Maybe you’ve considered trying a vegan runner diet (aka plant based running) based on a friends experience or some of the great new info. Or simply because you made it a New Year’s resolution try new things for health or the waist line.
To help you out, I’m updating and republishing some of the best advice long time vegan athletes shared during a 30 day challenge I hosted. It turned in to 9 months of running plant based for me and made a lot of lasting shifts in my diet.
When I set out on the 30 Day Vegan Runner challenge, I wanted to see what all the hubbub was about.
Would I have crazy energy?
Would my digestion be out of this world?
Would my hair glow and the world sing a song as I walked into a room?
I learned an insane amount about food during that time! I haven’t remained vegan, but it certainly gave me a lot of new food options and increased my veggie intake.
- It’s easier than you think to get enough plant based protein
- Eating tons of fresh produce feels really good
- It takes planning, but isn’t terribly hard to turn almost any meal Vegan
- Leaning in to the change is much easier than an overnight switch – start by removing red meat, then dairy, then eggs and so on. (depending on your personality)
Whether you choose to stay on a vegan runner diet long term or not is really about how your body feels. Don’t get so tied to a label that you aren’t willing to change if it’s not working.
Over the years these are some of the things I learned that helped me and other plant based runners succeed. Either way the more veggies in your diet the healthier we know you’ll be!
11 Tips for the Transition to Plant Based Diet
A number of my friends also provided some initial tips on how to make the transition a little more smoothly and without any guilt if you have a slip up.
#1 Try a Meal Delivery Service
I know this sounds crazy, but checkout some of the meal kits and vegan prepared meal delivery options that I’ve tried. For example, everything from Daily Harvest is plant based.
Starting there means always having something in the freezer you can pull out when you aren’t sure what to eat. Since it can take more planning and work to have a plant based diet with everything you need, this is a good place to fill gaps.
They will show you different ways to combine food, prepare food and create really filling meals. Initially a big part of the transition is just having ideas and figuring out the shift.
#2 Use Fake Meat Short Term
While the ideal solution long term is to focus on whole foods, these are a great way to switch from meat based meals and ensure you are getting enough protein as you figure out new meals.
Over time you’ll feel like you need less of these products, which is good because many are packed with soy protein isoloates which can give you runner’s diarrhea!
There are a number of vegans who swear by imitation meat products, so again get to know your gut and if they are helping you perform your best.
#3 Listen to Your Body
As with changing your exercise patterns, changing your diet can be an adjustment.
Early in my vegan runner diet, I found myself craving hamburgers and quickly learned that was my body telling me I needed to get more iron into my diet.
Planted based iron sources are absolutely possible, but for someone like me who is low in Ferritin a supplement was going to be required to get my levels up without meat.
- Pay attention to your energy
- Notice your sleep
- What are your gut and skin doing
Just because a diet is supposed to be healthy, doesn’t mean it’s right for you. So pay attention that way you can adjust appropriately. I know a number of vegan runners, who started adding in fish or eggs once a week because it improved how they felt and their running.
#4 Understand Being Plant Based
People often decide to eliminate animal products, without thinking it through, especially when it comes to nutrients.
Being vegetarian isn’t as simple as just cutting out meat, you need to get protein and iron elsewhere. You also need to figure out what will make you feel full without piling on the carbs!
- Learn how to use beans and lentils in more meals (like this lentil taco meat!)
- Test out a wide variety of vegetables to get a lot of nutrients
- Remember that food combining becomes important for getting complete proteins since no plants have those
#5 Tell your Friends
Then tell them again. Eating out can be a challenge for vegetarians, especially in small towns or when eating at a friend’s house.
Don’t expect your friends to pick up on a comment you dropped in a conversation weeks ago when you are heading over for dinner. Remind them at the time of the invite of exactly what you can eat.
It never hurts to plan ahead and bring something!Considering switching to a plant based diet? Tips from those who have done it! #vegan Click To Tweet
#6 Start with a Small Transition
Depending on your personality, it could be better to go cold turkey or ease in to it.
Start by having vegetarian meals several times a week, which will help you build up a base of favorite meat-free recipes. Or if your goal is to become a vegan, you could start by cutting out all meat, then slowly cutting out dairy, egg and honey products.
Little steps give you time to adjust and create a lifelong way of eating.
- Can you try doing meatless monday for awhile to ramp up your collection of plant based recipes
- What about starting with vegetarian so you still have eggs and dairy to play with
- Figure out what’s going to be sustainable
#7 Experiment and find things you love!
Try prepared foods at salad bars or grocery stores like Whole Foods to find what you like, and to get inspired for ideas.
You may surprise yourself and enjoy foods you didn’t expect to, like tofu or eggplant. Pinterest has made it easier than ever to find ideas! Here are some of the recipes I still use:
- Vegan Vegetable Chili
- Cookies and Cream Smoothie (like dessert post run!)
- Falafels – so easy and so good
- Vegan Vanilla Cupcakes
- Whole Foods Copycat Tahini Cookie
- Tofu Scramble – great high protein breakfast
#8 Try To Think Healthy Foods First
Cutting out meat and/or dairy does not necessarily equal a healthier diet!
When many people first begin cutting out animal products, they lean on processed foods to fill the void. Another reason I’m recommending Daily Harvest which is all whole food ingredients!
Use as many fresh, unprocessed ingredients as possible, and be careful to include plenty of protein in the forms of lentils, beans, nuts, eggs, etc to stay satisfied.
#9 How To Dine Out as a Vegan
Not only are your friends wondering what the heck you’ll eat, but truth be told they feel guilty eating a juicy burger in front of you. First you need to let them know you respect their choices. Next….
Do some pre-planning
- Check restaurants online menu to see what can be adapted for you
- Don’t stress about asking the waiter for a change, you’re the paying customer
- Every once in awhile you may be stuck with a blah side salad, which just meas more room for vegan ice cream later
#10 Vegan Runner Diet Ideas
Friends are frequently going to ask… “so what can you eat?”
While the quickest answer would be to say, I eat what you think is a side dish. The best way to answer this question is to think of some dishes your friends and family love, then describe your vegan version using words like filling, delicious, and scrumptious.
You need them to understand that you enjoy your way of eating, you aren’t missing out on flavors and you feel really good.
Talk to them about switching up your diet based on the season because you can buy great locally grown produce giving you way more variety than most people have.
#11 Where Do You Get Protein in a Vegan Runner Diet?
Protein has become a hot topic due to the Paleo diet, but the truth is most RD’s say we’re getting plenty. As a running coach, I’ve found that the needs vary some from person to person. We know that as women age, we start to need more protein to maintain muscle and we are less efficient at burning carbs.
Vegans can easily find protein in:
- tons of vegetables, eggplant, muschrooms
- beans, lentils, edamame, hummus
- chia and hemp seeds
Examples: a cup of broccoli has 4 grams, a cup of vegetarian baked beans has 12.
Over the years, I’ve had a lot of questions about my eating style (veggie heavy, no dairy), but my friends who have committed to the long term Vegan lifestyle seem to be bombarded.
Here are some of the top questions and their responses to help ease your way.
Is it Healthy to be a Vegan Runner?
Yes, when done correctly.
Honestly, I’ve seen a lot of runners decide to make a massive shift to a vegan runner diet and things went south. They started getting stress fractures, energy tanked and their gut couldn’t handle all the fiber.
So it’s not a magic pill! You’re going to need to pay attention to the notes above to really create a healthy diet just like you do with one that contains meat.
Can You Be a Vegan Ultrarunner?
Interestingly a growing number of pro athletes are vegan or vegetarian, like Scott Jurek and Michael Arnstein (ultra runners). Carl Lewis (sprinter), Dave Scott (Ironman) and Rich Roll (Ultra/Ironman).
None of these athletes seem to be protein deficient and I’m sure they do a whole lot more training than we ever will!
What they also do that often gets overlooked is PLAN LIKE CRAZY!!
They know they need to eat a lot of food to put in the miles and keep their body strong.Any athlete needs to spend a little time focusing on getting enough protein and nutrients, regardless of whether you’re plant based.
One potential issue for Vegan runners who are focused on whole foods is a low calorie count, which may not provide enough energy for your runs.
- Add in more nuts, olive oil
- Include vegan protein powders in protein pancakes or green smoothies
- Add a little more to each meal
- Try drinking more calories
It takes some work initially to change to this kind of diet.
Spend a little more time planning meals to ensure you don’t default to packaged foods at the store.
As I said at the beginning I really think this challenge is a GREAT way to learn some new healthier, “plant strong” meals.
If it is too hard to go 100% Vegan then maybe set certain days during the week where you’ll eat vegetarian. There are endless medical statistics about reducing the likeliness of certain diseases, lower body weight and less illness in those who eat a more heavily plant based diet.
Why Can’t You Eat Meat?
Ahhh this is the real crux of what most of your friends want to know. Many people don’t buy in to the idea that there are some massive health benefits, so it’s up to you how far down the rabbit hole you want to go.
You can explain you’re ethical reasons, the environmental impact and the health reasons, but they may not really hear you. It’s a little like when people talk politics, they’re tuned in to their own ideas.
Instead, some more general ways to explain it:
- Not only do I maintain a balanced and healthy lifestyle without the meat, but the extra vegetables help me to recover faster for better training.
- If I can get all the nutrients I need through plants, then I’d prefer to do that.
- Studies have shown dairy produced by cows or any other mammal, are really meant for their babies to continue growing into large animals…and for most of us that’s not the goal!
Additional Vegan Running Resources
The 21-Day Essential Guide to Healing Your Mind, Body and Spirit by Kathy Freston
I cannot recommend this book highly enough. I started reading it when I was choosing to make some major shifts in my food choices after the holidays. Kathy tackles the process with great detail, emotional support and ongoing tips to help you lean in to a new lifestyle without criticism or fear.
He’s a long time runner dedicated to sharing the plant based life, who has helped create a great running community for vegans that need some support.
He frequently has Vegan athletes on the podcast and recently released a new book called the Plantpower. Many of his guests really breakdown the vegan runner diet and how it relates to their running..
Hopefully, this gave you some ideas to think about what needs to happen to really follow a vegan runner diet. I didn’t give you a specific meal plan to follow because that’s never worked for me.
I think we all have to find a way of eating that feels best for our body. Initially this is experiment to find what fits in to your lifestyle, your budget and your personal love of food.
I am not someone who loves spending time in the kitchen at this point in my life…so I factor that in to my choices!