Vegetarian runners: what should you eat?

When we talk about vegetarian and vegan diets, we're referring to diets that are mainly or entirely plant-based. As you know, runners are recommended to maintain a balanced diet, with enough protein to meet the body's requirements. Is it possible, therefore, to follow a diet that is mostly or completely plant-based and be a runner.

1. ARE YOU VEGETARIAN OR VEGAN?

Vegetarian diet : This is a diet that excludes meat (red and white meat), fish and seafood. There are, however, several variants:

     - Lacto-ovo vegetarianism: animal products such as milk and eggs are consumed,

     - Lacto-vegetarianism: dairy products are consumed, but not eggs,

     - Semi-vegetarianism: meat is excluded, but not fish or seafood.

Vegan diet : this is a uniquely plant-based diet. This diet excludes meat, fish and seafood, but also dairy products, eggs and all products originating from animals, such as honey for example.

Vegan lifestyle : veganism can also concern a person's lifestyle, and not just their diet. Vegans not only follow a vegan diet, but also refuse to use any products that involve animal exploitation. This means not eating animal meat, dairy products, eggs or honey, not wearing any clothes made from animal materials (fur, leather, wool etc.), and not using any hygiene or cleaning products that have been tested on animals.

 

2. RUNNERS HAVE TO CONSUME PROTEINS

Proteins play an essential role in building muscle mass and enabling post-exercise recovery. It is important to include proteins in your diet because they provide the amino acids required by the body. The proteins found in animal products provide a better balance of essential amino acids and are more easily absorbed by the body. Therefore, a vegetarian diet won't affect muscle mass for runners who continue eating fish, seafood, eggs and dairy products, and increase their intake of legumes (beans, lentils etc.).

When all animal products are excluded, it is necessary to combine cereals and legumes to obtain the right amount of amino acids. And, of course, don't forget your greens!

 

3. HOW TO AVOID DEFICIENCIES

Iron: THE mineral that provides your muscles with oxygen

Food contains two types of iron: hematinic and non-hematinic iron. Hematinic iron is found in the blood, and therefore in red meat. It is better absorbed than the non-hematinic iron found in plants. This mineral is vital for red blood cells, which transport oxygen from the lungs to the muscles. An iron deficiency can have a detrimental effect on sports performance, and can lead to cramps and fatigue. Get your ferritin levels tested regularly to check you don't have a deficiency.

To avoid iron deficiency, avoid foods that diminish your iron levels, such as coffee or tea. Choose foods that are rich in vitamin C, which optimise the absorption of iron (kiwi fruit, oranges, blackcurrants, tomatoes etc.). Make sure your meals contain some legumes and whole grains, combined with iron-rich vegetables (peas, parsley, dandelion leaves, purslane, spinach, broccoli or cress).

Vitamin B12 : the best weapon for red blood cells

With enough variety and the right combinations, a vegetarian diet can provide all the nutrients required for running, except vitamin B12. This vitamin is found in animal meat, or products originating from animals. Runners who do not consume any animal products run the risk of developing a vitamin B12 deficiency, which can lead to acute anaemia. It is often necessary to take supplements under medical advice. Talk to your doctor about your diet.

 

4. DO YOU RUN? YOU SHOULD BE EATING THESE NON-NEGOCIABLE FOODS!

Lentils: rich in proteins and minerals, such as iron and magnesium. They are easy to prepare (hot, cold or in soup), and are therefore an easy way to enrich your dishes.

Walnuts: oleaginous fruits are generally full of protein. Hazelnuts, almonds, walnuts etc. are all highly recommended in a vegetarian diet.

Soya: soya plays a major role in vegetarianism. It is rich in plant proteins, vitamins and fibre. There are many soya-based products to choose from, such as tofu, allowing you to enjoy a variety of tasty dishes!

Quinoa: quinoa contains a large amount of protein and is also rich in fibre and potassium. It makes an ideal alternative to pasta in your dishes.

 

Marie Fauchille

This article was written by Marie Fauchille, dietician and nutritionnist.

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