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5 Nutrition Tips for Vegetarian Runners

Get Your Balance
For vegetarian athletes striking a nutritional balance is especially crucial.
For vegetarian athletes striking a nutritional balance is especially crucial.

Long distance runners are masters at seeking balance. Often, settling into a pace designed to go the distance can mean crossing the finish line -- or not. The same is true of nutrition. For vegetarian athletes especially, striking a balance is crucial. During training, the optimal dietary mix is 60 percent carbohydrates, 25 percent proteins and 15 percent fats -- about 2,500 calories a day. If a particularly lengthy training session or endurance event is in the works, carbohydrates should be increased an additional 5 to 10 percent a day or two before the big run [source: Venderly].

This seems like straightforward advice, but for vegetarians eating filling, high-fiber diets, it can be tough to ingest large quantities of foods to meet high calorie counts. Other than adding more mouthfuls to a meal, how does a vegetarian runner get enough nutrients?

For starters, plan meals with a complex carbohydrate base, such as vegetables and whole grain pastas. Unlike the simple carbohydrates comprising doughnuts or white bread (you'll recognize these when they produce a sugar rush), complex carbohydrates absorb slowly and offer steady energy. Plus, excess carbohydrates are stored in the muscles as glycogen, the primary fuel that allows runners to put one foot in front of the other for mile upon mile [source: Clark]. Some carbohydrate-rich foods can pull double-duty; simply watch for foods with an extra nutritional punch, such as whole grain cereals fortified with vitamins and minerals.

In addition, when you eat is nearly as important as what you eat. Don't send your body competing signals from your full stomach and your running legs. If you eat a heavy meal immediately before a run, your body may divert blood to your leg muscles instead of your digestive tract. Even if the weighty meal doesn't slow you down, the fact that it's digesting so slowly probably will. However, if you eat an hour before your run and give your body a bit of digestion time, it can help you recover afterward. A 2009 study in the Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise reveals eating the right foods before exercising increases muscle repair by 20 percent [source: Witard].