#Whatveganseat: Fueling the Vegetarian Athlete. A Guest Post PLUS Recipes!

This week I’m bringing you a guest post from former Western Mass Distance Project teammate, future RD, 2.5 years and counting vegan, and always badass distance runner, Carolyn Stocker. For those of you who care about athletic prowess, she owns the junior record for the Mount Washington Road Race, and has, you know, represented the US in the World Snowshoe Championships or whatever. After completing her dietetic internship, Carolyn plans to pursue a Masters in Strength and Conditioning to combine her knowledge of proper fueling with an advanced understanding of training principles so that she can work with athletes! For a little background, here is her bio from the WMDP webiste: 

carolynThe Pioneer Valley Darling of high school running, Carolyn escaped her fame to the tundra of middle-Maine, where she spent years tracking the North Pond Hermit and out-running the frostbite at UMaine Orono. At times she would escape to warmer climate to compete with the US National Snowshoe Team. She’s now returned to The Homeland to pursue a career as a Registered Dietitian at local academic institution The University of Massachusetts. She enjoys spending her free time doing #optoutside activities and creating delightful vegan delicacies and confections.



It has been 2 1/2 years now that I have followed a vegan diet.  Vegan means no meat, fish, eggs, or dairy.  Not only am I a vegan, but I am also an avid runner.  A lot of questions go through my mind about my diet such as will my diet prove to be disastrous or beneficial for me or can I achieve my racing potential while following this diet?  Many questions arise from my peers and racing friends as well.  “Where do you get your protein from”?  “Do you just eat vegetables”? “Are you always hungry?”.  In this post, I am going to break it all down.

Energy Needs of a Vegetarian Athlete

When vegetarian diets are well balanced and provide enough energy, they are capable of providing sufficient energy to prevent muscle breakdown and fatigue. However, many vegetarian athletes often find it difficult to consume enough food items to meet energy needs. Vegan athletes in particular may find it challenging to meet energy needs for training and competition.  Two resources which I refer to is from the D. Enette Larson-Meyer, PhD, RD book Vegetarian Sports Nutrition and Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook.  Following this advice helped me calculate my calorie and protein needs.

Specific recommendations include incorporating high-energy foods such as nuts, oils, dried fruit, and other nutrient-dense items into my daily diet. Smoothies and stir fries are definitely my go-to meals to incorporate high calorie foods.  Athletes should also consume small, frequent, nutrient-dense meals throughout the day.  If one isn’t getting enough calories, Nancy Clark’s weight gaining trick is to drink juice throughout the day. Grape juice, pomegranate juice, and tart cherry juice have plenty of calories, and, if you pick the right juice, it can help with recovery. Tart cherry juice is a particularly potent beverage in terms of speeding recovery.

  • Carbohydrate
    Plant-based diets are generally higher in carbohydrate than diets that include animal products.  Carbohydrate is the primary fuel for our bodies during physical activity and athletes need adequate stores for optimal performance. Carbohydrate is stored in muscles and in the liver in the form of glycogen. An athlete’s carbohydrate requirements depend on whether he or she is interested in endurance activities or weight-resistance activities. The amount of carbohydrate an athlete needs ranges from 5 to 10 grams per kilogram per day.
  • Protein
    Now back to the protein question: “Is it hard for someone who’s training vigorously to get enough protein on a vegan diet”? In general, an athlete’s protein needs are higher than those of the sedentary individual. Why is protein important for an athlete? It is involved in numerous physiologic processes including, supporting the immune system, building lean muscle, and maintaining nitrogen balance. During exercise and at rest, the body tries to conserve protein and therefore does not typically rely on it as the primary fuel source. In individuals who eat adequate calories, protein provides less than 5% of energy expended.  Although meat, eggs, and diary are eliminated in a vegan diet, one still has grains, nuts, and legumes as protein sources.  The key is frequently eating a variety and  plenty of the plant based protein.  Vegan sources of protein are not as bioavailable as meat so you have to eat more. Most athletes do not experience difficulty when trying to achieve recommended intakes. In vegetarians and vegans consuming adequate amounts of plant and vegetable proteins, protein deficiency is uncommon. In fact, a vegetarian diet can supply all essential and nonessential amino acids from plant foods alone if a variety of these foods is consumed over the course of the day and with adequate amounts of calories.

    • Calculating Protein Intake
      • The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for protein for the general adult population is 0.8 grams per kilogram body weight per day. Protein recommendations for endurance athletes range from 1.2 to 1.4 grams per kilogram per day. During times of intense training, including resistance exercise, this recommendation increases to 1.6 to 1.7 grams per kilogram per day.  So for example, a 120 pound female would need up to 93g of protein per day.
        • 120lb/2.2 = 54.54 kg x 1.7g = 93g Protein/day


Vitamins and minerals play vital roles in energy production, growth and development, and the maintenance and protection of bones, tissues, organs, blood, and the immune system.

Common micronutrients that should be closely monitored include vitamin D, calcium, vitamin B12, iron, and zinc. Deficiencies in micronutrients can have terrible consequences such as low bone density and increased stress fracture risk as well as, negatively impact muscle growth, development, and repair. By consuming a diet rich in whole grains, fortified foods, and a variety of plant based proteins, athletes can greatly reduce their risk for vitamin and mineral deficiencies.  I believe greatly in getting protein, vitamins, and minerals from food sources before you turn to supplements.  As a vegetarian or vegan athlete, it is important to get blood checked regularly to see if one is deficient in any micronutrients before turning to supplements.

  • Calcium and Vitamin D
    • Calcium and vitamin D are important for healthy bones, teeth, muscles, nerves, and proper hormone function. Fortified plant-based milk beverages and some fortified orange juices provide both nutrients. Almonds, figs, beans, tahini, tofu, turnip or collard greens, broccoli and kale also provide good amounts of calcium.
  • Iron
    • Iron is critical to athletic performance as it is involved in transporting and delivering oxygen to our muscles. Vegetarian and vegan diets often contain as much if not more iron than conventional diets. Concerns about vegetarian and vegan athletes’ iron status usually is associated with the bioavailability of nonheme iron from plant sources. To increase the absorption of nonheme iron, consume foods containing vitamin C along with foods containing iron.  Food items that are great sources of iron in a vegetarian or vegan diet include spinach, beets, soy, legumes, dried beans, nuts, seeds, mollasses, and iron-fortified grains.  Having a spinach salad with red peppers and mandarin oranges is an example of incorporating Vitamin C with iron sources.   Calcium makes it harder for your body to absorb either supplemental iron or iron from food, calcium competes for absorption with iron in your intestines and reduces its uptake.   So make sure to eat iron-rich foods without calcium-rich products or take iron supplements separately from other minerals.
  • Vitamin B12 
    • Ensuring adequate intake of all B vitamins, especially B12, is vital.  Vitamin B12 is only found naturally in animal products, but is important for endurance athletes because it affects red blood cell produciton. Vegans can meet this need by consuming fortified foods such as cereals, plant based milk or a supplement.  Great source of Vitamin B12 is also kombucha, a fermented tea, and nutritional yeast flakes.
  • Zinc
    • Zinc plays a role in a great number of body functions including immune function, protein synthesis, and blood formation.  Up to 79% of absorbed zinc can be lost in the urine and sweat after strenuous exercise, all athletes must ensure that they are meeting their dietary intake of zinc.  While the best sources of zinc are animal products, especially meat and dairy, vegans can meet their needs for zinc by including legumes, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and soy in their diet.


Can athletes who follow a vegetarian or vegan meet their energy needs and achieve optimal performance?

Once people begin to carefully monitor energy intake, take a multivitamin as needed, and experiment with a combination of foods, performance can be improved whether on a plant based diet or a meat eating diet.   There is currently not enough research to know how vegetarian or vegan diets affect athletes.  Such a diet is very individualized and I don’t believe everyone can or should be a vegan or vegetarian. If we were able to get most Americans to eat one less serving of meat every day, there would be far greater impact from that in terms of improving overall public health and the health of the planet as opposed to convincing the athlete population to go full vegan.

An Example of my needs and sample daily menu:

Calorie needs:

Mifflin St. Jeor Formula: 10(weight in kg) + 6.25(height in cm) – 5(age) – 161

I am 5’5” and weight 120 pounds

65 in x 2.54cm = 165.1

120 pounds / 2.2 kg = 54.54 kg

10(54.54) + 6.25(165.1) – 5(23) – 161 = 1301.275

Than multiply by an activity factor (1.2 = sedentary – 1.9= extreme level), I will give myself 1.7.

1301.275 x 1.7 = 2212.1675

These are my calorie needs to maintain my weight.  To lose weight, the rule of thumb is to subtract 500 calories per day to lost ~ 1 pound per week.

Protein needs:

Weight in kg x 0.8-1.7g/kg

I am an endurance athlete so will use

120lb/2.2 kg = 54.54 x 1.4 = 76.36g of protein



Recipes from Carolyn’s day of eating:

Homemade Whole Wheat Bread in Breadmaker


1 ¼ cup warm water

1 tbs. Liquid sweetener (agave, honey, or maple syrup)

1 tbs. Ground flax seed

1 cup all purpose flour

2 cups white whole wheat flour

2 teaspoons active dry yeast.


Place ingredients in breadmaker in above order or in order of your bread machine instructions.  Select basic or white bread setting, large loaf, and light crust.


Slow Cooker Black Bean Chili


4 cups vegetable broth

1 cup dried black beans (soaked overnight)

28 oz. Diced tomatoes

1 red bell pepper, chopped

2 shredded carrots

1 onion, chopped

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 small chili pepper

1 tbs.  chili powder

½  teaspoon cayenne pepper

2 teaspoons ground black pepper

2 teaspoons ground cumin

2 teaspoons oregano

1 cup corn kernels


Add the broth, black beans, and tomatoes to slow cooker.   Stir to combine.  Next add the peppers, carrot, onion and garlic, and stir, then add the rest of the seasonings and stir to combine.  Set the slow cooker to high for 2.5 to 3  hours or on low for 5-6 hours (monitor the last 30 minutes)


Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Beets


3 cups sweet potatoes

3 cups beets

2 clove garlic

2 tbs. Extra virgin olive oil

¼ cup balsamic vinegar

1 tbs. Italian Seasoning

Salt and pepper, to taste


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a bowl combine ingredients and stir with wooden spoon.  Spread evenly in a a 9×13” glass pan.  Roast for 1 hour and until vegetables are cooked through and browned..  Check every 20 minutes and stir.


Homemade Meusli*


2 cups old fashioned oats

¼ cup chia seeds

¼ cup flax seeds

¼ cup shredded coconut

¼ cup sunflower seeds

¼ cup wheat germ

½ cup almonds or nuts of choice

½ cup raisins


Mix all ingredients in a bowl and store in an airtight container.

*Best thing about Meusli is you can add whatever ingredients you like or have on hand to the oats.



4 responses to “#Whatveganseat: Fueling the Vegetarian Athlete. A Guest Post PLUS Recipes!

  1. Lauren!!

    This post is awesome, as this applies a whole lot to me, being a vegetarian!! Thanks a lot for sharing!!! Am sending those recipes to my wife, who loves to cook and is constantly experimenting! Double thank you!!!



  2. Pingback: Short-term nutrition goals for Lent (even if you’re not Catholic!) | How to Eat, R.D.·

  3. Pingback: Plant-based proteins | How to Eat, R.D.·

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