Nutrition

Ask Mario: Fueling For Your First Marathon

Being a vegetarian doesn't mean you can't get the necessary protein your body needs.

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Q.

Hey Mario, 

I’m a new runner and just finished my first half marathon last month. I’m totally hooked! I’d like to run a marathon next spring but I struggle with figuring out my nutrition as it relates to training. I don’t feel like eating a lot after I run and as a vegetarian I also find it hard to get enough protein in my diet. Do you have any tips? 

Thanks!

Sarah M.

A.

Hey Sarah,

Congrats on catching the running bug! Dialing in a sound nutrition plan is something that a lot of runners struggle with, even after they’ve been at it for a while. Figuring out what works for you (and when) is such an individual thing that the best advice I can give is to continue experimenting with what you eat and drink before, during and after a run, as well as the timing of when you consume those things. I also encourage you to keep a food log along with your training log so that you can look back after a few weeks of experimenting with various nutrition strategies and identify what’s been successful and what needs further tweaking.

In regards to protein intake, this is a common issue for many vegetarian athletes, especially newer ones who are increasing their training volume as well as the intensity of their workouts. Protein plays an important role in recovery after a tough session, and while it’s most readily available in meats, chicken, and fish, those are not the only means of ensuring you’re getting what you need to repair damaged muscle tissue. Some leafy vegetables, such as spinach and kale, are packed with protein, as are many beans, like kidney, pinto and black. Meat alternatives such as tofu and tempeh also pack a big protein punch, as does soy milk, most nut butters, and lentils. It’s possible to construct a meal-sized salad that contains over 30 grams of protein. According to Matt Fitzgerald’s Racing Weight, ultrarunning champion and noted vegan Scott Jurek is known for eating large quantities of leafy greens, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, soy, tofu and tempeh to help him recover from hundreds of miles of running each week.

For a quick snack after a race or workout, there are a multitude of plant-based protein bars available that can deliver 9 grams of protein or more in a single serving to help kick-start the recovery process. And if solid foods don’t sit well after running, try adding a plant-based protein supplement to your smoothies or other dishes to pump up the protein content. Not eating meat is no excuse for failing to include enough protein in your diet!

Remember the words of noted running philosopher Dr. George Sheehan: We are all an experiment of one. Find what works for you and you’ll be on the road to preparing for your first marathon next spring.

All the best,

Mario

Ask Mario appears monthly in Competitor magazine and weekly on Competitor.com. Have a question for Mario? Submit it here.