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Vegetarian Diet for Runners

Posted by George Parker on
By George Parker, Georgia Tech Chemist & Engineer, 7x Boston Marathon Qualifying Runner, and Founder of Peregrune®, which engineers vitamins and supplements exclusively for runners.


Running takes a lot out of you, and what you eat plays a big part in how well you perform and recover. For vegetarian runners, getting the right nutrients can seem like a challenge, but it’s definitely possible. Maybe you have been a lifelong vegetarian. Maybe you're new to the diet and lifestyle. Or, maybe you are experimenting for a period of time. With the right food choices and supplements, you can fuel your body and keep it strong. Here’s how.

What Foods Should Vegetarian Runners Include in Their Diet?

1. Protein-Rich Foods: Protein helps repair and build muscles, which is essential for runners. As a vegetarian, you can get protein from beans, lentils, tofu, tempeh, and edamame. Quinoa and nuts are also great sources. Including a variety of these foods in your meals ensures you get all the essential amino acids your body needs.

2. Iron-Rich Foods: Iron carries oxygen to your muscles, which is crucial for running. Good vegetarian sources of iron include spinach, kale, lentils, chickpeas, and fortified cereals. Pairing these foods with vitamin C-rich options like oranges, strawberries, or bell peppers helps improve iron absorption.

3. Calcium-Rich Foods: Calcium keeps your bones strong, reducing the risk of fractures. Include dairy products like milk, cheese, and yogurt in your diet. If you don’t eat dairy, go for fortified plant-based milk, leafy greens, almonds, and chia seeds.

4. Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Omega-3s reduce inflammation and support heart health. Flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, and hemp seeds are good vegetarian sources. Adding these to smoothies, salads, or oatmeal can boost your omega-3 intake.

5. Complex Carbohydrates: Carbs are your main energy source for running. Whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, oats, and whole wheat bread provide lasting energy. Sweet potatoes and legumes also offer complex carbs along with other nutrients.

6. B12-Rich Foods: Vitamin B12 is important for energy production and nerve function, but it’s mostly found in animal products. Fortified cereals, plant-based milk, and nutritional yeast can help you get some B12, but supplements might be necessary.

What Supplements Can Vegetarian Runners Take?

1. Vitamin B12: Since B12 is hard to get from a vegetarian diet alone, a supplement is often recommended. A daily B12 supplement ensures you get enough to keep your energy levels up and your nervous system functioning well.

2. Iron: If your iron levels are low, your doctor might recommend an iron supplement. Low iron can lead to fatigue and poor performance, so it’s important to keep it in check.

3. Omega-3 Fatty Acids: If you find it hard to get enough omega-3s from food, consider a supplement. Algal oil is a plant-based source of DHA and EPA, the two main types of omega-3s.

4. Protein Powder: Sometimes, it’s tough to get enough protein from food alone, especially if you’re on the go. A plant-based protein powder can be a convenient way to boost your intake.

5. Vitamin D: Vitamin D supports bone health and immune function. It’s found in fortified foods, but if you don’t get enough sunlight, a supplement can help. Vitamin D3 from lichen is a vegan-friendly option.

6. Calcium: If you don’t consume enough calcium-rich foods, a supplement can help meet your needs. Look for one that includes vitamin D to aid absorption.


Being a vegetarian runner is all about balance. Eating a variety of nutrient-rich foods and considering key supplements ensures you get what your body needs. With the right diet and supplementation, you can stay healthy, perform your best, and enjoy your runs.

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