Vegan and vegetarian diets can fuel your energy and improve your workout, the latest science shows.
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More and more fit women are choosing vegan and vegetarian eating plans, driving their workouts with veggies, fruit, ￼￼beans, nuts, and seeds. And it works. “Vegan and athlete don’t seem like they should go together, but a lot of people are surprised to find that plant-based eating improves their performance,” says Matt Frazier, a coauthor of The No Meat Athlete Cookbook.
In a study at Arizona State University, vegetarian and vegan endurance athletes had better cardiovascular fitness than—and were just as strong as—meat-eating athletes, perhaps in part because these diets are typically higher in healthy carbs, says study author Heidi Lynch, Ph.D., R.D.N. Vegan and vegetarian runners also eat better overall, other research shows.
“When you train hard, you burn more energy and put stress on your body,” says dietitian and certified running coach Claire Shorenstein, R.D.N. “You need to eat more as a result, including a variety of plant-based foods that are nutrient-dense and high in antioxidants, like fruits, veggies, nuts, and seeds. They help counteract the stress and reduce the risk of injury.”
As for protein, most vegans get plenty, as long as they eat a wide variety of whole foods, Shorenstein says. Tofu and tempeh are great sources, as are whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds.
When going meat-free, be sure to get plenty of iron from foods like lentils and dark leafygreens, and pair them with vitamin C–rich choices such as bell peppers to maximize absorption. You may also want to supplement with B12 (which is mainly found in animal products and fortified foods; ask your doctor to check your levels), and you’ll need to keep tabs on your calcium intake too (broccoli, leafy greens, and fortified plant milks are all sources). “But as long as you eat enough and your diet is balanced and varied and consists of mostly whole foods, you probably have your bases covered,” Shorenstein says.
If a 100 percent plant-based diet feels too radical, a part-time approach can also help energize you, says Jessica Murnane, the author of One Part Plant. “Eating one plant-based meal a day lets you experiment and find out if it works for you,” she says. Get started with the hearty dishes below.
Loaded Spaghetti Squash
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To fire up for tomorrow morning's cardio, feast on this loaded spaghetti squash from The No Meat Athlete for dinner. The dish packs in 15 grams of plant-based protein and 19 grams of fiber.
Photo: Ted Cavanaugh
Strawberry Shortcake Rice Bites
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Pistachio Coconut Squares
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Corn Cakes with Black Bean Spread
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