Going vegan has never been as easy or accessible as it is now. There are vegan-friendly options at restaurants, there’s vegan fast-food, vegan sports nutrition, and plenty of vegan athletes who are happy to provide encouragement and information about this way of life.
Vegan runner Matt Frazier, author of NoMeatAthlete, stresses that vegans shouldn’t restrict their calories. When you remove animal products from a normal diet, it takes away the densest source of calories from a runner’s diet, so it’s important to make sure you’re getting enough calories. For example, if you’re used to a chicken Caesar salad and remove the dressing, cheese, chicken and croutons, you’ve taken away all the calories — and who can eat that much romaine lettuce? Make sure that for every animal product you subtract, a fat or protein substitute is swapped in.
Whether you’re thinking about going vegan or have been vegan for years, here are five simple tips and recipes from vegan runners who’ve been thriving on a plant-based diet:
1. USE THE RIGHT TOOLS
“You don’t need a bunch of fancy kitchen tools,” says Frazier. His top suggestions include a high-quality knife (because you chop a lot of veggies), a high-powered blender for smoothies, sauces and soups, and a cast-iron skillet to make easy single-pan meals. Beyond that, toys like a spiralizer to make vegetable noodles, are just fun extras. It’s good to know that a healthy vegan diet doesn’t require a massive kitchen makeover and a countertop covered in gadgets.
2. KEEP IT SIMPLE
Frazier emphasizes that the best meals are often the simplest ones — and when he’s planning a meal, he just uses the heuristic of “grain, bean, green,” to make a dish. For example, he’ll make a soup with rice, lentils and spinach. To optimize flavor, he’s a big fan of spices, with turmeric and cumin seeds being his two favorites.
READ MORE > 5 AMAZING VEGETARIAN RECIPES FOR ATHLETES
3. FOCUS ON WHOLE FOODS DURING A RUN
“I love dates, and for longer runs, I’ll stuff a Brazil nut in for some extra protein,” says Frazier. He adds that the straight glucose of the date is basically nature’s own gel pack, and a fresh, soft one is delicious — and doesn’t require packaging.
Add in electrolytes as well: “I suggest to anyone who’s planning to run a marathon or a similar distance run that when the weather is hot, bring along small salt packets, and add them to their mid-run beverage to replenish electrolytes,” says vegan runner and blogger Alina Zavatsky. “This helped me big time during my latest marathon, and my recovery was a breeze!”
4. PACK NUTRIENTS INTO SMOOTHIES
If you’re a runner who is constantly on the go, you can cram a ton of nutrients into your morning smoothie. Zavatsky swears by this nutrient-dense breakfast smoothie.
1 big leaf kale, thick stem removed (or 1/2 cup packed fresh spinach)
1 carrot, peeled
1/2 inch piece ginger root
4 tablespoons rolled oats
1 tablespoon nut butter (I use my homemade peanut butter)
1 tablespoon raisins
1 teaspoon chia seeds
1 teaspoon ground flax seed
4–5 frozen strawberries
1/2 cup almond milk
1/4 cup or more water (or 1 small cucumber)
Dash of cinnamon
Optional add-ins for an even healthier smoothie:
1/2 teaspoon light miso paste
1/4–1/2 teaspoon wheatgrass
1/4–1/2 teaspoon spirulina
1–2 tablespoon dark cocoa powder
Up to 1/2 cup frozen fruit or berries (I like blueberries)
Put the ingredients into a high-powered blender. Blend everything until smooth, about 2–3 minutes, depending on your blender. Stop halfway to check the flavor and add more of any ingredient to your taste (add more raisins/prunes to make it sweeter). If it’s too thick, add more almond milk or water. Once it’s smooth, pour into a glass and enjoy. Makes 1, 16-ounce serving.
Nutrition (per serving): Calories: 434; Total Fat: 18g; Saturated Fat: 3g; Monounsaturated Fat: 8g; Cholesterol: 0mg; Sodium: 215mg; Carbohydrate: 62g; Dietary Fiber: 16g; Sugar: 25g; Protein: 11g
5. RELY ON MEAL-SIZED SALADS
“Lunch is always a huge salad — and I mean huge. You’d get it to share with someone as a dinner,” says Tara Mayo, a vegan ultra-runner in Vermont who started with 5Ks and now tackles ultra-marathons and teaches yoga on the side. Her base is greens and shredded beets, carrots and tomatoes, but she adds fats — usually a whole avocado — and protein — often in mashed chickpea or hummus form — to give it a higher calorie content. Sunflower seeds also make an appearance for added crunch.
She tries to avoid processed food (though she won’t beat herself up over the occasional pretzel) and says one of the biggest mistakes new vegans make is skimping on the calories.