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Vegan runners need to eat effectively in order to excel athletically, just like non-vegan runners. Since vegans do not eat animal products, they must be sure to consume enough plant-based protein to enable muscle strength and growth. Carbohydrates are important, and luckily, plant sources of this macronutrient are plentiful. It is also important for vegan runners, whose diets are naturally low in calories, to consume plenty of healthy, plant-based fats to give them the energy they need for high quality performance.
One of the biggest critiques of veganism is that people who do not eat animal products have difficulty consuming enough protein. Fortunately for vegan runners, who need more protein to use for muscle growth and repair than sedentary vegans, there are a multitude of options for plant-based protein. Soy products such as edamame, tempeh, tofu, and miso are excellent sources of protein and can be prepared in a variety of ways to suit many palettes. Beans and nuts are also protein-packed choices. Vegan runners should note, however, that not all plant-based sources of protein contain all the amino acids they need to be complete proteins — complete proteins can be created by strategically combining certain plant-based foods, such as beans with rice.
It is essential for vegan runners to consume enough carbohydrates because carbs are responsible for providing the body the energy it needs to run. Luckily, most healthful sources of carbohydrates are plant-based and therefore vegan-friendly. Vegan runners should choose complex carbohydrates that digest slowly and provide long-lasting energy. Whole grains — whole wheat, bulgar, quinoa, etc — and vegetables are good examples of complex carbohydrates. Runners who are transitioning into a vegan lifestyle should be aware that the increase in fiber associated with a vegan diet may initially irritate the stomach until the body gets used to the change.
Since a plant-based diet is naturally low in fat and calories, vegan runners need to make sure they are eating enough calories to support their active lifestyles. Runners need more calories per day than sedentary people, because calories are the energy that powers exercise. Non-vegans have less difficulty keeping up calories because meat and dairy have more calories per serving than vegetables, soy, or legumes.
Vegan runners should consume heart-healthy fats from avocado, nuts, seeds, olives, and vegetable oils in order to meet their daily calorie goals. Certain nuts and seeds, such as walnuts and flax, also provide the essential omega-3 fatty acids that are needed to properly metabolize fat and proteins. Transitioning vegan runners might consider taking omega-3 supplements until they master their new lifestyles. Similarly, since vitamin B-12 can be difficult for some vegans to adequately consume, a B-12 supplement or multivitamin can also be a valuable addition to their diet.
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