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Vegan Diet for Runners: Where to Begin

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.

easy air fried tempeh recipe cooked in air fryer bowl

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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.

Why a Vegan Diet for Running?

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.

roasted beets and butternut squash salad with arugula and cheese in white bowl

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. I think 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 healthy cereal bars, are helpful!

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.

two white bowls with roasted vegetables and topped with pomegranate seeds and tahini dressing next to blue counter cloth

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 Runner Diet 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.

plant based bowl with beans, peas, vegetables and quinoa

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. 

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.

skillet with roasted and cubed tempeh

Micronutrients 

It’s important that plant based meals are balanced in macronutrients, but also micronutrients, specifically iron, Vitamin B12, calcium and Vitamin D.

Iron

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

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)
  • almonds
  • certain leafy greens
  • broccoli
  • 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.

closeup of almonds in clear glass

Vitamin D

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

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
  • tahini
  • cashews
  • fortified cereals
  • tofu
  • 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.

Chocolate Pomegranate Energy Bites in hand

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.

Vegan Snacks for Runners

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?

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  1. The chorizo and potato taco looks amazing! I would sub in actual chorizo instead of vegan chorizo but I totally want to try that.