Vegan Diet for Runners: Where to Begin
- October 5, 2020
- Last Updated: January 4, 2023
- 2 Comments
You likely came here searching for tips on the vegan diet for marathon runners, and this post will break down nutrition needs for distance vegan runners and share some vegan athlete recipes.
Whether you’re a vegan marathon runner refining your marathon training nutrition, a vegetarian runner, or just someone looking for a plant based diet for running, a vegan diet for runners does not have to feel overly confusing.
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Disclaimer – Though I am a Registered Dietitian, I am not providing individual nutrition advice. Instead, these statements are for informational purposes only.
In This Article
Why a Vegan Runner Diet?
I see a lot of queries for vegan athlete diets and meal plans. When working with runners, together we do come up with a rough meal plan with ideas and substitutions for certain macronutrient groups.
I feel that this is helpful for them to visually see how much they should be eating and understand the proper substitutions and sources of each macronutrient.
And if you happen to be looking for more ideas for a vegetarian diet for runners, this post applies as well.
Whether you choose to be vegan or not, there’s no denying that a plant based diet for runners is gaining momentum.
I think there’s a lot of validity in plant foods, however, my nutrition philosophy is that I want people to eat the foods that feel best in their bodies.
For some people, that’s exclusively no animal products, while for others, having some animal products may work well for them. This post specifically is catered towards a vegan running diet in general.
I’m here to provide helpful plant-based vegan meal options for athletes that can be ready quickly and some nutrition insight for how to be a healthy vegan athlete.
If you happen to be a vegan ultrarunner, this sample meal plan for vegan ultrarunners may be helpful,
What Makes Up a Vegan Athlete Meal Plan?
These 30 minute vegan meals can fit perfectly into your vegan athlete meal plan. Whether you want to do some vegan breakfast meal prep, or make lunches and dinners, there are plenty of ideas.
Many people think being vegan means spending so much time prepping and cooking, but honestly, plant based runners can fuel pretty quickly if necessary.
Having easy vegan snacks available, like these homemade trial mix bars, are helpful!
The best way to stock up on healthy storebought snacks that fit your dietary lifestyle is to use a service like Thrive Market and have them sent monthly. Then you never have to use the grocery store for these staples and they’ll always be stocked!
While I don’t break down calorie allotments on this platform (because all of our bodies need different amounts of calories), I do want to convey that vegan distance runners do need to be mindful they are eating enough in general.
A vegan athlete meal plan needs to cover the bases of adequate macronutrients and micronutrients to prevent nutrient deficiencies and relative energy deficiency in sport.
Firstly, vegan foods tend to be high in fiber which can lead to early satiety. Therefore, a vegan diet plan and vegan runner diet needs to be sufficient in energy.
Many of the easy meals shared here should help for those busy marathon training days and nights when time is scarce for cooking.
You can use this grocery list for athletes as a guide, as many of the options here fall within a vegan or plant based diet.
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Vegan Diet for Running Nutrients
Carbohydrates – Like all runners, vegan distance runners should focus primarily on carbohydrates before a run or workout. Many plant-based foods are carbohydrate-based so this typically isn’t an issue.
Beets are one of my favorite runner friendly plant foods (aside from my beloved sweet potatoes) that have been shown to help with performance. This is specifically due to their nitrate content, which can expand blood vessels and blood flow.
Fiber – Most vegan runners don’t have challenges meeting their fiber intake since fiber is primarily found in plant-based foods.
However, the high fiber nature of the diet can be problematic for some on the GI system, especially around a run, leading to symptoms of runners trots and runners stomach.
Therefore, limiting high fiber sources, like beans, legumes and certain grains, before running may be helpful.
Protein – Protein and carbohydrates become essential after a run or workout. Contrary to popular belief, runners following a vegan diet should not have issues getting enough protein.
Athletes do have higher protein needs than non-athletes, so understanding an athlete protein needs is important for baseline. The most important thing in meeting protein needs is spreading protein intake throughout the day, rather than loading it into 1-2 meals.
According to the International Society of Sports Nutrition position statement, protein intakes of 1.4 – 2.0 g/kg/day for physically active individuals is not only safe, but may improve the training adaptations to exercise training.
It just takes a little more planning and making sure to incorporate vegan sources of leucine for optimal recovery. Taking creatine may also be helpful!
Fat – Many vegans can meet their fat needs through oils, nuts, seeds and avocados. Fat is very important for reducing inflammation and providing flavor to foods.
Fat is a great starter for many meals, whether it’s sauteing vegetables in oil, or toppings salads or grain bowls with nuts, seeds or avocados.
Many fat sources in a vegan diet will be omega 3 fatty acids. You can see more on the omega 3‘s, EPA vs DHA here.
Micronutrients of Concern
It’s important that plant based meals are balanced in macronutrients, but also micronutrients, specifically iron, Vitamin B12, calcium and Vitamin D. Many vegan runner diets are typically high enough in magnesium, since that is prevalent in plant foods.
There are so many important properties of iron, including energy and oxygen transport, improved immunity and more. It is helpful to be aware of the importance of iron for runners when planning a diet.
For example, if you are not consuming heme sources of iron (which come from animal sources), pairing your food with Vitamin C can help with non-heme iron absorption.
You can find plant-based iron in legumes, lentils, beans, soy products, leafy greens, pumpkin seeds, oats and dried apricots. Fortified products, such as breakfast cereals, can also be helpful for providing iron.
Calcium is essential for bone health and muscle contraction. Think about the stress involved in running – there’s a lot of compounding and stress absorbed in the joints and bones. Stress fractures are a common injury.
Including calcium-rich sources in your diet will be beneficial.
We typically think of dairy foods when discussing calcium and Vitamin D. However, there are several plant based sources of calcium, including:
- soy products (tofu, soy milk)
- certain leafy greens
- fortified producs (milks, orange juice)
Some runners may also need to take calcium supplements, however, it’s recommended to check with your care provider first and not just carelessly take them without supervision.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin (which acts more like a hormone) and another key piece of the bone health equation. Vitamin D is also involved in several other parts of wellness, and is likely to continue to be studies in the future.
This study talks about Vitamin D and mood. Vitamin D for runners is so important for athletic performance, yet is difficult to get in a vegan diet, and most people will likely need to supplement.
Certain supplements for runners may be more helpful on a vegan diet to focus in on one nutrient vs. a multivitamin. As mentioned in this review in the Journal of International Sports Science, creatine may be a helpful supplement for vegan runners as well.
Zinc is another nutrient of concern in the vegan diet, since many food sources are animal-based. Zinc is important for immunity, wound healing, protein synthesis, growth, and several other functions.
Like some of the other nutrients listed, vegans are at a higher risk of zinc deficiency.
Some vegan sources of zinc include:
- chickpeas and beans
- fortified cereals
- pumpkin seeds
- quinoa (some of these quinoa recipes for kids may offer inspiration!)
- whole grain bread
For more information on specific macro and micro needs on the vegan runner diet, check out my fueling course: Nail your Nutrition. We have a whole module geared towards needs for the vegan athlete meal plan, and specifically, vegan female athletes.
Vegan Marathon Training Fuel
A vegan marathon runner or vegan long distance runner shouldn’t have too much trouble with finding fueling options for during the run, either.
Everyone can follow the same plan for race day fueling, whether you’re using a vegan diet for marathon training or eating animal products, too.
When following a vegan diet for marathon training, fortunately, many gels and chews are made without animal products, so fueling shouldn’t be too much of a challenge.
I also have some ideas for real food fueling options, like dates and homemade energy bites.
However, athletes will need to avoid honey and beware of products with whey or casein, egg, and milk powders.
Don’t forget about the electrolytes either, and make sure you’re reading ingredients for electrolyte powders and post-workout mixes.
Check out these easy and tasty vegan recipes for runners to fuel your training.
Vegan Meals For Runners
These vegan meals for runners are perfect for a vegan athlete diet and vegan athlete meal plan.
This Sweet Potato Kale Hash recipe is an easy way to add veggies to your breakfast. Full of flavor and nutrients, this vegan breakfast hash will be a morning favorite!
Instant Pot Miso Ginger Udon Noodle Soup - Sarah Gold Nutrition
This savory comforting broth paired with noodles, vegetables, and tofu makes a perfect one pot meal. Cook it up in the Instant Pot for dinner in 30 minutes or less!
This gluten free hummus pasta salad is a creamy, colorful vegan cold pasta salad recipe. Swap out your boring pasta salad for this upgraded and unique hummus sauce for pasta.
Honey Mustard Brussels Sprouts and Chickpea Bowls
These Honey Mustard Brussels Sprouts are great fuel for athletes. With complex carbs from farro and plant protein from chickpeas, they’re filling and delicious.
Vegan Chorizo and Potato Tacos Recipe
This vegan chorizo and potato tacos recipe is packed with spicy chorizo flavor! These meatless tacos contain all 3 macronutrients which will restore glycogen and help repair tissue after a hard workout.
Sweet Potato and Lentil Curry
Sweet potato and lentil curry is the perfect vegetarian dinner ready in under 30 minutes, made with red lentils, sweet potato and coconut milk, an ideal balance of macronutrients for running.
Thiis Quinoa power bowl is full of plant based protein, fiber and antioxidants, and a delightful mixture of flavors, perfect for a vegan athlete meal plan!
Vegan BBQ Cauliflower Tacos
These vegan BBQ cauliflower tacos are a great choice for athletes. The veggies and tortilla supply muscle-fueling carbohydrates, while the chickpeas add a little plant-based protein. Topping with avocado adds potassium to help replenish losses in sweat. Pair it with a glass of soy milk or a vegan smoothie for a well-rounded meal!
Creamy Vegan Pasta Primavera: The Best One Pot Easy Recipe!
One Pot Creamy Vegan Pasta Primavera is a quick and easy recipe! This pasta is ready in just 30 minutes and a favorite family dinner!
Vegan Black Bean Burgers w/Sweet Potato
These are the best gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan black bean burgers ever. They are great for work out recovery because have complex carbohydrates from the sweet potatoes and oats, and protein from the almond butter and black beans!
One Pan Pasta with Chickpeas and Tomatoes
This meal provides complex carbohydrates from the pasta and chickpeas, protein from the chickpeas, pasta, and vegetables, and delicious Mediterranean flavors. Plus it's a time saver with less dishes to clean up!
Vegan Orange Chicken – Orange Tofu
This orange tofu is a vegan version of takeout style orange chicken. With tofu, bell pepper, broccoli, onion and amazing orange sauce, this easy vegan dinner will become a family favorite!
Power-Packed Sweet Potato Breakfast Bowl
Need an athlete-friendly breakfast? Look no further than this sweet potato breakfast bowl. Packed with healthy carbs, this is a great option before a morning run.
Vegan Eggplant Teriyaki
This vegan eggplant teriyaki recipe is a quick, easy, and delicious dinner, ready in 30 minutes. Let the rice fill your glycogen stores and the edamame help build protein in this vegan meal for athletes.
Easy Vegan Pad Thai Soup Gluten-Free Plant-Based Recipe
Easy Vegan Pad Thai Soup is souper delicious, so simple to make, and uses ingredients you probably already have in your pantry!
Vegan Shepherd’s Pie | Healthy Indian Dinner Recipe
A family-friendly and satisfying Vegan Shepherd’s Pie recipe gets an Indian twist. Loaded with flavor-packed green lentils simmered in a tomato sauce infused with traditional South Asian spices, and topped with velvety mashed potatoes.
Instant Pot Butternut Squash Black Bean Stew
Butternut Squash Black Bean Stew is a comfort food classic ! An easy, 20 minute, ultra delicious recipe is full of "good for you" healthy ingredients.
Vegan Spinach Pasta Recipe with Alfredo sauce
Vegan alfredo spinach pasta recipe is all in one pan,excellent option for the everyday simple vegan meal. Made with creamy coconut milk.
This vegan winter roasted vegetable bowl is a delicious autumn bowl recipe, with whole grains, plant protein and roasted vegetables topped with a creamy tahini lime dressing.
These delicious vegan Sesame Noodles are dressed with an easy peanut sauce and packed with crunchy fresh vegetables! They come together in 15 minutes and make a nice lunch or side dish
Instant Pot Lentil Curry
Loaded with vegetables, tomatoes, green lentils, and spices, this is a fantastic healthy vegan curry for lazy weeknights.
Vietnamese Noodle Bowls with Tofu
Vietnamese Noodle Bowls are loaded with fresh vegetables, tofu, glass noodles, and a tangy sauce. Naturally gluten-free, the colorful bowls have plenty of nutrients and can be enjoyed for weekday lunches or family dinners!
This white bean skillet recipe boasts a combination of white beans, tomatoes, veggies and pizza spices giving it a true flavor like its name, Pizza Beans! It's a delicious vegan cannellini bean recipe.
Easy Vegan Burrito Bowl with Black Beans and Fajitas (20 Minutes, 6 Ingredients, No Oil)
This Vegan Burrito Bowl Recipe combines seasoned black beans and fajita veggies for a healthy, delicious, protein-packed meal that’s sure to satisfy. You need just 6 ingredients and 20 minutes to put together this oil-free & totally delicious Chipotle-style feast!
Nuts are high in protein and healthy fats, so they're great when you've got an athletic lifestyle. Try these simple to make vegan nut burgers
Easy Vegan Philly Cheesesteak
It’s vegan Philly cheesesteak sandwich is a real hit and it really only takes 20 minutes to make the perfect dinner!
Sheet Pan Meal Prep Tofu
This sheet pan recipe for roasted tofu, cabbage & peppers is an easy way to meal prep a healthy and nutritious protein packed vegetarian meal to enjoy throughout the week.
Italian Black Bean Meatballs
These Italian flavored black bean meatballs are a delicious and hearty plant based alternative to traditional meatballs. Serve with your favorite marinara sauce over pasta or zoodles for a comforting healthful meal.
Vegan Snacks for Runners
This Coconut Cinnamon Maple Granola is made with oats, maple syrup, cinnamon and coconut, and makes for a delicious tasty treat that's good on its own or in any oatmeal, yogurt, or trail mix.
Chocolate Cherry Energy Bites with Walnuts
Athletes are always on the go! Having a quick snack ready for before the gym or after a workout can help performance and recovery. These cherry walnut energy bites have all of the nutrients required for energy, satiety, and recovery
Easy 2 Minute Vegan Yogurt (High Protein)
This plant based yogurt requires 4 simple inexpensive ingredients, ready in under 5 minutes! This high protein dairy free yogurt makes the perfect healthy breakfast or snack for before or after a run.
Vegan Oatmeal Cookies with Vanilla, Dates & Almond Butter
A delicious vegan snack made with whole foods.
Vegan Carrot Cake Energy Bites combine the flavors you love in carrot cake into portable energy bite form, perfect for a snack, pre or post workout fuel, or dessert!
No Bake Peanut Butter Cherry Trail Mix Bites are the perfect pre-run or on-the-go snack! Full of flavor, fiber and a hint of sweetness, they are kid friendly, gluten free and vegan.
Salted Caramel Protein Energy Bites
Salted caramel protein energy bites make the perfect energizing snack. They are naturally sweetened by dates and packed with plant based protein. Customize the vanilla protein powder to fit your preference (soy protein, pea protein, hemp protein, etc).
These homemade pumpkin hemp bars are the perfect flavorful, on-the-go vegan and gluten-free snack. With no refined sugars, these hemp bars are perfect for before or after a workout and a great family-friendly, kid-friendly snack!
Everything But the Bagel Chickpea Toppers
Quick and easy vegan 'everything' chickpeas! Just toss and roast for a tasty snack or add a protein boost to your avocado toast or salad.
Citrus Pistachio Protein Bars
A delicious combination and great option for post workout!
Sweet Potato Vegan Edible Cookie Dough is the perfect appetizer for your sweet tooth. This vegan cookie dough recipe is made with natural ingredients and goes perfectly with fruit, chocolate and graham crackers, making it one of the best healthy vegan desserts!
I hope these quick and easy vegan meals should help you maximize your training and performance out of the kitchen, while still optimizing your vegan athlete meal plan and nutrition in the kitchen.
It’s all about becoming more efficient – still allowing time and energy to cook nourishing meals, but not spending all of your time doing so – especially if you’re spending hours upon hours training, you have kids and demanding jobs, etc.
What’s your go to vegan meal or favorite recovery meal?
The chorizo and potato taco looks amazing! I would sub in actual chorizo instead of vegan chorizo but I totally want to try that.
Wow! So many fantastic choices – Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!