Ever since I started this blog almost two years ago, one of the most popular search terms that people ask Google before it sends them to this site has been ‘What a vegan runner/marathoner eats’. I can see the interest because both running and veganism are becoming more mainstream, especially after successful vegan runners like Scott Jurek have spoken about their diet as a huge enhancer to their performance.
I personally have noticed that my recovery from hard workouts and long runs has been nothing short of remarkable, especially as I’ve been training for Rock’n’Roll Seattle marathon that’s now only a week away. So today I decided to share with you my exact menu on one of my recent long run days that helped me bounce back from running 15+ miles on Sunday morning and have a quality strength training session at the gym on Monday evening.
I have to admit though that, as much as I believe in the benefits of my vegan diet, it may not be the only reason for my quick recovery. So on top of my diet, I’m also going to cover other things I do to kick-start recovery, like stretching, foam rolling, etc.
Morning Before the Run
On the day of my long run, I wake up at around 6:30. I usually make some coffee – the only time I drink coffee these days – because I want to get an energy boost for the early stages of my run, plus it helps my digestive system to clean itself out (pardon the TMI). I’m not thrilled with the jitters coffee has been giving me, so on my most recent long run last weekend I had a cup of green tea instead.
My pre-run breakfast: I’ve tried a few food combinations before my long runs, and noticed that my stomach is the happiest when I eat a banana with or without a teaspoon of peanut butter, and three large Medjool dates along with a cup or two of coffee (or tea).
Another breakfast variation for when I don’t have bananas – overnight oats. The pre-long run variation consists of oats with chia seeds and 2-3 chopped dates in water with a splash of almond milk, all soaked overnight on the kitchen counter, not in the fridge (I don’t like my oatmeal too cold). In the morning, I add a handful of blueberries (frozen, defrosted in the microwave). Sometimes I also add ½ tsp blackstrap molasses for a boost of iron.
One breakfast that doesn’t work for me: two pieces of whole-wheat toast with jelly. Whole wheat adds too much bulk to my stomach, so on the day I ate this breakfast not long ago, my stomach felt less than happy for the first half of my run.
Nutrition on the Run
After debating whether or not I should try the all-natural way of fueling during my runs (eating dates, drinking an electrolyte beverage that I make myself, etc.), I passed on that idea in favor of eating the good ol’ sports gels and dissolving electrolyte tablets in my water. I know, I know, those are not nearly as all-natural as dates and maple syrup-based homemade drink, but there was a lot going on in my life when I started this marathon training season, so I wanted one less thing to stress about. Gels and electrolyte tablets have worked for me before, so if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right?
I’ve mentioned in my last marathon training update that I’ve been losing a lot of salt with sweat during long runs (I have some serious salt streaks on my face when I return home). Towards the end of my run, the electrolyte loss makes me feel like fish out of water. I start getting all kinds of crazy cravings (water with some soy sauce, anyone?), and physically it gets harder and harder to keep going. So on my last couple of long runs, I added a pinch of sea salt to my water bottle along with the electrolyte tablet, and it made a huge difference! As long as I don’t forget to pack a salt shaker to the hotel the night before my marathon, I’m planning to add salt to the water bottle I’ll be bringing with me to the race.
Electrolyte tablets I’ve been using: these ones by GU brand. My favorite flavor is lemon-lime.
Gels I’m using: Hammer and GU brands, preferably in berry flavors. I eat one gel per hour, starting 55-65 minutes into my run, and then follow with more gels every hour after that. I don’t eat gels or use an electrolyte tablet for shorter runs during the week, but usually have a banana an hour before.
Nutrition after the Long Run
Before I figured out the trick of adding salt to my water, I used to come home feeling quite dehydrated and a little fuzzy-headed (whatever that may mean 🙂 ). So the first thing I consumed was a tall glass of cool water with a few drops of soy sauce (all that sodium!) and a squeeze of a lime wedge. Yes, it tastes as disgusting as it sounds, but it went down surprisingly well and quenched my thirst quickly. After I started adding salt to my water before long runs, I didn’t have the need for this weird concoction anymore.
I try not to drink all the water I can get my hands on all at once after a long run because if consumed in large amounts, it will pass through my body quickly without actually sticking anywhere. Plus, it may raise the chances of getting hyponatremia – a dangerous condition during which the levels of sodium in our blood get diluted too much, which can lead to various nasty consequences like congestive heart failure and kidney failure. That’s why I prefer to sip water slowly for the first hour after a long run.
After hydrating, I do about 15 minutes of stretching followed by 15 minutes of foam rolling. If I don’t have all the time in the world (which is frequent), I sometimes skip the foam rolling and do it later that evening, but I’ve noticed that my recovery is always better if I foam roll right after the run.
I proceed to make one of my Swamp Monster smoothies that may look like a cup full of mud but – trust me – actually tastes pretty good.
The recipe and proportions vary from time to time, but the usual suspects are kale, carrots, dates or a banana (for potassium), pumpkin seeds (for extra iron), hemp hearts and ground flax (for omega-3 fatty acids), frozen blueberries (antioxidants) and green peas (a boost of protein). I also sprinkle in some turmeric (a great anti-inflammatory) with a pinch of black pepper. The latter improves the absorption rates of turmeric.
Nutrition during the Day
Rob and I are pretty active during the weekend, so even after I run 15-20 miles we never sit around and veg all day. Usually on Sundays we’ll do some work around the house, run a few errands, and then go for a nice walk or a hike later in the afternoon. If we’re at home for lunch, we’ll throw together something quick like a veggie burrito as seen below, make a chickpea flour omelet or have leftovers if available.
Later in the day, I like to snack on fruit (oranges are my favorite right now), but I don’t claim to be squeaky-clean in all of my eating. Vegan cookies, a spoonful of peanut butter or a piece of chocolate are frequent guests in my repertoire, however I try to keep them to a minimum on my long run days. Here’s the reason: we can only eat so much food during one day, but if our goal is to maximize recovery after a hard workout, it makes way more sense to eat as much nutrients with our food as we can fit in. That’s why I give full credit for my speedy recovery to my plant-based diet.
The majority of our Sunday dinners happen at home. On this particular long run day that I’m describing, we had cauliflower wings with vegan Blue Cheese dip (wings recipe from Lindsay Nixon’s Happy Herbivore Holidays & Gatherings, store-bought Blue Cheese by Follow Your Heart), a bean stew (inspired by a recipe from another Happy Herbivore cookbook), steamed young potatoes and a big salad.
Other possible Sunday dinner scenarios often include veggie pasta, Cajun Jambalaya (I’ve been using a recipe from Julie Hasson’s Vegan Casseroles cookbook), stir-fries with brown rice, and other dishes that feature healthy, unrefined carbohydrates and plant-based protein.
If I’m not too lazy by the end of the day – and especially if I didn’t do it right after running – I’ll do some foam rolling after dinner while we’re watching TV.
The next morning I may feel a little sore, but as the day goes, the soreness usually goes away, which allows me to go to the gym in the evening after work for a quality strength training session of about an hour. I don’t do any special cardio other than a 5-minute warmup on a stair stepper or an elliptical. The following day (Tuesday) I have a rest day.
To sum things up, on days of my long runs I make sure to eat plenty of whole, plant-based foods to deliver as many nutrients to my recovering body as possible. I devote time to stretching and foam rolling, and make sure to stay hydrated. No special gimmicks here, but this strategy works wonders for me, allowing me to bounce back from a long run in no time.
Question for you: Do you do anything special on days of long runs/hard workouts to help yourself recover quicker? Please let us all know in the comments below!
By the way, don’t forget that I’m still accepting your questions about any details you’d like to know about my marathon training! Ask me anything – either here in the comments, or email me at VeganRunnerEats (at) gmail (com) – and I’ll do a Q&A roundup in my next post!
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