Many people decide to adopt a vegan diet as a way to improve their health, embrace an eco-friendly lifestyle, support animal activism, or all of the above. Of course, since most of us grow up eating meat and animal products, there is a learning curve associated with going vegan.
You'll have to learn how to get proper nutrition while cutting out a major portion of your diet up to this point. This is important for everyone, but particularly for runners that may require more fuel than the average person, not to mention specific types of nutrients.
If you want to continue your running routine uninterrupted when you give up meat and animal products and switch to a vegan diet, there are a few steps you can take to ensure proper nutrition and adequate fuel. Here are some tips to get you started.
When you adopt a plant-based diet, you're going to find that there are still plenty of opportunities to get complete proteins. The bigger issue is simply getting enough calories to provide the energy you need when you're training for a long race.
When you cut meat, dairy, and other animal products out of your diet, you'll almost certainly find that you can eat until you're full and consume far fewer calories (supposing you're eating a healthy and balanced diet as opposed to, say, consuming a lot of empty calories like sugar). When your calorie intake drops, you may not have the same energy level, especially when you're exercising a lot.
The good news is that you can find easy fixes to increase your calorie intake in order to avoid the fatigue that many vegan athletes experience. You just have to pay attention to your intake and try out different methods of upping your calorie intake to see what works for you.
Slow-burning fuel sources give you the sustained energy needed to boost your performance and ensure you feel good during and after your runs. Carbs are an ideal option, and if you were accustomed to carb loading before you became a vegan, you'll likely find that your routine changes very little afterward. The only difference is probably that you add more carbs to your everyday diet.
Over time, you'll dial in the number of calories and the makeup of your diet for an average day, but you're going to need additional calories to account for what you burn off when you run. You also need to carefully select the foods you eat to get these calories.
Eating a lot of veggies or other high-fiber foods could come back to haunt you at an inopportune moment, interrupting your race with restroom breaks. A better option is to add an extra serving of pasta or other grains the night before a race, or try eating oatmeal or pancakes in the morning (provided your race isn't too early). When adding calories, be careful not to stuff yourself. Instead, eat just until you're full.
There are plenty of vegans that steer clear of supplements designed to increase protein and caloric intake. You'll have to decide for yourself if supplements have any part in your diet.
If you're having some trouble getting enough calories and nutrients to provide you with ample energy during and after your runs when you first switch to a vegan diet, supplements can help you through the transition while you learn how to tailor your diet to your lifestyle. Or they may become a recurring part of your training regimen.
Every athlete will have to make up his or her own mind where supplements are concerned, but there's no reason not to give them a try, at least temporarily, until you figure out what works for you.
If you've been running for a while, you probably already know that trial and error with your diet is essential to getting the perfect mix of foods to result in peak performance on your race day. When you adopt a vegan diet, you'll simply have to try new things to develop a routine that includes pre-, post-, and mid-race nutrition and ensures you feel good throughout.