When approaching any workout, especially running, it is important to consider three steps in order to fuel your body’s nutritional demands properly before, during, and after. If you are going to stress your body, you’d better be giving it some plant-based loving. Here’s how:
Step One: Identify Your Run Type
What type of stress are you going to put on your body? For how long? Running long distances and sprinting require different preparations to be made.
Step Two: Assemble Your Supplies
Now that you know what you will be facing, the next step is preparing well so that you will face it like a champ. Proper hydration, a pre-workout boost, some coverage during, and plenty of help afterwards are vital to keeping you in the game, recovering quickly, and being ready to take on your other daily responsibilities. In addition to drinking plenty of water throughout the day, focus on the three major macronutrients (carbohydrates, fatty acids, and amino acids) and replenishing the micronutrients that your body uses up in the process (think electrolytes, vitamins, and minerals).
Longer runs require sources of quick as well as a slower acting energy sources. These come in the form of simple and more complex carbohydrates. The more complex the carbohydrate, the longer your body needs to break it down into usable energy. With shorter runs and sprints, complex carbs will slow you down. What gives your body the quickest burst of energy is simple sugars – simple carbohydrates that can be found in fruits. Most runners swear by dates and bananas for this purpose. These fruits and others also contain fiber, a more complex carbohydrate that releases energy more slowly.
Starches are even more complex. They come in the form of dense foods like grains and seeds. Pro-tip: try sprouted grains. Many vegan protein powders use sprouted grains because sprouting processes them into more simple carbohydrates. Check out a guide to sprouting here. Use a mix of simple and complex carbs to give you a burst of energy to get started on a long-run AND the lasting energy needed to finish it. When prepping this way, it is good to let the food digest for closer to an hour. Both simple and complex carbs should be consumed shortly after either type of run so you get some energy back quickly some for later.
Fat is not the enemy! Just like sugar is not the enemy! What matters is what forms of these you consume. The sugars from fruits give you a burst of energy AND fiber AND essential vitamins – all in easily digestible forms. In order to make many of vitamins and micronutrients available to your body, however, you need fat to dissolve them in. Runners swear by chia seeds, flax seeds, dried coconut, and coconut oil because they are easy to digest and have a good balance of essential fatty acids. Nuts and other seeds are also great choices. Throw little bit of these fatty acids in before and after your run as the vehicle to get your micronutrients.
Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins – you know the single greatest threat to your being according to people who do not eat enough plants. The grains and seeds above contain their own amino acid profile, but you can receive more essential amino acids for your buck from hemp seeds, spirulina, and legumes such as beans, peas, and lentils. Legumes can be consumed sprouted and they are also commonly included in vegan protein powders because sprouting renders them easier to digest with more bioavailable nutrition. Split up your consumption before and after your workout and adjust your intake based on how many calories you will be burning.
When you sweat and burn the calories you get from your macronutrients, you use up your micronutrients as well. Salts, potassium, magnesium, other vitamins and minerals need to be replenished. Try some of the recipes packed with these electrolytes and more here. Adjust your intake based on how many calories you are burning. Make sure to eat dark greens and lots of veggies for vital micronutrients in addition to the macronutrients explored above. On longer runs, a quick delivery system for these micronutrients comes in the form of energy gels as well. You can see more information here about this topic.
Step Three: Track Yourself
What did you try before your run? How did you feel during it? Did you have enough energy, but later in the day became tired? It is important to listen to your body, but hey, no one has a perfect memory or perfect hearing for that matter.
Keep a journal or use one of the several amazing apps available to keep a record of your runs, what you used to fuel and recover, and how you feel. Everyone is different and as long as you keep a close eye on what works for you, you’ll be on your way to feeling great about your runs. Adjust both the timing and amounts of your intake of micro and macronutrients until you find a regimen appropriate for your needs.
Image source: Fredrik Winberg/Flickr