As a runner, you require a balance of nutrients that’s crucial for keeping your muscles in good working order and optimizing your performance and recovery. Therefore, each new dietary addition (or deletion) should be exercised cautiously; see how your body reacts to small changes before taking the plunge and giving up whole food groups at once.
It’s a truth universally acknowledged that a runner’s diet must feature additional calories to support the intensity of training and promote a high rate of muscle recovery. While the benefits of a vegetarian lifestyle are seemingly endless, the carb-laden, protein-rich diet favored by athletes can often pose a problem for the vegetarian runner, whose higher-than-average nutritional demands have to be met by a limited range of food choices.
Yet, the rising numbers of professional distance runners turning vegetarian — and even vegan — these days are testimony to the fact this is not impossible; though it does require some research and a bit of creativity.You’ll have to do some homework to make up for the essential nutrients that now have to be compensated from elsewhere. Here are some pointers:
Pack Some Protein
A meat-free diet lacks the protein and amino acid content that help recovery, tissue repair, muscle development and immunity building processes. Ideally, it should account for 12 – 15% of the total calories consumed by a runner – but thankfully, meat does not hold the monopoly over protein. Other sources include beans, nuts, seeds, tofu, lentils, cheeses and cow, soy and almond milk, as well as grains like quinoa, bulgar and oats.
Pump Up The Iron
While both nutrients are essential for runners, the vegetarian sources of iron and zinc are not absorbed as well as from the animal sources, making them high priorities in a veggie runner’s diet. Iron ensures adequate blood supply to working tissues while zinc boosts immunity and supports recovery. Foods that contain high doses of Vitamin C can enhance absorption of iron by the blood – so increasing your intake of citrus fruits and leafy spinach can help. Other iron-rich sources include soyabeans, blackstrap molasses, lentils, quinoa and beans, while grains, legumes, nuts, soy and dairy products make up for your zinc requirements.
Get Your Omegas
These comprise essential fatty acids that your body needs for its day-to-day development and brain function. Fish makes for one of the best sources, but vegetarians can get their daily share by including items like flaxseed or flaxseed oil, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, tofu, avocado and soybeans, as well as breads, cereals and pastas and yogurt.
Stay On Track
- Once you’ve researched and decided on suitable replacements for the meats in your regular diet, chart out a fortnight’s plan so that you’re not left fumbling for options before every meal.
- Start slow by replacing one meat item with protein-rich vegetarian sources every week, such as beans and rice instead of chicken curry, or peanut butter toast instead of a chicken sandwich.
- Welcome new foods and cuisines into your lifestyle. Seek out local fruits, roots and vegetables and treat them as the heroes of your dish through experimentation and some help from the internet.
- Don’t beat yourself up over transgressions or mistakes. It’s not a competition to see how long you last without meat, but rather a balanced way of fulfilling your nutrition requirements through a variety of new sources.