A vegetarian runner needs about 150 percent more protein than a vegetarian whose workout is an evening stroll; an athlete should eat 0.7 protein grams for every pound of his or her weight [source: Wadyka]. And, because you aren't putting hamburgers in your crumb-maker as a matter of course, ingesting enough protein takes deliberate effort.
Protein's important for runners because it stabilizes blood sugar and repairs scores of tiny muscle fiber tears caused by exercise [source: Wadyka]. Fortunately, stores of protein are as close as the nearest salad bar. Many foods common to the vegetarian diet contain protein, including lettuce, lentils, beans, tempeh (a seasoned soybean cake), tofu and nuts.
By adjusting the quantities you eat of these easy-to-find ingredients, you can up your protein intake nearly effortlessly. Simply make adaptations to what you currently ingest. For example, add chickpeas to your leafy greens or slather peanut butter on apple slices or celery sticks. Add a hard-boiled egg, slice of whole wheat bread or glass of milk to a meal. In these ways, you can pick up protein grams throughout the day. Just make sure you're keeping track of the increase.
However, certain complete proteins -- those containing all the essential amino acids --aren't replicated in plants. These animal-bound proteins, which are found only in red meat, seafood, dairy, eggs or poultry, can pose a challenge for the vegetarian runner. But there's an easy workaround: variety. Putting a range of foods together in combination, such as eating beans and brown rice or hummus and pita bread, create a complete protein like the one found in a beef filet [source: Messina]. These complete proteins are efficiently digested and keep your body from, well, starvation mode. Recent studies also show you don't even have to eat these foods at the same sitting to unlock a complete protein combination. Turns out, your body will combine them automatically [source: Better Health].
If you're still concerned about protein intake, over-the-counter protein supplements can be a real boon to veggie runners looking for a quick boost. Just make sure your dependence on protein smoothies doesn't make up the lion's share of your diet.