A runner’s diet should have extra calories to support training as well as optimal nutrition to promote muscle recovery. Well-planned vegetarian diets can be just as healthy and effective for a runner as one that includes meat or other animal products. As a runner your vegetarian diet should focus on a variety of foods, rather than just white pasta and bread, to provide all the vitamins, minerals, fats and protein you need for optimal performance.
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A vegetarian diet tends to be high in carbohydrates, which provides runners with energy. Vegetarian diets may also offer a generous amount of other important nutrients such as fiber, folate, vitamin C and magnesium. The Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine explains that vegetarians tend to have lower body weights. If you are lighter, you may be faster and incur less pounding during your run, reducing incidence of injury, according to The Distance Runner's Diet by Hal Higdon.
If you are a runner who does about 25 miles per week of training you need at least 2,500 calories per day. A well-planned vegetarian diet makes these calories come from fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds and, in the case of ovo-lacto vegetarians, dairy and eggs. Soy products are also a source of carbohydrates and protein.
Vegetarian diets may lack adequate amounts of specific nutrients, including calcium, iron, zinc and vitamin B-12. Although you, as a runner, get plenty of weight-bearing exercise which is helpful to healthy bones, you still need calcium from milk, if you choose dairy, or fortified soy milk and juices, dark leafy greens and enriched cereals. Iron-deficiency can lead to diminished energy and nonmeat sources of iron are not as well absorbed. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends vegetarians consume 1.8 times the amount of iron as nonvegetarians. Vegetarian runners may get zinc and B-12 through fortified cereals and grains, especially whole grains, which also provide the essential energy-producing carbohydrates.
A 2,500-calorie, well-balanced vegetarian plan for a runner with 72 percent of the calories coming from carbohydrates might begin with two slices of toasted whole-grain bread with 2 tablespoons of fruit spread, 1 cup of melon and 1 1/2 cups of calcium-fortified orange juice. For a morning snack, you could have a multigrain bagel with 6 ounces of low-fat yogurt and a peach. For lunch, have a bowl of lentil soup with a whole-wheat roll and 2 cups of green salad topped with 2 tablespoons of low-fat dressing. In the afternoon, a serving of whole-grain crackers eaten with 1 1/2 cups of calcium-fortified soy milk or juice further bolsters energy stores. At dinner, have 1 cup of gnocchi with 1/2 cup of marinara sauce and two slices of garlic bread, made with whole-wheat bread, if possible. Before bed, have a 16 ounce fruit smoothie made with soy milk, a banana and 1 cup of frozen berries.