Whether you’re a vegan ultra runner, vegan marathon runner, or someone looking to add more vegan foods into your diet, this post will review some key ways to meet your nutrition needs and recover faster.
Having a practiced and well-tolerated ultramarathon nutrition plan is very important. As you know, nothing new on race day! But what you eat around race day matters too.
A vegan runner diet is something that seems to be gaining in popularity, due to an increased interest in eating less animal foods, learning the benefits of eating more plants foods, environmental awareness, or a combination of the above.
Table of Contents
What is a Vegan Diet?
A vegan diet/lifestyle is one that is focused on not consuming or using animal products of any kind. Often, it is a lifestyle choice that people are quite passionate about.
For someone who is simply trying to eat less meat or animal products, a plant-based diet is often the term used, though to some people, “plant-based” may entail eating eggs and possibly seafood.
Therefore, a vegan triathlete or vegan runner would be someone who excludes animal products completely. A plant based runner, on the other hand, may or may not include eggs in their diet, as well as honey products in fueling.
What Do Vegan Runners Eat?
A vegan runner diet will revolve on many staples, such as:
- fruits and vegetables
- grains and pasta (more on pasta for runners here)
- nuts and seeds
- non-dairy milk, yogurt and cheese products
- herbs, spices
What Foods Are Eliminated on a Vegan Diet?
Any food product that comes from an animal source is not allowed on a strict vegan diet, including meat, fish, eggs, dairy, honey, gelatin, whey-based protein powder, etc.
Those following a vegan diet usually have to be extra vigilant when reading nutrition labels to avoid any forms of or derivatives of animal products.
How Vegan Ultra Runners Can Meet Energy Needs
While looking at the list of foods avoided, it may seem that a lot is taken out from a vegan or vegetarian runner’s meal plan. However, with careful planning, needs can be met.
- Ensure Adequate Total Calories – The main thing to be aware when following a diet that restricts certain foods or food groups is to ensure you are eating enough. Eating tnough total calories is necessary to fuel your body, especially if you are an athlete.
- Limit Excessive Fiber – Many vegan foods (fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils) are high in fiber and can cause you to feel full even if you didn’t take in enough calories. Therefore, making sure to moderate fiber intake or pair it with calorically-dense foods is important.
- Include Healthy Fats – Including nutrient and energy-dense foods, such as fats (nuts, seeds, nut butters, avocado, oils, etc.) are important for contributing to total energy (calorie) needs.
- Eat Smaller Meals More Frequently – You may also need to eat smaller meals/snacks more frequently, such as every few hours (3 meals plus 2-3 snacks), rather than trying to eat large portions a couple of times a day.
- Focus On Recovery Nutrition – In addition to your long run fueling strategy, you’ll also want to pay attention to post-workout recovery nutrition. Aim for 20-40g protein + 40-50g or more of carbohydrates for adequate recovery, as well as including pre-workout snacks and fueling during (longer) workouts. Check out this post on a half marathon recovery plan.
Long Run Fueling For a Vegan Runner Diet
Most of the fueling products for runners are already vegan, so there aren’t many dietary changes that need to be made. Choosing mostly carbohydrate-based choices will help ultra runners avoid hitting the wall.
The main thing to look for regarding fueling products such as gels or energy chews for running is whether or not they contain honey or gelatin. Depending on how strict of a vegan diet you follow, you may want to choose fueling products that do not contain honey or gelatin.
Fortunately, most fueling products do not contain dairy or other animal ingredients.
Some vegan-friendly fueling products include:
How to Fuel an Ultramarathon with a Vegan Diet
When fueling for an ultramarathon, such as a 50k, again it’s important to choose foods that aren’t too filling. Some ideas from these real foods for ultra running may apply.
Therefore, you don’t want your diet to be too high in fiber-rich foods don’t provide enough energy for that distance.
Let’s take a look at what ultra running fuel may look like before and during a 50k on a vegan diet.
What To Eat Before a 50k
General recommendations for what to eat before a long run include foods high in carbohydrates, moderate in protein, and low in fat or fiber.
This might look like a bagel with peanut butter, a vegan dairy alternative beverage such as some Ripple plant-based milk, and a banana.
Depending on how far in advance you consume the pre-race meal, you may want to add in a pre-race snack about 15-30 minutes beforehand, such as an applesauce packet or an energy gel.
Eating a proper meal the night before your 50k is very important. Here are some suggestions for what to eat the night before a long run.
Eating During a 50k
General recommendations for fueling during endurance activity are to consume 30-60g carbohydrates per hour after the first hour.
For ultra-distance runs, this recommendation can go up to 90g of carbohydrates per hour.
Low carb ultra running may work for some people and instances, but for these purposes, let’s use an example with these recommendations.
A 50k race is a little over 31 miles. Let’s say this takes an intermediate runner 5.5 hours to complete. That is an average pace of 10:37 per mile.
Breakdown of fueling during the race, aiming for 60-90 grams of carbohydrates/hour.
- Begin fueling early at approximately 45-60 minutes into the race
- You may want to consider more solid fueling options earlier in the race and then transition to more gels and liquids as the race goes on
- You may also want to play around with caffeine by starting with no/low caffeine at the beginning; more later (depending on tolerance and regular use).
- Check with your specific race ahead of time to see what, if anything, they provide from a fueling standpoint on the course. Begin to practice using these items on your training runs if you plan to use them on race day. Always bring along your own fuel in case something happens and the provided fuel sources are not available.
- 1st hour: Little to no fuel necessary – maybe ½ PBJ (~23g) or a mini Clif bar (18g) approx. 45-60 minutes into the run
- 2nd hour: 30-90g carbs – 1 Spring energy gel (45g*) taken slowly over ~30 minutes or more + 10 Rold Gold tiny twists pretzels (13g)
- 3rd hour: 30-90g carbs – 1 scoop Tailwind Endurance (25g) + 1 medium banana (27g)
- 4th hour: 30-90g carbs – 5 Saltine crackers (12g) + 1 medium orange (21g) + 1 Huma energy gel PLUS (21g)
- 5th hour: 30-90g carbs – 1 scoop Tailwind Endurance (25g) + 1-2 Gu original energy gels (23-46g)
- Last half hour: fuel dependent on how you’re feeling!
*Note that different flavors/types of gels have different amounts of carbs.
Other Vegan Fueling Options
- Sports drinks
- Oatmeal bites (no bake vegan protein bites and carrot cake energy bites)
- Ginger Ale
- Ginger candies
- Trail Mix or Trail Mix Bars
Considerations for Vegan Athletes (supplements, protein, etc.)
Supplements, such as protein powders, shakes, or bars can also be used to supplement your typical food intake and make sure you are getting adequate energy throughout the day.
Garden of Life is one NSF Certified for Sport brand that makes vegan-friendly supplements including protein powders, protein bars, and protein shakes.
Iron for runners is an important topic, as iron is a nutrient of concern for runners, females, and vegetarians or vegans. If you are a combination of these, iron is of utmost importance.
There are two major forms of iron found in food. The first is heme iron, which is only found in animal products. The other is non-heme iron, which is found in both plant foods and animal products.
Due to the lower bioavailability of iron from plant foods, recommended iron intakes for vegetarians or vegans are 1.8 times higher than for meat eaters (32 mg/day vs. 18 mg/day) for premenopausal adult women and 14 mg/day vs. 8 mg/day for adult men and postmenopausal women).
Too much iron, especially from supplements, can be harmful, so you should always consult with a health practitioner before supplementation.
The upper limit for iron from all sources (food and supplements, combined) is 45mg per day for adults.
Calcium is necessary for building and maintaining bone health. Plant-based sources of calcium include leafy greens such as turnip greens and kale, soymilk and tofu, white beans, almonds, and figs (with varying degrees of absorption rate).
Consuming a supplement of both vitamin D and calcium has been shown to be protective against bone fractures in vegans.
Calcium absorption is best when a person consumes no more than 500 mg at one time. So a person who takes 1,000 mg/day of calcium from supplements should split the dose rather than take it all at once.
Calcium and iron supplements should not be taken together as they can compete for absorption.
A great (and surprising!) source of calcium, iron, magnesium and other micronutrients are chia seeds. Chia seeds for runners are a fabulous vegetarian and vegan option.
Vitamin B12 is an essential vitamin (meaning we cannot make it within our bodies) and only comes from animal food products and fortified food and drink products.
Those following a vegan diet should take a B12 supplement such as Thorne’s B-complex #12.
Some B12 supplements contain much higher than recommended amounts, such as 500 mcg or 1,000 mcg, but your body absorbs only a small percentage of it so they are generally considered safe. Vitamin B12 has not been shown to cause any harm, even at high doses.
Omega 3s are essential fatty acids with anti-inflammatory properties. There are different types of Omega 3s, some of which come from plant foods such as nuts and seeds and others come from animal foods such as fatty fish.
There is no recommended daily amount for Omega 3s but there are vegan friendly supplements (algae oil) widely available.
Otherwise, a balanced diet with attention to micronutrients, like potassium, sodium and magnesium is also important. See more about magnesium for runners.
Sample Meal Plan For Vegan Ultramarathoner Runner
This is an example ~2100 calorie day for a 23-year-old vegan female runner.
For other ideas on timing and (non vegan) meals, see a sample long distance runners plan.
1 scoop plant-based protein powder
½ cup oats
½ banana + 1 cup berries
2 Tbsp. flaxseed + 2 Tbsp. chia seeds
1 Ripple vegan protein shake
1+ cups raw veggies
½ cup beans + ¼ cup tofu
½ cup sweet potato
½ avocado + 1 oz. vegan cheese
|1 PB&J sandwich|
½ cup cooked veggies
1 cup edamame
1/3 cup brown rice
4 tsp. pesto
|1 cup vegan yogurt|
Let us know if you follow a vegan ultra runner diet and found this post helpful!
Other posts you may enjoy:
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Guest, Nanci. (2019). Plant-Based and Vegan Diets in Exercise and Sport. The Nutrition X-Change. 10(1-17).
From staying adequately hydrated, to training your gut, to taking in enough fuel, these are some of the logistics that marathon runners need to consider for fueling during a marathon.
Let’s break each of them down.
It is always a good practice to start out adequately hydrated before a long run or race. Hydration for runners is of utmost importance and should be practiced continuously.
Increasing your fluid intake in the days leading up to the race, the night before, and the morning of is going to be good practice to reach adequate fluid status.
Hydration Before A Marathon
- 2-3 hours before activity drink 20 oz. water or sports drink
- 10-20 minutes before activity drink 10 oz. water or sports drink
Hydration Tips During Exercise
- Begin exercise in an adequately hydrated state
- Drink before you are thirsty
- Drink a couple sips or gulps (approx. 4-8 oz. water or sports drink) every 15-20 minutes
- Train yourself to drink during exercise if this is new to you
- Sports drink will also provide carbohydrates and electrolytes (more on that below)
Electrolytes, such as sodium, potassium, magnesium, and chloride, also play a key role in maintaining proper hydration. Electrolytes are especially important if the weather is hot and/or humid and/or if you are a heavy sweater or a salty sweater.
Many runners will preload with electrolytes before running.
If you see or feel salt on your body or clothes after exercise, this can be an indication you are a salty sweater. Electrolyte needs are very individualized but a good starting point is to consume 500 to 1000mg of sodium per hour during exercise.
Salty sweaters may do well with The Right Stuff, Drip Drop or salt tabs to get enough sodium. Adding salt to foods is also a great way to increase sodium intake to meet higher needs. Soups, broths, salted nuts and nut butters, dairy, breads, crackers, and pretzels can be great to incorporate in your overall diet to help improve sodium intake
Fueling for a marathon actually starts long before the marathon. There are benefits of carb loading for runners 2-3 days in advance of the race.
Eating before a long run or race helps to provide extra FUEL for the muscles and the brain. The main focus of this snack or meal should be CARBOHYDRATES such as bread, pasta, oats, potatoes, fruit, etc.
A pre-workout meal before a long run or race may include: two slices of peanut butter toast, a glass (roughly 8 oz.) of low-fat milk, and a banana. This is a good combination of high carb, moderate protein, and a small amount of fat.
Again, you’ll want to experiment during training for your long run fueling strategy and see what works best for you.
Fueling before a workout is especially important if the workout is going to last more than one hour or if the workout is high intensity and you are trying to perform your best.
What to Eat During a Marathon
The best fuel during a marathon is 100% what works for you.
Some (mostly carbohydrate) options that people eat include:
- Applesauce packets
- Gels or sports chews
- Liquid nutrition
- Homemade energy bites
- Raisins or dried fruit
- Dates with peanut butter and salt