Herbie Fitness (Part 1): Plant-Proud Nutrition for Workouts (+Tips for Marathon Training!)

Posted by:Lindsay S. Nixon Category: Series

Welcome to Herbie Fitness Week! This is the first post in a three-part series with my tips for active Herbies (or to help jump-start your quest to be more active!). Whether you're an occasional runner, a yogi, a weight-lifter or a competitive triathlete, it is absolutely possible to be an athlete on a plant-based diet andit'll help you perform better! Be sure to keep an eye out for Parts 2 and 3 later this week (or sign up to have HH posts come straight to your (link to email signup form) email or reader!)

My husband and I are both former marathon runners, and I used to be a personal trainer with a few pro and semi-pro runner clients. I get so many questions about plant-based fitness and nutrition, especially this time of year when people are out and about being active:

What should I eat for pre- and post-workout snacks?

How should I time meals around workouts?

Which foods combat exhaustion and promote recovery?

How should I eat while I'm training for a marathon?

Can you recommend the best exercises to target problem areas?

(I'll be addressing all of those questions this week!) Much like nutrition in general, there is SO much conflicting information out there about what is best for you and your body. Luckily, it is simpler than it seems!


There isn't really anything super special you need to do nutrition-wise. Anyone who exercises needs to eat more calories to compensate for the expenditure (this is true of any person, any level of activity). 

YOU DO NOT NEED EXTRA PROTEIN. I cannot stress this enough. You do, however, want to make sure you're always eating plenty of healthy, complex carbohydrates and starch (like fruit, potatoes and rice), especially in the days leading up to a long run or big race. During your most intense training, your diet should be more than 60% carbohydrate (Low protein, low fat).

If you're exercising for less than an hour, you probably don't need to compensate anything at all(unless you are very lean or underweight). For exercise lasting more than an hour, you'll need to replenish with a small snack — make sure it's loaded with carbs!

You also don't want to eat a big meal right before training. An hour to an hour and a half before is ideal. I highly recommend oatmeal. 

The whole pre-meal/after-meal thing doesn't really matter either as long as you eat a healthy plant-based diet. Your body does the math; it knows what it needs. Focus on the exercise, not all the things you do around it :)

Step back and look at the big picture; don't focus and obsess on tiny little details.

Weight Loss

If you are trying to lose weight while training, then you want to be a little mindful of what you're eating and how much — meaning take care to eat enough to replace the glycogen you've wiped out working out, but don't go overboard. (More on glycogen below).

I've actually had clients who GAINED during marathon and half marathon training because they thought, "I'm running 40 miles a week! I can eat anything I want!" — but that's not true and in reality, they weren't burning nearly as many calories as they assumed they were. 

Avoid liquid calories. Also clean up your diet — Don't think all the exercise you're doing is enough. It often isn't. I've seen that time and time again with my clients who thought they could eat whatever they wanted as long as they didn't go over some calorie limit, or as long as they exercise, and yet time and time again, it came back to diet — when they finally cleaned up their diet, they finally lost weight/leaned out

I always put on about 5 lbs. when I am training for a marathon or other long race. Even in the winter I tend to put on a few pounds during snowboarding season. It's added muscle :) 

So What is Glycogen?

Glycogen is the stored form of carbohydrates. Unlike fats (which we sadly can store unlimited amounts of), there is a limit to how much carb/glycogen we can store. Most people only store about 1,000-1,200 calories worth. You don't want to deplete your glycogen. Glycogen is needed to fuel muscles, supply glucose to the brain and burn fat. Glycogen is most quickly depleted with higher intensity exercise, which is not marathon training for most of us — think harsh intervals (More reading). You'll deplete in about 90 minutes doing harsh training, otherwise you should be good for 2 hours. 

Marathon Training & Tips

It is helpful to "hedge your bets" on long runs — you don't want to wait until you're feeling hungry or empty to eat. Same for thirst. You want to sip liquid regularly, not wait until you're actually thirsty. I got into the habit of taking a sip from my Camelbak every third song on my iPod. 

Hydration is ultra important when you're running AND when you're not. I also can't stress proper warm-up and cool-down enough. Try not to sit for 15 minutes after your run (take a shower when you're done, it'll help pass the 15 minutes). Stretch!  

Get plenty of rest! Good sleep is CRITICAL.

If you're feeling beat up and sore, you either overdid it OR you're not eating properly. I have found with my own body, and that of many friends and clients, that eating plant-based allows for super quick recovery. If any of us feel sore, it's almost always because we didn't eat right. Greens are your friend!

For long runs (anything over 5 miles or so), you'll probably need to carry a snack with you. All those gummy chews and gel packs gross me out and give me stomach rot, so my husband and I got into dates. They're easy to carry, easy to consume with a drink of water, etc. 

What to eat post-run depends a lot on the person. Some people can't stomach anything at all — even water makes them want to gag after a run. Some people can do liquids like smoothies or shakes, or puddings (see the recipes in EHH; my friends use those). Some people can eat hard foods like Luna bars. You'll find what works for you (and what doesn't) pretty quickly.

Try to eat something within 30 minutes, especially if you're feeling light-headed. If you're super light-headed, dizzy, losing your legs, fading, etc. drink some juice or Gatorade (or my homemade sports drink, which I call Herbisport) immediately. You've depleted your glycogen (which is never fun). As weeks progress, your body also starts getting really efficient at running and you burn a lot less than when you started (the body is pretty incredible that way!).

I tend to train in the summer, so I got into the habit of making my own popsicles — basically fruit like mango blended with water and a little salt, frozen in a popsicle mold — and I loved licking on those after my shower.  

Consider looking into the meal plans, so you always have good, nutritious food ready and available to you. Many marathoners, ultramarathoners and serious athletes use the meal plans with great success.

Related Posts:

This Week's Q&A: Getting Healthy for Summer Edition

How to Make Healthy Plant-Based Sports Drinks (Homemade "Gatorade" Recipe)

Herbies 101 Series: Nutrition

Want to know about building muscle on a plant-based diet? Come on back for Part 2 tomorrow!

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