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Nutrition for the Vegetarian Runner

A vegetarian diet is a healthy choice that can provide most of the necessary nutrients to stay healthy and fit. However, a vegetarian diet can be limiting in certain nutrients, which as an athlete, one needs to watch out for. As an athlete following a vegetarian diet, it is important to focus on your dietary choices to meet the nutritional requirements for training and recovery, which will help you support your performance during the marathon.1,2

Key nutrients for athletes following a vegetarian diet

There are certain nutrients that may be limited in a vegetarian diet such as quality protein, fats and certain micronutrients.1,2

Consider your carbs: Plant-based foods are usually not high in calories. This may interfere with the energy availability, which can affect your endurance. In addition, high fibre present in plant-based foods is also a concern as it can cause bloating of stomach, satiety (early feeling of fullness), gas and discomfort. Therefore, it is important to have these foods in the right amounts.1-3

Need more protein: The protein quality of plant-based foods may not be as good as that from animal sources. It is recommended that vegetarians consume an additional 10% of protein compared with their non-vegetarian counterparts. Also, an athlete following a vegetarian diet should consume 1.3 to 1.8 g/kg/day by combining different protein sources including beans, legumes, nuts and milk products.4

Some fats that you may miss out on: Animal sources such as fish are good sources of essential fatty acids such as docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Athletes following a vegetarian diet may have limited intake of these fats and thus are at a higher risk for deficiency.2

Vitamins: Vitamin B12 is another vital vitamin that is primarily available from meat, fish and eggs and is deficient in vegetarian diets. Other vitamins such as riboflavin, pyridoxine, folate and vitamin D are also often found to be low in vegetarian foods.1-3

Getting enough minerals: Iron is a key mineral that helps in oxygen transport through blood. Iron from plant-based foods is not easily absorbed by the body. This means that one needs to have larger quantities of iron-rich plant-based foods to get the same quantity of iron that non-vegetarian foods provide.1-3

This may not always be possible! Hence, diversifying your meal with a variety of nutrient-rich foods is highly recommended. Zinc and calcium are the other nutrients that are highly abundant in animal foods, and vegetarians may not receive them.1-3

How can I get the required nutrition?

As a runner following a vegetarian diet, you should be aware of the vital nutrients of special interest and the food sources in which these nutrients are present. It is very important to plan your meals carefully, which includes consuming a variety of plant-based foods that contain adequate quantity of nutrients. The vegetarian sources for some key nutrients that should be included in your regular diet are given below.2,4

Periodic screening of iron levels in the body is recommended to keep iron deficiency in check.2,4

Kindly contact our nutritionist on the toll-free number mentioned below.

1. Applegate EA. Nutritional considerations for ultra-endurance performance. Int J Sport Nutr. June 1991; 1:118-26.
2. Dieticians of Canada. Nutrition and athletic performance: Position paper. Ontario, Canada: Dietitians of Canada, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the
American College of Sports Medicine; 2016.
3. Rodriguez NR, Di Marco NM, Langley S. American College of Sports Medicine position stand. Nutrition and athletic performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2009, 41(3):709-31.
4. Sports dietitians Australia. Marathon nutrition. Victoria, Australia: Sports Dietitians Australia; 2010.