Plant-based Diet for Runners
What is a plant-based diet and how can it help your performance and your recovery?
A plant-based diet, which can often be confused with vegan or vegetarian diets, can offer a more flexible approach to nutrition where most foods are from plant sources. It’s simple to get started with a plant-based diet by introducing more fruits and vegetables at every meal. You can choose to eat entirely plant-based with a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains, or take a hybrid approach by slowly reducing your consumption of animal-based food products and processed foods over time.
Are you considering a plant-based diet?
If you’re considering a plant-based diet, begin with an inventory of your current diet by tracking your food intake for one week. I recommend using MyFitnessPal or a printable worksheet. Once you have completed a week of nutrition tracking, review your food and beverage intake for the following items:
- How many meals include animal-based foods (milk or cream, cheese, yogurt, fish, chicken, beef, or pork)?
- How many servings of fruits and vegetables are you eating each day?
Eating fewer animal-based products does not automatically equate to improved nutrition. Just as a gluten-free diet doesn’t mean better health if you’re substituting a regular blueberry muffin with a gluten-free one. However, if you’re swapping out some animal-based products and processed foods with more whole foods and more fruits and vegetables, you can expect to experience better health in the short and long term. I recommend swapping that blueberry muffin for one cup of unsweetened oatmeal topped with fresh or frozen blueberries, a little salt and cinnamon and a drizzle of honey.
What can you expect when incorporating a plant-based diet?
In addition to lowering body weight and cholesterol, adopting a plant-based diet has also been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, colon & breast cancer. For athletes, including recreational runners, consistently incorporating more plant-based meals can help to improve glycogen stores, vascular flow and tissue oxygenation while reducing oxidative stress.
Oxidative stress is a byproduct of our environment (sun, smoke, and pollution), lifestyle (alcohol, fast food, stress, medications), and exercise–yes, exercise. It may be shocking to learn that exercise has negative implications, but don’t sit down just yet–the benefits of exercise far outweigh the negative ones. The great news is that there is a simple solution to reduce chronic inflammation and oxidative stress due to exercise–eat more fruits and vegetables. The antioxidant power of fruits and vegetables is higher than poultry or even fish.
You may be wondering, how much protein do you really need and can a plant-based diet provide you with enough protein? On average, a healthy individual needs about 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight.
Example: 130 pounds x 0.36 = 46.8 grams of protein
Below are a few examples of plant-based foods that are high in protein.
- Lentils, 17 grams per 1 cup
- Chickpeas, 16 grams per 1 cup
- Black beans, 12 grams per 1 cup
- Edamame, 17 grams per 1 cup
- Tofu, 7 grams per 3 ounces
- Nuts & Seeds
- Hemp seed, 9 grams per 1 ounce
- Nut Butters, 7 grams per 2 Tbs
- Almonds, 6 grams per 1 ounce
- Quinoa, 8 grams per 1 cup
- Oatmeal, 4 grams per 1 cup
Need a little more protein after a heavy lift or long run? Enjoy a post-workout recovery shake using your favorite plant-based protein powder for an extra boost.
Below are two sample meal plans (with daily protein calculations) to help get you started with more plant-based meals. Need more fuel during the day? Enjoy an apple with peanut butter or half of a cucumber with hummus. Stay plant-focused and see how your body responds.
Breakfast: 1 cup oatmeal with raisins, chia seeds, almond milk
Lunch: 2 cups, spinach, ½ cup, quinoa, ½ cup garbanzo beans
Recovery/Snack: Plant-based protein shake with kale, banana, water, ice.
Dinner: 1 cup lentil soup
51 grams of protein
Breakfast: Smoothie with 2 cups spinach, banana, hemp seed, peanut butter, plant-based protein, water, ice.
Lunch: Vegetable casserole with polenta, spinach, and white beans
Dinner: Veggie burger with mixed green salad
64 grams of protein