Fueling The Vegetarian Endurance Athlete - Part 2

By Marni Sumbal

In Part 1, I shared with you an overview of what the diet of a vegetarian endurance athlete should look like for optimal performance and health. Here, I offer you my 5-step system for becoming a healthy vegetarian endurance athlete.

You expend a lot of energy through routine exercising but, even more importantly, as an endurance athlete, you place a lot of intentional stress on the body. Training for an endurance event is not required in order to be “healthy”, so as you can imagine, food is a key component to making sure that your body is nourished and fueled to help you perform well on a consistent basis.

If you are an endurance athlete who loves to work out, you must feed your exercise regimen with food—and a lot of it!

Fuel Your Body in Motion

Regardless of what name you give your dietary habits, all endurance athletes should remember that your personalized style of eating should never limit your performance potential or compromise health. A restrictive, low-energy diet may change your body composition, but there’s not a lot you can do on race day with an under-fueled and undernourished body.

woman-running-blue-sky-450x300“Healthy” eating is extremely confusing in our food-obsessed society, which is supported by a multi-billion dollar diet and health industry. Therefore, meat or no meat, in our “good food” vs. “bad food” society, many athletes struggle to understand how to consume a healthy diet and fuel appropriately while training between 10 and 20 (or more) hours a week for an endurance event. Fueling well for training is incredibly important, especially when considering all the workouts and weekly hours of training that the body will need to recover from.

When a diet is nutritionally balanced, athletic performance should not be negatively affected. If the diet is rich in fruits and veggies, you will support the immune system to reduce the risk for disease and illness. If the diet is stocked with carbohydrates, your muscles will be supplied with glycogen, your brain will stay focused and ample energy will be available for every workout. If the diet is rich in protein, your body will recover quickly. If the diet includes healthy fats, you will be satiated throughout the day, the brain and heart will stay healthy and hormone production will not be compromised.

And, above all, if you make it a focus to consume adequate calories in a balanced, varied, whole-food diet, you will find it much easier to meet the demands of your intense exercise routine.

Now that is a winning combination!

As a vegetarian endurance athlete, you have the wonderful opportunity to supply your body with a variety of foods on a daily basis. Foods that are harvested from a farmer and contain nutrients that your body knows how to metabolize and how to use properly. Regardless of what diet you choose, all it takes is a few healthy changes in your diet to help you take your endurance performance to the next level.

Step-by-Step: Become a healthy vegetarian endurance athlete.

Step 1: Get blood work done

Endurance athletes should have blood work taken and analyzed twice a year (at least every 6 months), especially athletes with restrictive diets. Recommend tests include:

  • Comprehensive metabolic panel
  • CBC, including ferritin, iron and TIBC
  • Calcium and Vitamin D
  • Thyroid panel
  • Other hormone, enzyme or metabolic testing as prescribed by your primary physician

vegetarian-balanced-meal-450x300Step 2: Create a plant strong diet

  • Hydration: 8 ounces of water with each meal and snack.
  • Breakfast: Oatmeal + seasonal fruit or frozen berries + chia seeds + milk. 1 hardboiled egg, 1 egg white.
  • Morning snack: 0% plain Greek yogurt + nuts and small piece of fruit.
  • Lunch: 4 ounce tempeh + stir fry/salad of veggies (your choice) cooked in olive oil + quinoa. Top with a little cheese, sliced avocado, or tahini dressing.
  • Snack: Apple + nut butter + mini box raisins.
  • Pre-meal snack (optional): Veggies with hummus.
  • Dinner: Kale/spinach salad with orange slices, walnuts, and feta cheese. Small potato with black beans, lentils, and a side of 2% cottage cheese.
  • Dessert: 1 ounce dark chocolate + handful raspberries or pineapple chunks (seasonal produce advised) or air popped corn and dark chocolate.

Step 3: Fuel for performance

  • Hydration: 8 ounces of water with each meal and snack. 20–24 ounce water per hour of training. Sport drink during workouts longer than 75–90 minutes and as needed for short workouts.
  • Pre-workout snack (30 min or less to digest): ½–1 cup applesauce, or small banana, or mini box raisins. OR...
  • Pre-workout snack (30+ minutes to digest): 1 rice cake + smear of nut butter + drizzle of honey. Optional sprinkle of cinnamon. Dress this up for longer workouts and add granola, raisins and/or banana, or swap out rice cake and dress-up cream of wheat/rice (3 tbsp dry, then cook).
  • Post-workout: 15–20g protein powder (e.g. pea or whey) + water or water/milk. Optional, add a few dates or figs (2–4) or handful fortified cereal. Then, a real meal.

Step 4: Plant strong, get-started grocery list. Fill in nutritional gaps with variety

  • Continue to emphasize variety in your plant strong diet.
  • Grains (e.g. barley, millet, oatmeal, rye, quinoa, wheat, buckwheat, brown rice, etc.)
  • Tofu, tempeh or Organic vegetarian “meat”
  • Beans (ex. black, garbanzo, soy, navy, etc.)
  • Legumes (lima, lentils, peas)
  • Vegan protein powder (e.g. brown rice, pea or soy protein powder)
  • Whey protein powder
  • Hemp (seeds, powder, flour)
  • Soy milk
  • Edamame
  • Nuts and seeds – all kinds
  • Chia and ground flax
  • Spirulina
  • Dark, leafy green vegetables (spinach, romaine, kale)
  • Fortified cereal (e.g. Cream of Wheat)
  • Nut butters
  • Nutritional yeast
  • Veggies* (e.g. mushrooms, cauliflower, edamame, sweet corn, brussel sprouts, peppers, watercress, peas, artichokes, etc.)
  • Fruits* (e.g. berries, grapes, mango, grapefruit, pear, banana, orange, melon, grapefruit, cherries, etc.)
  • Potatoes (e.g. sweet, white, red)

*Small amount of protein

Step 5: Get creative in the kitchen!

Basic Trimarni Plant-Strong Egg Salad


  • 6 hardboiled eggs (3 whites, 3 whole)
  • 2 stalks celery - chopped
  • Small handful baby carrots - chopped
  • 1/4–1/2 cup chopped onions
  • 1/2 cup cooked corn
  • 1/2 cup peas
  • 1/2 cup chickpeas
  • 1/2 cup chopped red peppers
  • 1–3 spoonful’s 0% Greek yogurt
  • Salt, pepper, parsley - any other seasonings that you like.


Simply mix together and refrigerate for 30 minutes before serving.

For non-vegetarians:

  • Keep (or omit) the eggs, add chicken, or tuna fish.

For vegans:

  • Omit the eggs and add crumbled firm tofu and use veganaise instead of yogurt.
  • Optional, add cooked lentils and beans.

For non-veggie lovers:

  • Omit the eggs and the yogurt and add 1/2–1 cup of your favorite store-bought salsa for a veggie-packed salsa to serve with chips or on a baked potato.
  • Add a little spicy mustard, hot sauce or horseradish for an extra kick.

* Veggie lovers can still enjoy this delicious salsa idea!

There are so many variations of this egg salad. Start with the eggs (or tofu) and finish with the Greek yogurt, Veganaise or olive oil-based mayo, and have so much fun creating your own delicious plant strong salad.

As you can see, a vegetarian diet for an endurance athlete (but really, for anyone) does not have to be restrictive or boring at all! Be creative, try new foods, and enjoy creating new combinations of veg-friendly foods that will fuel your performance in sport and in life.

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About the author:  Marni Sumbal

Marni Sumbal RD, holds a Masters of Science in Exercise Physiology, specializes in sports nutrition, and is a triathlon coach, writer, and speaker. She’s the owner of Trimarni Coaching and Nutrition, a business dedicated to helping athletes learn how to eat for fuel and for health, to reach personal and performance goals. Marni is a 22-year lacto-ovo vegetarian and will be competing in her 10th Ironman this year at the World Championships! Learn more about Marni on her website, http://Trimarnicoach.com and find her on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/trimarnicoach

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