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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Go nuts! Protein, fat, nuts are quite the runners wonder food. Enjoy them freely!
- Get your Omegas. Try Udo's Oil an excellent source of 100% plant based Omega Fatty Acids.
- 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.
- 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.
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).
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.