Nutrition tips for vegan runners - Women's Running UK

Nutrition tips for vegan runners

Author: Christine Bailey

Read Time:   |  August 1, 2016

Nutrition tips for vegan runners

Can a whole foods, plant-based diet – free of all meat and animal products – propel your running? For some, this seems to be the case. There are many well-known high-performance athletes, including Helen Fines, a leading British fell runner, and ultra runners Catra Corbett, Scott Jurek and Brendan Brazier, who follow a vegan diet, with athletes such as Jurek attributing their performance success to the diet. Many opt to go vegan due to views on animal cruelty, others for environmental and sustainability purposes and many for health reasons. However, if you’re looking to ditch the meat, eggs and dairy and turn vegan as a runner, you may be concerned that your diet won’t include the sufficient food groups and nutrients needed to fuel and support your training. Here are some top tips to make it work for you as a runner.

Pack in the protein

The more active you are, the more protein your body will need. One of the concerns about ditching the meat is getting enough protein. It is true that it can be harder for vegans to get sufficient protein because plant proteins are not digested as well as animal proteins, and it can be difficult to obtain the right balance of the essential amino acids. One of the easiest ways to ensure you get sufficient protein is to include three servings of legumes (beans, peanuts, soyfoods) in your diet daily, plus a variety of vegetables and slow-releasing grains. A serving is around one cup of cooked beans or pulses. You don’t have to worry about combining different protein sources in a meal – your body is able to pool the amino acids we need as we eat them, and we use them when needed. If you are particularly active, making use of plant protein powders such as pea, hemp or rice protein can be another convenient way to boost your protein intake. These can be easily added to smoothies as well as used in many recipes.

Opt for hearty-healthy fats

The right fats can nourish your cells to better utilize insulin, which help keep you lean. Healthy fats also help to stop your cravings, curb your hunger and reset your hormones to help your body burn fat more efficiently. If you adopt a vegan diet, to ensure you are not low in the essential omega 3 fats, you need to include one to two servings of foods high in omega 3 daily, like flax seeds, hemp seeds, chia seeds or walnuts. Another option is to use oils high in omega 3, which can be drizzled over vegetables and salads or added to dips and spreads. Just don’t cook with them as they are vulnerable to high temperatures. For cooking, use coconut oil or olive oil (rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats) and include avocado, olives, nuts and seeds regularly for additional healthy fats. Vegan runners will benefit from including virgin coconut oil – rich in medium chain triglycerides. Coconut oil can be preferentially burnt by the body as a fuel source, so add a spoonful to your pre-run drink or snack for an energy boost!


Load up on fruit and vegetables

Many vegan athletes find they recover more quickly after intense training. This may be due to the high intake of protective antioxidants from fruit and vegetables. Aim to get at least seven to eight portions of vegetables in each day and two to three pieces of fruit. A review of vegan diets in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition noted that vegans have higher levels of phytochemicals, magnesium, folate, vitamin C and vitamin E. Magnesium is typically low in athletes and deficiencies can lead to muscle aches and cramps. The good news is that plant-based foods are loaded with magnesium, while most animal foods contain very little. Top vegan sources include nuts and seeds, raw cacao, quinoa and teff and leafy greens.

Choose high-calcium foods

Many people switching to a vegan diet may also be concerned about getting sufficient calcium. Not only is it valuable for bone health, but calcium is an important nutrient for calming the nerves and supporting relaxation. The best vegan sources of calcium include leafy greens, seaweed, almonds, broccoli, figs, chia, sesame seeds, beans, fortified non-dairy milks, soy, tofu and tempeh. If you aim to get three to four servings of these foods in your diet daily, there is no reason why you should be low in calcium.

Almond milk

Top up your iron levels

Constant impact activity, such as running, reduces iron levels due to a more strenuous form of haemolysis. If you are menstruating, you may find it a struggle to maintain adequate iron levels. Include the following foods combined with vitamin C to help absorption (e.g. piece of fruit): chick peas, lentils, fortified cereal, spinach, kale, baked beans, molasses, dried figs, prunes and apricots.

Chick peas

Take supplements

A vegan diet, just like other diets, can be low in certain nutrients, in particular vitamin B12, vitamin D, iodine, iron, calcium and DHA (a long-chain omega 3 fat). Supplements/fortified foods are the only way to get in vitamin B12 and DHA. If you don’t get adequate sun exposure to make vitamin D and are not including sea vegetables, which are rich in iodine, it is likely you will also need supplements of these nutrients, too.

Christine Bailey’s new book, Go Lean Vegan: 30-day diet programme to lose weight and feel fabulous, contains a wealth of protein-packed, healthy recipes plus plenty of nutrition tips and a 30-day meal plan to follow.

Go Lean Vegan

Yellow Kite July 2016
ISBN-13: 978-1473642065

Here’s a popular recipe from the book:

Chocolate Orange Pots

This is a delicious, creamy and rich recipe. Using the orange naturally sweetens this recipe without the need for syrups. If you want to boost the protein content, swap one of the tablespoons of cocoa powder with chocolate protein powder. Cocoa powder is a fabulous source of magnesium and contains phenylalanine, an amino acid that plays a key role in dopamine production, which can boost your mood. The protein powder helps stabilize blood sugar and boost recovery after training, too.

Chocolate orange pots

Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 2 minutes


Serves 4

  • 100g sugar-free and dairy-free dark chocolate
  • 1tbsp unsweetened almond milk
  • 2tbsp cocoa powder (or 1tbsp cocoa powder and 1 tbsp chocolate protein powder)
  • 1 large orange, peeled and pips removed
  • 250g silken tofu, drained
  • Grated orange zest, to decorate (optional)


  1. Place the chocolate and almond milk in a pan and gently melt over a low heat, stirring to combine.
  2. Put the melted chocolate into a food processor or blender with all the remaining ingredients and blend until smooth and creamy. Spoon into four ramekins and decorate with a little orange zest, if wished.
  3. This can be frozen for up to 1 month or will keep in the fridge for 3–4 days.

Energy: 228 Kcal; 12.6g protein; 15.4g fat; 7.2g saturated fat; 11.4g carbohydrates; 4.5g sugars

Christine Bailey

Award-winning nutritionist and regular WR freelance contributor

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