When it comes to sport, the rise of vegan diets have often been a consideration in modern meal prep and nutrition. Ensuring that you get the right amount of protein and necessary minerals and vitamins can be difficult without meat products. The vegan diet has many advantages and disadvantages when it comes to nutrients and allowing for that in a meal plan when training can be difficult. This gets even more challenging when you up the distance.
Endurance running is a physically demanding sport that requires optimal nutrition to sustain performance and recovery. Traditionally, athletes have relied on animal-based products to meet their dietary needs but it is starting to become a popular belief that a vegan diet has a lot of upside compared to a diet based with meat and animal products.
In this article, we’ll explore the benefits of a vegan diet for endurance runners and provide insights into the key concerns and how to fuel your long-distance runs while embracing the power of plants. With the right steps taken, most ‘recommended’ diets will work fine for endurance runners but it’s identifying those key areas of focus that can allow you to perform better and reduce your risk of fatigue or crashing out.
As with all diets, a vegan diet presents certain challenges in terms of fuelling your body for long distance running and ensuring that you are getting enough of the key nutrients that allow you to maximise your performance. While a vegan diet is traditionally high in fibre and vitamins such as vitamin C, it can also be difficult to maintain high levels of protein, iron and vitamin B12 as well as ensuring that you have enough energy to last you over the course of the run.
Contrary to common misconceptions, it’s entirely possible to get enough protein on a vegan diet. It’s certainly harder and requires some adjustments but there are plenty of protein-rich ingredients available to vegans. Sources of plant-based protein include beans, lentils, tofu, tempeh, quinoa, and nuts. It’s important for endurance runners to consume an adequate amount of protein to aid in muscle recovery and growth. Including a variety of these protein-rich foods in your diet can help you meet your protein requirements.
Iron is essential for carrying oxygen to muscles, making it crucial for endurance runners. While plant-based iron is less readily absorbed than heme iron from animal products, you can enhance absorption by consuming iron-rich foods alongside vitamin C sources. Foods like lentils, spinach, tofu, and fortified cereals are excellent vegan sources of iron.
Vitamin B12 is primarily found in animal products, and endurance runners may need to consider supplementation or fortified foods to ensure they’re meeting their B12 needs. This vitamin is essential for energy metabolism and nerve function and is a vitamin that vegans can struggle to readily get in sufficient quantities. This is why it is generally recommended that vegans consider trying supplements to make sure they have enough vitamin B12 in their system.
Feeling low energy is a common complaint for those who try a vegan diet and it can be a harsh adjustment for athletes who are switching. Vegan diets are typically far lower in calories than a meat-based alternative and this can make getting the necessary energy for sports quite challenging. This is usually just a case of not balancing your diet effectively enough and ensuring a diet rich in fruits and vegetables as well as whole grains and oats will hopefully help to counteract the lack of boost you may initially feel.
Fibre and Stomach Problems
As mentioned before, a vegan diet is usually high in fibre and this has its ups and downs. One area where this can badly impact newcomers to the vegan diet is in stomach issues, which is something that plagues a lot of runners anyway. A change in diet can always cause upset stomachs and a sudden influx in fibre can cause problems. This is why a gradual change in diet is often recommended so that your body can get used to it.
The Vegan Advantage
With all this in mind, it may seem that the vegan diet is bad for endurance running but it is often the opposite. While there are certainly precautions to take into account, a vegan diet can be incredibly beneficial for most runners and there is a reason why a lot of athletes are switching to a vegan diet or at least incorporating more vegan food staples into their diets.
One of the key benefits of a vegan diet for endurance runners is enhanced recovery. Plant-based foods are packed with antioxidants, which help reduce inflammation and oxidative stress. This means you’ll experience less post-run soreness and a quicker return to training, allowing you to log more miles with less downtime.
Vegan diets tend to be rich in complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. These foods provide a steady release of energy, helping endurance runners maintain a consistent pace and avoid energy crashes during their long runs. Additionally, we have made several references to the fact that plant-based diets tend to be high in fibre, which supports stable blood sugar levels and helps prevent energy fluctuations.
Lighter on the Stomach
Animal products can be heavy on the digestive system, causing discomfort during long runs. Vegan diets are typically lighter on the stomach, making it easier for runners to avoid gastrointestinal issues like cramping and nausea. As mentioned though, a vegan diet can also cause stomach issues and it’s often not a complete fix but it can help reduce some of the heavier symptoms and is often simply a result of getting more fibre in your diet.
Endurance running on a vegan diet is not only possible but can provide distinct advantages to athletes. The benefits of enhanced recovery, sustainable energy, optimal hydration, and a lighter digestive load make plant-based nutrition an appealing choice for runners. With careful planning and a focus on key nutrients that might be difficult to come by, vegan athletes can perform at their best while embracing the power of a vegan diet.