By now, you've probably had your fill of information about the "big three" macronutrients: carbohydrates, proteins and fats. In the right combinations, these compounds are essential for vegetarian runners. But, there also are dozens of little reasons to pay attention to the details of your nutrition. Micronutrients such as potassium, zinc, chromium and antioxidants can give you an edge by boosting energy levels, speeding recovery times and lending an overall feeling of health as you exercise.
Potassium, in particular, is important to replace after running. Without it, your muscles will cramp and you'll feel nauseous. This electrolyte is found in radishes, cabbage, bananas and cashews. Chromium, found in mushrooms and whole grains, stabilizes blood-sugar levels, while zinc (wheat germ is a good source) helps tissues repair more efficiently [source: Christianson].
Antioxidants, on the other hand, boost an athlete's rate of cellular repair, which makes vitamin E one of the most important micronutrients to ingest. Research shows the more vitamin E a runner takes, the less his or her cells are damaged. Runners need to take more antioxidants than sedentary people because strenuous, aerobic exercise requires more antioxidants to keep cells protected [source: Christianson].
Unfortunately, macronutrient deficiencies can topple even top athletes--especially if they are vegetarians. A combination of increased demand brought on by strenuous exercise and inadequate nutrition can make athletes lose steam during training and struggle to recover. And, because vegetarians have eliminated entire food groups from their diets, they're at particular risk of micronutrient deficiencies. Still, if you're dedicated to eating a variety of veggie-friendly foods, there's little need to worry. For many athletes, paying close attention to food choices is a natural progression of dedicated training. For these runners, each race begins by lifting a fork long before the starting gun ever sounds.