Vegetarian

Nutrition Navigation:Training as a vegetarian

Welcome to back to my ongoing series: Nutrition Navigation. The idea behind the series is part of the vision behind the cookbook I am working on, that is, bridging nutritional knowledge/needs and great food. In this series, I will focus on specific training periods or training needs (like peak training or post-long run), on a specific nutrient (like Vitamin D) or a specific food (like Kale) and show you how that translates into real, healthy, gourmet meals. Often times that means I will provide a snapshot of a days worth of meals or a collection of ideas, recipes or methods. Have questions or want to see something specific covered. Email me with your special requests! Please note, I am NOT a registered dietitian and these views reflect only what have worked for me as a runner and personal chef.



I get a lot of questions about being a vegetarian or vegan runner. I use to be vegan but it didn't work for me. I thrive on a pretty low grain/bean diet, am gluten intolerant, and dairy free. I like vegetables and protein. However, a lot of the time I eat very vegetarian and I think it can work for a lot of people. When going vegetarian there are a lot of questions runners have about meeting their nutritional needs.

  1. Don't be a junk food vegetarian. There are so many processed vegetarian products and replacement products out there it would be easy to fall into the trap of thinking that because it is a vegan or vegetarian processed product that it is good for you. Processed food vegetarian or not is not ideal for an athletic diet. Eat real food.
  2. Stay balanced. Not everyone loves vegetables the way I do. My downfall as a vegan was that I only really wanted to eat vegetables and my diet was out of balance. Make sure you monitor your balance of carbs (it can be easy just to inundate your diet with starchy carbs), fat and protein. A healthy athletic diet is a balanced diet.
  3. Think about, but don't worry about protein. As runners, we need protein. Not a huge amount but that doesn't mean you can neglect it. If you are eating a real food diet, just make sure that you are maintaining a healthy balanced diet that includes some obvious protein sources.
  4. Go nuts! Protein, fat,  nuts are quite the runners wonder food. Enjoy them freely!
  5. Get your Omegas. Try Udo's Oil an excellent source of 100% plant based Omega Fatty Acids.
  6. Cozy up with a good book. Well done vegetarian and vegan meals can often times be more complex and flavorful because they aren't relying on animal protein to carry the flavor and thus more effort is taken in building flavor. Invest in some good vegetarian cookbooks to help learn how to build flavor.
  7. Don't overthink it. There is no universal right answer of what to eat. (Oh look a theme in this series). Try different things out and see how you feel. If you keep the above in mind, you should be good to go!
What works for me:

I personally learn from examples. Even though I can understand a list (like above) or a set of instructions, often times I am able to synthesize it best by viewing an example. I thought for this series, I would include an example of what a typical vegetarian weekday of meals looked like.

Breakfast:

Yes, that is real gluten filled toast up there. Yes, I devoured it. Yes, there is an explanation for eating it, enjoying it and not being bothered by it. Unfortunately, no, I am still gluten intolerant. Toast with a butter and a selection of toppings is a great way to fuel up before a run. And a banana. My biggest problem with toast is that I feel hungry about 10 seconds later, I thrive better when I have something more protein and fat rich in the morning. I usually stick with my overnight oats, this week with amazing homemade maple almond butter with chia seeds.


Lunch #1 and Lunch #2:



I eat two lunches and I love salad and feel very incomplete without them on a daily basis. Ditto on the vegetables. Some might say it is too much fiber, but my body likes it, so I go wild with them. I happened to make a brilliant discovery with making my lunch: baked eggs. I had never had baked eggs before, but the idea sounded amazing and I ended up eating the almost identical salad twice.

To make baked eggs take a small pat of butter and melt it in a ramekin. Swirl the butter around to fully coat. Put some fresh chopped herbs, a bit of red pepper flakes and a little salt and pepper in the bottom. Crack two eggs over the herbs. Bake in a 350 oven for 15-20 minutes depending on how hard or soft you want your eggs. The baker tells me that baking them in a water bath is the way to roll. I need to try that.

Each salad included:
  • Mixed Greens
  • Leftover sweet potato salad with preserved lemons and green olives.
  • 2 baked eggs with herbs and red pepper flakes
  • 1 1/2 cups roasted broccoli (lightly sprayed with oil, roasted for 10-15 mins in a 450 oven).
  • simple vinaigrette


As with my taper week salads, I try and make sure that my salads are balanced with a good source of carbs (leftover sweet potato salad), protein (eggs), and fat (salad dressing). 

Dinner:

I was really excited to do this post and was really good about taking photos of my food all day long. One of the main reasons I picked this particular day was because I was preparing an epic vegetarian meal for dinner since we were having a vegetarian dinner guest. The meal turned out excellent. The flavors were amazing, the colors beautiful. And we gobbled it up without a thought for my camera which I had picked up right before we sat down to eat. So you have to settle for this:

That was a great recipe from Everyday Greens. It was a Indian Curry with Tamarind and Chilis. It was complex and flavorful and packed full of veggies. I served it over saffron rice, though I didn't have any. A great recipe, one that even a meat eater would beg for more of.

Being a vegetarian athlete has become more and more common and it is easy to create amazing delicious meals that also meet your nutritional needs. I think everyone benefits from having a meatless day each week so even if you are just going vegetarian for a day, this is a great place to start.

Big bowl of nutrition



I eat healthy, nutritious, real food. Even my indulgences (like a certain muffin obsession) are healthy and can be consumed on a regular basis without question. I think back to my diet when I was a high school and college basketball player and shudder, it was pretty opposite to what I eat now, though I have always been a fan of fruits and vegetables (thanks mom!). Despite being a super healthy eater, someone who eats a salad every day for lunch and a green drink every day with breakfast, sometimes I still crave a dish that take nutrition to the next level. Something akin to nutrition squared. It may sound weird, but sometimes all I want is a plate of brussel sprouts or a steamed head of broccoli.

Before I headed off to France for Advanced Week, I was seriously craving some nutrition squared, especially since I had no idea what kind of food would be in store for me upon arrival in Bedoin (thank goodness there was lots of salad and they made me separate gluten free dishes! Found most of the fare to have pretty light and healthy options).

To tame the raging craving beast, I came up with this fruit, tofu and green salad. I have to say, sometimes when you think something is going to just taste "healthy" you can be blindsided with outrageously great flavor. The fruits were not overly sweet, but perfectly ripe. There was a great playfulness in the levels of crispness and crunch of the apples and the smoothness of the mango and papaya. This salad could make an appearance at breakfast, lunch or dinner and no one would blink an eye. Not only was it nutritious, it was easy and of course delicious. It kinda made me want to break into what my dad calls my "I'm so good" dance. Oh yeah. I'm so good. Now, I need to come up with another muffin recipe to bring the nutrition ratio back to just plain nutritious, not nutritious squared.



Chia Seed Fruit Salad


Ingredients:
  • ½ mango, diced
  • ½ avocado, diced
  • ½ cup papaya, diced
  • 1 small apple, diced
  • 1 serving baked tofu, diced
  • 5 medium strawberries, sliced
  • 4 cups mixed baby greens
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • ½ tablespoon flax oil
  • 1 tablespoon chia seeds
  • 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • Real Sea Salt

Directions:

In a large bowl, place mixed baby greens. Toss together fruit, tofu and avocado and put over greens. Drizzle with apple cider vinegar and then flax oil. Sprinkle chia seeds and nutritional yeast. Salt to taste Enjoy!

Race Week Nutrition


Tree Hugger in Provence. Photo by the GripMaster.

I missed a week of baking, cooking, etc. I apologize. I was in France attending Salomon Advanced Week (which you can read about here). There was running, eating pretty decent French food and some good fun. But I am back now and doing a power taper for my race this Saturday, the Lake Sonoma 50 miler. Part of tapering is cutting back miles, resting a lot and letting the body get nice and rested for the long miles ahead. Additionally, I get massage, stretch a lot and if I am feeling sore, take an ice bath or two. The biggest part of taper is nutrition. Making sure you get the right combination of nutrients and the right amount of fuel is key.

I am not a carbo-loader. I don't eat pasta the night before a race. I would prefer steak and potatoes, or steak and rice and a seaweed salad. Tried and true, it is what works for me. When I eat pasta (gluten free of course), I just feel empty. Carbs alone just don't fuel me enough. I have to support them with something.


A well balanced plate.

Even though I am running a lot less than usual on this final taper week, my nutrition is at its best. Race week nutrition is tricky. You have to fuel up to support your upcoming effort, eat the right combination of things to make sure you are recovered from training, all while accounting for the lower calorie needs of a minimal training week. But like I said, during race week, I seem to be at my best. Maybe it is the lack of running that allows me to be more thoughtful about my meals (if that is possible!), or maybe it is just that I know from experience that it really makes a difference.

This week on my plate has been awesome. After spending a week in France, I was really looking forward to cooking at home. The food there was fresh and for the most part light, but I ate three meals a day at the resort where we were located. Not exactly exciting by day 6! On Sunday, the baker and I whipped up a huge pot of Rancho Gordo beans and roasted some chicken with a spicy chili sauce for tacos. I made a nice fresh slaw with pumpkin seeds, radishes, cabbage and lime. The tacos were a perfect way to start of the weeks eating (and nutrition). Well balanced, not too heavy and made for some great leftovers for Monday night's dinner. Lunch stayed the same, a huge salad each day which I really enjoyed.



Last night my sister and I had a movie night and I decided to cook up a recipe for Chana Masala,  I had read in A Homemade Life. I followed the recipe with one exception. I added cauliflower. A whole head of it after the tomatoes were added. I wanted, no needed more vegetables on my plate. And man was it delicious! I cooked everything until the cauliflower was tender and then served over coconut rice (rice cooked with 1 part light coconut milk, 1 part water: so if you use 1 cup of rice, use 1 cup of coconut milk and 1 cup water). On the side was something that made me want to cry because I couldn't have seconds. Garlic Lemon Spinach. There had been some great local fresh spinach at the shop and it definitely trumped the frozen spinach I had thought to use. I cooked up 2-3 cloves of garlic in 1 part butter, 1 part olive oil until they started to brown, then I tossed in the spinach and a tbsp of water, put the top on and gave it a shake. Once it was cooked, I added sea salt and a squeeze of lemon. I am telling you, I would have eaten just a huge plate of that. So good. Well, I take it back the Chana Masala was amazing. Spicy, complex, flavorful. I of course followed up this meal with ice cream. Some people religiously cut out things during taper week, I deliberately add them back in because I am trying to make sure I have no calorie deficit during the week. I like to train low, race high. That is not to say I go crazy during taper week, I am sensible, not overly restrictive.



To wit, I made cookies today! Teff Peanut Butter cookies. I didn't use oil, I used melted butter. And they were pretty dang good, though surprisingly less peanut buttery than I imagined. I made them quite small so that I could indulge guilt free. It's a fine line. I want to arrive at the start line with my body fueled correctly but physically feeling fit and light. For me, I know that too many grains cause me to retain water and retention of water does not lead to feeling fit and ready to fight. These little buggers were a good compromise of nutrition and indulgence.


I have been harboring a corned beef in my freezer while I was gone. A first cut, organic beautiful corned beef that I couldn't wait to cook. As I was out of town for St. Patty's day, I decided to cook it up this week to make sure I was getting in my protein. It's Wednesday and I haven't eaten meat yet this week. So tonight, I am going to whip it up along with some cabbage, mustard roasted potatoes and serve it all with some gluten free irish soda bread.

I don't believe I have ever had Irish Soda bread, let alone Gluten Free Irish Soda bread. So I consulted a few sources and went at it. In the end I combined two of my favorite gluten free bloggers recipes and created my own. The loaf came out nicely. Somewhat like a scone, fragrant of caraway seeds and dotted with soaked currants. Next time, I think I will soak the currants in something further infusing flavor. This adaptation is more of a half followed one recipe, half followed the other. I combined one's suggested dry ingredients with an adaptation of the other's wet. Seems to have worked out well. As I said, I have never had soda bread, so creating an idea from scratch was out of the question. But I improvised a great deal by doing this combination, so it would be interesting to compare. I am really looking forward to having a small slice of this bread tonight with a good balance of vegetables and meat (and mustard and horseradish!!!).