for the highest end of the range.

The good news is: the veggie’s diet in itself favors carbs since it is based on fruits and grains that are naturally high in carbs. Studies have shown that, compared to the general public, vegans carbs intake ranges from 50% to 65% of the total energy intake.

Veggie Athletes Micronutrients Needs

Calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B12, riboflavin, zinc, and iron are some of the most essential micronutrients that should be included in the vegetarian diet. Unfortunately, they are mostly found in animal products and the lack of them can cause many unwanted deficiencies, including low bone density, fatigue, impaired muscles growth and repair and overall poor performance.

Fortified foods, whole grains and complete proteins diets can substantially minimize the risk of micronutrient deficiencies. For the vast majority of athletes, sticking to the DRIs (Dietary Reference Intakes) and the RDAs should be sufficient. But when it comes to vegetarian athletes with excessive losses of micronutrients in their sweat, urine, and feces, additional supplementation may be needed.

General Tips for Vegetarian Athletes

The following are some helpful tips for vegetarian athletes to ensure optimal performance while maintaining high energy levels:

  • Plant oils, nuts, dried fruit and other nutrient-rich foods should be a consistent part of your diet
  • In order to keep blood glucose and energy levels stable, make sure to eat small, nutrient-rich and above all frequent meals during the day
  • Bette safe than sorry! Monitor your protein intake regularly to prevent protein deficiencies.
  • Excessive weight and/or nutrient loss are your worst enemies. Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Ensure that you get enough calories to compensate for the energy you burn during training.

That’s it! Follow these easy tips and celebrate being both a vegetarian and a runner.

Can’t get enough of this advice? Here are even more healthy eating tips for vegetarian runners