Whether you’re vegetarian, vegan, plant-based or cutting down on your animal product consumption, Kate is here with some great advice and recipes to help you fuel your runs as a vegetarian runner. October is Vegetarian Awareness Month, kicking off with World Vegetarian Day on 1st October. We’re pleased to bring you this guest blog by Kate Percy, founder and CEO of Kate Percy’s and author of Go Faster Food for your Active Family, which explores the best vegetarian foods to eat as a runner.
Spoiler alert: I am not a vegetarian nor a vegan runner. However, I love my plant-based foods, and I am a huge fan of reducing consumption of foods from animal sources, both for the good of the planet and overall health. There’s no better time to delve into the plant-based nutrition and to explore how eating more plants can both nourish your body and elevate your running performance.
Vegetarianism doesn’t mean bland salads and lentils. With a little creativity, it’s synonymous with exciting flavours and nutrient-dense meals: fantastic curries, superfood bowls, tasty burgers made from sweet potatoes and black beans, quesadillas, fajitas and falafel wraps. The possibilities are endless, nutritious, great for your gut and extremely good for fuelling your running journey.
Try this Butterbean, Spinach and Mushroom Bhaji for instance: https://www.katepercys.com/blogs/recipes/butterbean-mushroom-spinach-bhaji
Vegetarian or vegan runner?
People choose a vegetarian or vegan diet for various reasons, including health, environmental concerns and ethical beliefs. I thought it might be worth just highlighting the difference between a vegetarian and a vegan diet as a starter. Vegetarians exclude meat, poultry and seafood from their diets. However, they may still include animal-derived products such as dairy (milk, cheese, yoghurt, etc) and eggs. Vegans, on the other hand, exclude all animal products from their diets. This includes meat, poultry, seafood, dairy, eggs, and even other animal-derived products such as honey and gelatin.
Does a vegetarian or vegan diet affect running performance?
Fuelling your body for running performance as a vegetarian or vegan can come with its own set of challenges, but with proper planning and attention to nutritional needs, it is perfectly possible, and in fact, many top athletes are vegans. It is easier to get enough protein and important vitamins and minerals as an omnivore, so to get a good balance of macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein and fats) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) and to ensure you consumer enough calories to support your running, you need to be particularly vigilant about what you include in your diet as you start out on your vegetarian journey.
The less processed and the more varied your diet, the more likely you are to achieve this.
Let’s talk about balance as a vegetarian runner
Fuelling your body for running as a vegetarian begins with harnessing the power of plant-based sources of complex carbohydrates, like brown rice, quinoa, brown bread and oats, as well as starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes and butternut squash. Carbohydrates are the optimum source of energy for runners. When we run, our muscles burn a combination of carbohydrates, protein and fat. The combination depends on the intensity and duration of exercise. Once digested, carbohydrates are converted into blood glucose and used for energy or stored in the liver and muscle as glycogen. Glycogen in stored in the liver is used to maintain steady blood glucose levels for the body and brain. Glycogen stored in the muscles is used to provide fuel for the muscles.
Protein is crucial for runners, as it supports muscle repair and growth. Contrary to the misconception that vegetarians struggle to meet their protein needs, a well-balanced plant-based diet can provide an abundance of protein sources. Try to incorporate pulses and lentils, for instance, beans, chickpeas, and kidney beans into your meals, as well as tofu and tempeh, and nuts and seeds.
With fats, the good news is that most sources of saturated fats come from animal products, so by eating plant-based sources of fat you’re more likely to get in the ‘good’ unsaturated fats, which are important for reducing inflammation and promoting heart health. Training can lead to inflammation and delayed recovery, but many plant-based fats are rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds. Include good sources of fat into your post-run recovery meals such as flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, avocados, soya beans (edamame) and tofu.
Other plant-based foods which offer great anti-inflammatory properties are berries, leafy greens, and turmeric. These can all help reduce muscle soreness and promote quicker healing, allowing you to get back on the road faster!
Some nutrients that are extremely important for overall health are much more easily absorbed from animal sources, so it’s important to be aware of these as a vegetarian or vegan runner:
Vitamin B12 – Vegetarians, and especially vegans need to ensure they obtain sufficient B12. This is primarily found in animal products such as meat, liver, fish, eggs and milk. Deficiency can lead to fatigue and anaemia and can negatively impact energy levels and overall running performance. According to the Vegan Society, the only reliable vegan sources of B12 are foods fortified with B12, including some plant milks, soy products and some breakfast cereals. Other vegan sources of B12 are nutritional yeast, yeast spreads (marmite!), some mushrooms and seaweed. Vegetarians can get their B12 from eggs and cheese too.
Iron – Plant-based sources of iron (non-heme iron) are less readily absorbed by the body than animal sources (heme iron). Leafy greens, lentils and pulses, nuts and seeds, dark chocolate and fortified cereals are good sources of non-heme iron. To promote absorption, it’s a good idea to eat sources of iron with vitamin C, and to avoid caffeine, so try to have your coffee mid-morning rather than with your breakfast! Here’s some more information on iron in my recent blog: https://www.katepercys.com/blogs/kates-nutrition-tips/what-do-i-eat-to-boost-my-iron-levels
Calcium and Vitamin D – For runners, getting adequate calcium and vitamin D in your diet is so important for supporting bone health and overall wellbeing. Dairy products are great sources of calcium and vitamin D, as well as milk and leafy greens. You can also get Vitamin D enriched mushrooms (or put them in the sunlight for 30 minutes!). This creamy mushroom soup is a good source of vitamin D and calcium:
Give the recipes a go! A well-structured plant-based diet can provide the energy, vitality, and nourishment necessary to elevate your running performance. So, as you lace up your running shoes, remember that your body, mind, and the environment will all thank you for nourishing yourself with plant-powered meals!
Kate Percy is one of our experts over in the Run Mummy Run Community Run Club; to find out more, click here.
Main image by silviarita on Pixabay