Running on Plants: Veganism for Distance Runners

This past weekend was the Chicago Marathon. I applaud (more than once) all of the runners who made it through the finish line, or tried their hardest to make it! As someone who loves to run, but has yet to run further than 10 miles at a given time, I was curious to know how people fuel their bodies to make the most of their runs. As a vegan, we often get backlash for the “lack of protein” we consume (shameless plug for my previous post on the “Vegan Protein Myth”). However, I was interested to know how vegan runners fuel their bodies before a long-distance run.

I’m always so inspired by the people whom I follow on social media, and Britt Joy, the face behind @joyfullforgood who is also pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Nutrition Science, was anything but an exception! This past Sunday, Britt completed her second marathon (crazy, right?!), and I was so interested to learn how she gears up for the marathon. Naturally, due to my intrigue and love for running and veganism, I had to reach out to her and pick her brain.

I had the chance to chat with this blogger, marathon runner, and soon-to-be registered dietician about how she runs on plants.

Meet Britt,  @joyfullforgood

Meet Britt, @joyfullforgood

On fueling your body before a long distance run…
A minimum of one-to-two weeks out I focus on simple, unprocessed foods like plant-based smoothies, salads, or soups that are nutrient dense and easy to digest. One week before [a distance run] I start consuming six Medjool dates a day to help with muscle recovery among other things, also, hydrating with coconut water or Nuun Hydration tablets. Two days before, I start consuming a mostly carb-based diet (67%) with healthy fats (33%). My go to is a big bowl of quinoa or brown rice with one avocado and sweet potato fries tossed in avocado oil, turmeric, black pepper, Ceylon cinnamon, and Celtic sea salt.

On fueling your body after a long distance run...
After a marathon, I keep it simple focusing on carbs and protein. I find that the next day is when I have a huge appetite and my stomach is settled enough. I still eat simple foods that are nutrient dense but more focused on plant protein.

Medjool dates and collard greens both help with muscle recovery. I incorporate extra dates into smoothies and use collard greens as wraps. I also take Natural Vitality Magnesium and Pure Encapsulations l-glutamine to help with muscle recovery.

On eating carbs before a long distance run…
I just learned about carb loading in detail in my nutrition class. What I applied to this year’s marathon allowed me to not "hit a wall"—run out of glucose. I ate two gluten-free and vegan bagels from Wheat’s End Cafe with Miyoko’s cashew cream cheese and avocado three-and-a-half hours before the run with six dates. I consume energy chews about 30-minutes before running, and then every five-to-six miles consume more energy chews—usually miles 5, 10, 15, 20.

On consuming enough protein as a plant-based athlete…
Although I don't have it down to a science and constantly am learning, I find that I tend to not have a problem consuming enough protein. I am aware of all the high plant protein foods and actually have a list on my fridge. I try to be mindful and add a little protein to every meal. When I feel my body needs an extra protein boost I usually make a big bowl of quinoa and add things like tempeh, toasted walnuts, or sprouted buckwheat.

On athletic performance eating plant-based…
I felt sluggish when I consumed animal protein and my body was always inflamed. I feel like I have a clearer head and more energy consuming more bioavailable foods.

On the best recipes for someone with an active lifestyle…
Energy bites like the one recipe I currently have on my blog (click here to make the recipe for yourself!), protein-heavy smoothies using nut butter, seeds, and clean protein powders, and quinoa bowls make me feel the best.

On eats before and after the Chicago Marathon…
Before (as mentioned above), I have a huge brown rice bowl with one avocado and two sweet potatoes baked with avocado oil, turmeric, black pepper, Ceylon cinnamon, and Celtic sea salt. After the race this year I ate at True Food Kitchen (which will probably become a tradition). I ordered vegan and gluten-free ramen and added tofu for a carb and protein heavy meal. I also shared a hummus plate with veggies and butternut squash pizza on a gluten-free crust with my family.

On how to live a plant-based lifestyle but still be active…
Find what foods make you feel your best. Early on in training, try a meal, wait for at least an hour, then go for a run and see how you feel. Specifically, find what plant-based protein sources are your favorite. With marathon running, it’s all about carbs plus healthy fats before, and carbs plus protein after to recover.

Photograph by Amanda Kaplan, Brunette with a Budget

Photograph by Amanda Kaplan, Brunette with a Budget

Running long distances is possible for vegans when executed properly. Take note from Britt, as she’s a two-time marathon runner and a planet-based foodie expert. And, if you get the chance, make sure to head over to her Instagram and website to check out all of her delish eats!

Have you run a marathon before? If so, what was your experience? Let me know in the comments below!

with love & light, amanda