I made an ambitious goal this new year — arguably too ambitious (if you ask my mother).
I joined the Run the Year challenge. That means I’m aiming to run 2,018 miles in 2018. Considering that my runs typically tap out at two miles, this is a sizeable jump in mileage, which is worrisome for my diet (and my mother).
As a pescatarian, or “a lazy vegetarian who eats fish,” as I say, I worried about consuming the right amount protein to keep my body going through longer runs. I also figured I wasn’t the only non-meat eater to have these concerns.
So I called Nicole Rubenstein, the Denver-based sports dietitian behind Racer’s Edge Nutrition, to get a crash course.
Rubenstein made some recommendations for vegan and veggie eats for early morning runs and after-work trips to the gym — and specified what to eat both before and after those workouts.
For early risers, eating before a workout can be difficult. Thankfully, it’s not necessarily. People heading out for short runs or enjoying a light exercise can do without eating, Rubenstein said. But if you notice your energy is drained before you’re done, start munching on fruit beforehand.
People do need to eat once workouts start exceeding an hour and a half, though, she says. The key is food that is high in carbs, low in fats and moderate in protein.
For vegetarians, that can look like oatmeal with Greek yogurt on the side. Vegans can supplement the yogurt with a vegan-friendly protein powder, or mock meats and whole-grain toast.
The timing of when to eat depends on a person’s stomach. Some are good after 30 minutes while others need an hour. If your stomach feels too heavy, give yourself more time before a workout.
If time is too short in the morning, Rubenstein recommended a smoothie for fuel because it’s easier to digest.
After the workout, pack on the protein. Rubenstein recommended a tofu scramble breakfast burrito with either a corn or sprouted whole-wheat tortilla. Top it with salsa, beans and avocado for a well-rounded vegan breakfast.
Sometimes the best way to shake off the work day is a nice run or weight day in the gym.
Vegans and vegetarians are at a disadvantage here because their protein sources, which tend to be beans and lentils, are hard to digest and stick in the stomach, Rubenstein said.
So 30 minutes to an hour before a workout, especially one that is heavy on weight training, she suggested a protein smoothie with fruit and yogurt or vegan-friendly protein powder.
It’s important to note that not all protein powders are veggie and vegan-friendly. Look for plant-based powders, such as soy, hemp or pea protein. Although whey protein is popular, it’s dairy base rules it out for vegans.
After the workout, follow with a protein-packed meal with beans, lentils, tofu, tempeh or seitan. Rubenstein recommended her own dinner favorites: chili with black beans, tofu tacos and barbecue tempeh paired with roasted sweet potatoes and sauteed spinach. If it’s summertime, chow down on a salad with edamame, tofu and roasted pumpkin seeds.
Snacks for anytime
Beyond protein, there are other potential weaknesses in a vegan or vegetarian’s diet, such as omega-3s, iron, vitamin B12 and vitamin D, Rubenstein said. It’s easy to supplement most with multivitamins or algal oil, which is oil derived from algae.
Want to make a snack of it? Make some popcorn and sprinkle a tablespoon of nutritional yeast on top, Rubenstein said. That’ll give the snacker B vitamins and a little bit of protein.