Fueling for Fargo: Tips for vegetarian athletes

By: Sanford Health

It’s one thing to get enough calories when you’re marathon training – you know you’re likely to be hungrier, and you know you need more fuel.

Many long-distance runners add a few extra snacks to get what they need to make it through their long runs and speed workouts.

But can you get the right mix of nutrients if you follow a vegetarian diet? We asked Lizzie Kasparek, an ultramarathoner and registered dietitian with Sanford Health, what vegetarians should watch for as they ramp up their miles.

Here’s what she had to say.

On being a vegetarian overall: Many people, including runners, could probably get some health benefits out of eating more vegetarian meals, or adding more plants to their plate.

On getting enough protein: Meat does contain protein, but you can get it from beans, nuts, seeds, soy products, dairy and eggs. A well-planned vegetarian diet should include those foods,  as well as whole grains, fruits, vegetables and healthy fats.

But what about iron? Iron can be lost through sweat, damaged red blood cells when the foot strikes the ground, intestines, and through menstruation for female athletes. Meat eaters and vegetarians should both be concerned about deficiency, since it is so common.

So what should you do? Meat contains heme-iron, which is a better-absorbed form of iron, as well as non-heme iron, which is absorbed less-well. Non-heme iron is the type of iron found in plant foods, so runners who don’t eat meat should focus on eating the plant-foods that are high in iron, such as spinach, lentils, soybeans, tofu, fortified cereals and breads. Runners can also increase the absorption of those non-heme iron sources by adding a source of vitamin C, such as strawberries, tomatoes/tomato sauce, broccoli, etc. to meals, and avoid drinking tea/coffee and taking calcium supplements at meals.