Fueling for the Vegan Athlete – Tips for Pre/During/Post Workout Nutrition

As a vegan triathlete, I’m often asked how I fuel my training.

What’s my carb to protein ratio pre-workout? Do I ever train on an empty stomach? How do I get enough protein after a hard session? And the list goes on…

My workout fueling is something I’ve played around with for a several years now. And it’s changed a lot.


I used to rely heavily on processed sports nutrition along with easy-to-digest simple carbs. I’d eat a bowl of cereal (I’m a recovering cereal addict), drill Gatorade during the workout, and take down a protein drink afterwards. While I more-or-less trained well, I knew this wasn’t sustainable.

Too much processed sugar is bad, even if you’re training like a maniac. I figured it had to be impacting my recovery too since the breakdown of processed sugar causes inflammation. I also noticed that I’d come to rely on the simple sugars way too heavily. While I could run a half marathon faster than ever, I could barely run a few miles at an easy pace without needing Gatorade or a gel.


I wanted to sufficiently fuel my workouts, but not rely too heavily on processed foods. It’s a delicate balance – eating food that’s unprocessed but not going to tie your guts in knots during the workout. So, I played around with it. Here’s where I’ve landed…

NOTE: What I drink prior to my workouts is always the same. I see this routine as even more important that what I eat! More on that here. 

No Counting, Measuring or Weighing

It's worth noting that I don’t measure out the food, count calories, know carb to protein ratios of a meal or any of that. I honestly see that level of detail as a distraction and overly complicated.

I know, in very general terms, that legumes (black beans, chickpeas, lentils) have a solid amount of protein (+ carbs), that nuts/seeds are also high in protein and good fats, that sweet potatoes and quinoa are low-glycemic complex carbs, etc. etc.

I assemble meals with this general knowledge in mind, but also listen to my body. Sometimes I'll finish eating a meal after a hard workout and I'll still be hungry. When that happens I pay attention to what I'm specifically hungry for — do I have a craving for bread? nuts? something salty? something else? The body is pretty good at telling you what it needs, so I use this as a gauge for making sure I'm refueling properly. If I crave nuts, I figure that I likely need some additional protein or fat. If I crave bread, I probably need some more carbs (though I'll still steer clear of bread, sadly... More on why I try to avoid bread here; scroll down).  


What I eat prior to a session depends the nature of the workout and how much time I have before I need to get started.

Sub-2 Hour & Low Intensity Workout

Go-to meal: Small bowl of quinoa, fruit (typically berries), almond butter, coconut butter, and my Super Sprinkles (If asking, "what the eff are Super Sprinkles?" see here.)

  • Solid mix of low glycemic carbs/sugars – think steady drip of energy – plus some protein and healthy fats.
  • Lots of important antioxidants from the berries and micronutrients like iron, magnesium, etc. from the Super Sprinks.

If it’s really early in the AM, I might not be hungry and I’ll eat nothing prior to this type of workout.

  • If eating nothing, I’ll make sure to have a drink and/or some food on hand in case I get hungry mid-session.
  • During big volume weeks in an Ironman build, I never train without eating prior, even if it’s just a casual 45-minute jog. I also never wake up feeling full during a big training block...

If pressed for time, I’ll simply have a banana with almond butter.

2+ Hour Workout

Go-to meal: Big (sometimes f’ing huge) bowl of quinoa with lots of the things noted above. In addition to the berries, I’ll add chopped banana and apple to the mix.

  • Sometimes, especially if it’s a 5+ hour training session, I swap out the quinoa for soaked oats.
    • I find it easier to eat more of the soaked oats and have it still sit well in my stomach in comparison to the quinoa. Soaked oats pack more of a caloric punch per cup too.
  • Again, this mix provides an awesome blend of low-glycemic sugars / complex carbs, healthy fats, protein and fiber. It leaves me full and energized for the long haul.

I make sure to be awake at least an hour prior to these bigger training sessions. This gives me time to properly nail my AM routine and eat a good bit before rolling out the door.

High Intensity Workout

Intense workouts, for me at least, are usually in the 1- to 2-hour range and start jacking up the heart rate after a 15-minute warm-up. That means I need to eat food that digests quickly and sits well in the gut.

Go-to meal: Sweet potato + avocado. Complex carbs + good fats. Easy to digest. Tastes good.  I usually just do the s.p. baked or cubed and pan roasted – with avocado + salt and pepper does the trick.

  • Usually I love Sriracha or something of the sort on this type of dish, but sometimes that starts to come back up if I’m really pinning it in a hard session.

Go-to meal, pt. deux: Soaked oats, banana, a little bit of almond butter. Easy all around. Everything you need. Nothing you don’t.

  • Toast with a bit of almond butter and banana works here too. I usually don’t have bread around (since I’d rely too heavily on it), but this is a great combo when you’re tight on time.


I try to stay away from sports nutrition unless I’m in a really big training block and getting ready for a key race. When that’s the case, I’m typically doing long, hard sessions in the heat and stringing together 20- to 25-hour training weeks. For these 3-5 weeks, each year I’ll use a good bit of sports nutrition. I use it not only because it makes it easy to stay hydrated and get lots of calories on board, but also because I’m trying to train my gut to tolerate this stuff so that I can handle it on race day. Even still, I’ll take it down with some moderation.

For the vast majority of the year, here's what my mid-workout fueling looks like...

Sub-2 Hour & Low Intensity Workout

Drink: Water + Nuun Active.

  • I really like mild taste of Nuun Active and feel that it helps replace much of what I’m sweating out without significant added sugar (just 1g) or calories (just 10 cals) that would be unnecessary for a training session like this.

Eat: Nothing. Or, if I really feel like I need some calories during the session, I’ll eat some dried fruit.

  • Dried banana and pineapple are go-tos for me. I'll do Barnana (I like Original & Coconut) and Mavuno Harvest (Pineapple, 1-lb bag).
    • If buying other dried fruit products, just make sure it doesn't have added sugar! The above do not and are both organic.

2+ Hour Workout

Drink: Water + Nuun Active + Honey. If I know I’m going to be sweating a good bit, I’ll sometimes add a Salt Stick pill to the mix.

  • Correct, honey is not technically vegan. That said, I eat it. Many who avoid honey will use maple syrup.
  • OK, but does the sodium make a difference? There's been conflicting research on whether or not taking in sodium while training provides any benefit, especially as it relates to muscle cramps. That said, in my own experience, fluid seems to absorb better - it doesn't slosh around - in my stomach when I add sodium. So, I add sodium. (Here's what I use: SaltStick Caps.)

Eat: Some mix of dried fruit + a Taos Mountain Energy bar (sponsor). If 4+ hours, I'll often hit a small market/ grocery store for a pit stop. If it's a loooonnngg ride no good markets along the way, I'll bring a sandwich. 

  • Again, dried banana and pineapple are awesome.
  • Taos Mountain Energy bars. All flavors. (Not all are vegan as some have honey. Almond Agave & Chocolate Butterscotch are vegan.)
    • TME is a sponsor of mine, so full disclosure on that. Call me biased, but I really think they make a great bar - it's real food (mostly organic) smashed together, so largely unprocessed, and the bars taste awesome. The founders are awesome and have been really supportive to me, so give the bars a try!
  • If there is a rest stop, I like grabbing fruit, pretzels, almond butter and the like. Definitely a coffee too.
  • About that sandwich... Almond butter + banana. Maybe toss some granola in there if feeling crazy.
    • I save this routine for solo rides where there is no solid rest stop. If you pull a sammy out of your kit mid-group ride, you'll never hear the end of it.
    • I used to rotate between almond butter + banana sandwiches & hummus + avocado. I did a ride in Boulder a couple summers ago on an apocalyptic-ly hot day with an avo + hummus sandwich in my back jersey pocket. Eating that thing was one of the grosser moments in recent memory. I'm near barfing just thinking about it. Stick with almond butter + banana.

High Intensity Workout

Drink: Water + Nuun Active + Honey (+ Salt Stick if I'll be sweating a good bit).

Eat: Dried fruit and/or Almond Agave Taos Mountain Energy bar.

  • Again, dried banana and pineapple are awesome.
  • The Almond Agave bar from Taos Mountain Energy.
    • I like the AA bar for high-intensity workouts. It's a bit more processed than their other bars, but that makes it easier on my stomach. I can eat it and blitz a hard workout and not feel like I've got something heavy in my gut.


For those 3-5 weeks part of the year when I'm getting ready for a key Ironman race...

Since this nutrition mirrors what I take on during a race, I do actually keep track of the calories/carbs/sodium/etc. that I consume. Helps me know exactly what I need to do on race day. 

Drink: Water + GU Roctane Drink Mix (sponsor).

  • GU is a sponsor of the EMJ team. Again, you can call me biased, but I really like their products for the specific purpose of fueling very hard training days and races. They've got the right blend of calories, carbs (as maltodextrin & fructose), sodium, aminos and even caffeine per serving. I find their stuff to taste great (isn't overpowering) and it sits well in my stomach even when I'm really hammering it.
    • The GU Roctane Summit Tea is awesome. Also tastes good when it's hot; often how I end up drinking it on long, long rides in the summer heat.
  • If it's hot, I'll put a little more than a half of a serving in a full 24-oz water bottle. If it's mild temps, I'll put the full serving in a single bottle.
    • I try to take on 300 calories + 60 carb + 35mg caffeine per hour through drink. 
    • When hot, almost always is, I want 48oz of fluid an hour. That means I split the above into two water bottles.

Eat: Almond Agave TME bar.

  • Again, it's easy on the stomach.

Race Nutrition

Race nutrition is very similar to the nutrition outlined above in the 3-5 weeks in build-up to the race.

Drink: Water + GU Roctane Drink Mix (sponsor) + Salt Stick (in hot Ironman races)

  • Again, if it's hot, I'll put a little more than a half of a serving in a full 24-oz water bottle. If it's mild temps, I'll put the full serving in a single bottle.
    • I try to take on 300 calories + 60 carb + 35mg caffeine per hour through drink. 
    • When hot, almost always is, I want 48oz of fluid an hour. That means I split the above into two water bottles.
    • In a hot Ironman, I take a salt pill every hour (I like Salt Stick), for the last 3 hours of the bike ride. This is because I'm drinking the on-course fluid, which is typically Gatorade or Gatorade Endurance.

Eat: Clif Bars (on bike) + GU Roctane Energy Gel (on run).

  • Clif bars have more calories & carbs per bar compared to TME's Almond Agave, so I eat them while on the bike in races.
    • I eat the Chocolate Chip Clif Bar. My stomach can handle these on the bike. I'll try to eat half a bar every hour. I'll try to stick to this, but I won't force feed myself.
  • GU Roctane Energy Gel is about all that I can handle during the run portion of a triathlon. (I also drink a bit of whatever energy drink is on the course.) I try to take one every 30-45 minutes.


Sub 3-Hour Workout

Eat: Quinoa + Black Beans (or Lentils) + Avocado + Micro Greens.

  • Typical amounts come out to about 1 cup quinoa, 3/4 cup black beans, 1/2 avocado, handful of micro greens. I'll adjust based on the specific duration of the workout and how hungry I am.

Drink: Lots of agua.

  • Probably 32 oz of filtered water over the course of an hour.

3-5 Hour Workout

Eat: The above Quinoa + Black Beans (or Lentils) + Avo + Micro Greens. Plus, Green Smoothie.

  • Heavy hand on the quinoa + BB or lentils + avo + greens portions.
  • Green smoothie typically looks like...
    • big handful of frozen curly kale
    • 1 frozen banana
    • 5-6 chunks frozen pineapple
    • 2 tablespoons hemp seeds (raw, shelled - I like these)
    • water for consistency

I used to be into chlorella, but I've been reading more and more about potential contaminants in it. It's also expensive. I take chlorella tablets when traveling, but when I'm at home I now just stick to kale for all the benefits of dark leafy greens. (In Cali, you'll see a little sticker on chlorella bottles that says, "This product contains a chemical known in the state of California to cause birth defects or other reproductive harm." Seems that's basically a element of Pro 65 gone wrong. It contains trace amounts of lead, given that soil has trace amounts of lead. The company Sunfood provides a good rundown on the misleading labeling. 

Drink: Lots of agua.

  • Again, probably 32 oz of filtered water over the course of an hour.

5+ Hour Workout

Eat: All the above (quinoa/BB or lentils/avo/greens bowl & green smoothie) + the below snacks if still hungry following...

  • Apple + Almond Butter + Super Sprinks
  • Carrots + Hummus
  • Almonds + Peanuts

Drink: Focusing on drinking a good bit over a 2-hour span. Probably comes out to 56oz over those two hours.

What About Protein Supplements?

Again, I'm not big on protein supplements. While I used to add a scoop of plant-based protein powder to my smoothies, I've found that it's not necessary so long as you're able to eat appropriately following your workout. Remember, plants have lots of protein too and you don't need nearly as much protein as you've probably been led to believe.**

  • 1 cup of canned black beans = 14g of protein
  • 1 cup of cooked lentils = 18g of protein
  • 1 cup of cooked quinoa = 10g of protein
  • 3 tbsp of hemp seeds = 10g of protein

If making a smoothie, just add the hemp seeds! (Again, I dig these.) 10g of added protein helps you cover your bases.

If you flat-out have nothing in your 'frig and cabinets / aren't able to eat real food like those above, then try Sun Warrior's organic protein. The "natural" flavor mixes into a green smoothie well. 


** While I operate under the 'what works best for me' mindset, research states that the "almost global consensus is that adults need no more than 0.8-0.9g protein/kg to satisfy their protein needs." And that's a high estimate; likely that .66g is sufficient, but everyone is different and the recommendations look to capture most of the bell curve. There's no real evidence showing that athletes need any more than that prescribed range. (More here on NutritionFacts.org.)


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