How to Fuel Your Intense Training Days With Plant-Based Recipes

Plus, how to tailor your nutrition strategy to other types of workouts.

Maria Korneeva//Getty Images

I started running when I was 29, when I wanted to prove to myself that I could still push my body to its physical best. Meanwhile, I had become interested in sports nutrition and was studying to become a registered dietitian. After two years of running consistently, I signed up for my first marathon in 2016. I did everything right in preparation for the event, including following a training plan and practising my midrun fueling. I even spent time on recovery, but the race didn’t go according to plan.

My most vivid memory of that New York City Marathon was “hitting the wall” at kilometre 30. I was running on a parkway in the Bronx. My legs were heavy, my energy was zapped, and I sat down on a guardrail to ponder how I could possibly go 10 more kilometres. I knew right then and there that I hadn’t taken in enough fuel for the whole 42.2 kilometres. Luckily, my family was waiting for me in Central Park, and that pushed me through the last 10K. I was so disappointed in myself as both a runner and as a dietitian.

How to Fuel Properly With a Plant-Based Diet

Since that race in 2016, I have dedicated my career to helping everyday athletes, like myself, fuel for intense events. I ran the Chicago Marathon in 2019 and flew through kilometre 30 and then the finish line. What’s more, I did all of this on a plant-based diet. I’ve been a vegetarian for longer than I’ve been a runner.

Now, I work with many plant-based athletes to help them fuel their fitness without meat. That’s why I wrote Planted Performance, a cookbook dedicated to teaching everyday athletes how to use plant-based foods in their training routines.

My book includes examples of what to eat on four different types of training days, including an endurance training day, intense training, strength training, and rest days. Because runners incorporate many types of workouts in their training, these guidelines provide advice on how you can alter your nutrition based on the training you’re doing that day. By tailoring your meals to your workouts, you better prepare your body for performance and give your recovery a boost.

Here’s a look at how the training days differ:

Endurance Training Day

A typical endurance training day consists of 60 minutes or less of aerobic activity—think a 10K or shorter. Most of your meals should be moderate in calories (around 500 to 600), although every runner has their own specific calorie requirement, based on size and activity level. Eating for an endurance activity should include a balance of carbs, protein, and fat, as well as a variety of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants (just as your everyday diet should). The breakdown of macronutrients for your day should be about 50 percent carbs, 30 percent protein, and 20 percent fat.

For an example of a meal you could have after an endurance run, go for a chickpea and avocado wrap, which provides carbs from the whole wheat wrap, protein from the chickpeas, and healthy fat from the avocado. Add some cucumber and lettuce for crunch, and you’re also adding inflammation-fighting vitamin C.

Strength Training Day

Strength training days are crucial for building power and endurance for runs, as well as for preventing injury. On strength training days, carb and calorie needs may be slightly lower than endurance or intense training days, and you can also increase your protein amount to support muscle building. This doesn’t mean that you should go low-carb or restrict calories, but you should focus on a bit more protein to aid in muscle recovery after a heavy strength session.

A lunch or dinner that includes a mix of lentils and spaghetti squash offers up the protein and carb combo you need after a strength session, while offering fibre to keep you full.

Rest Day

Believe it or not, nutrition on a rest day may not look that much different from an active day. The body recovers while resting and that recovery requires fuel. So, you need to eat well-balanced meals to grow stronger and prepare for the next day’s workout. Therefore, like an endurance day, eat a balance of carbs to replenish glycogen, protein to help tired muscles rebuild, and healthy fats to keep you fuelled and satisfied.

One of my go-to rest day lunches is a simple black bean quesadilla with cheese and spinach. Black beans are one of my favourite plant-based proteins because they are packed with protein, fibre, and iron (a mineral that contributes to energy levels), plus they’re inexpensive. The tortilla and black beans also offer carbs to replenish glycogen stores for your next run.

Intense Training Day

Intense-training days usually consist of more than 60 minutes of endurance work or it might be a short but all-out activity. For example, a long run would fall into the “intense” category, as would hill repeats or sprint intervals, even if last slightly less than 60 minutes.

On an intense running day, you should focus on three main nutrition factors: First, take in plenty of carbs to top off glycogen and make your energy last. To make this happen, your nutrition plan should start before the workout. Aim to have 30 to 60 grams of carbs about 60 minutes before a run.

Second, incorporate easy-to-digest carbs during your run to keep energy levels high when glycogen runs out after about 60 minutes. My advice is to have another 30 to 60 grams of carbs per hour after the first hour of running.

Examples of 30 to 60 grams of easy-to-digest carbs include two Medjool dates, two slices of white bread, one large banana, 16 ounces of most sports drinks, or one pack of sports gel or gummies.

During intense runs, I like to pack pretzel date bites (see recipe below), because this combo provides the carbs you need for energy, plus you get a sodium boost to replace electrolytes lost in sweat. Two of these equal about 29 grams of carbs, so you can always have a one or two extra during your run, depending on your energy needs.

Third, practise good recovery nutrition after your run. Runners know that postrun protein aids in muscle repair, but sometimes they neglect to eat carbs because they consider those foods to be energy sources and therefore, more important to eat before clocking kilometres. However, you need carbs postrun, too, to replace used glycogen. Pairing protein and carbs has been shown to enhance recovery and avoid “dead legs” during your next workout.

Likewise, be sure to include healthy fats to satisfy hunger. If your stomach feels wonky postrun, opt for a simple smoothie immediately afterward, then follow up with a meal an hour or so later. The meal should include all three macronutrients, along with plenty of inflammation-fighting antioxidants, such as those found in greens or beets.

3 Recipes to Fuel You During and After an Intense Workout

Sweet and Salty Pretzel Bites

Makes 12 bites

Courtesy Natalie Rizzo


  • ¼ cup pretzels
  • 1 cup pitted dates
  • 2 tablespoons peanut butter


  1. Line a baking sheet or plate with parchment paper.
  2. In a food processor, process the pretzels into crumbs. Set aside in a small bowl.
  3. Combine the dates and peanut butter in the food processor and process until crumbly. Using your hands, form the date mixture into 2- to 3-inch balls (about the size of a ping-pong ball).
  4. Roll each ball in the pretzel crumbs and place on the prepared baking sheet. Refrigerate for about 1 hour. Serve immediately or store in a sealed container in the fridge for up to 7 days.

Per serving (two bites): Calories: 160, Fat: 3.5g, Sat Fat: 0.5g, Sodium: 370mg, Carbohydrates: 29g, Dietary Fibre: 1g, Added Sugar: 0g, Protein: 4g, Vitamin D: 0 mcg, Calcium: 14mg, Iron: 1mg, Potassium: 136mg

Mediterranean Ravioli Bowl

Makes 4 servings

Courtesy Natalie Rizzo


  • 16 ounces cheese ravioli or vegan ravioli
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 cups packed spinach
  • 2 cups marinated artichokes
  • 1 cup marinated sun-dried tomatoes
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ cup unsalted roasted pine nuts


  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add the ravioli and cook according to package directions, usually about 10 minutes. Drain and set aside.
  2. In a medium frying pan over medium heat, combine the olive oil, spinach, artichokes, and tomatoes. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until the spinach is wilted. Add the cooked ravioli, stir, and remove from the heat. Season to taste with salt and black pepper.
  3. Add the pine nuts and serve immediately. Store leftovers in a sealed container in the fridge for up to 3 days and add pine nuts when ready to serve.

Per serving: Calories: 500, Fat: 34g, Sat Fat: 7g, Sodium: 610mg, Carbohydrates: 38g, Dietary Fiber: 6g, Added Sugar: 0g, Protein: 16g, Vitamin D: 1 mcg, Calcium: 179 mg, Iron: 4mg, Potassium: 740mg

Sweet Chile Brussels Sprouts

Makes 4 servings

Courtesy Natalie Rizzo


  • 600 grams Brussels sprouts, stemmed and halved
  • 2 tablespoons neutral oil (canola, vegetable, or grapeseed)
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 tablespoon plus ¼ cup water, divided
  • ¼ cup rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon chile-garlic sauce


  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. In a large bowl, toss together the sprouts, neutral oil, and salt. Transfer the sprouts to the prepared baking sheet, spreading them evenly. Bake for 30 minutes, until crisp and brown around the edges.
  3. Meanwhile, place the cornstarch and 1 tablespoon of water in a small bowl and stir well. Set aside.
  4. In a large sauté pan over high heat, bring the vinegar, sugar, chile-garlic sauce and remaining ¼ cup of water to a boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves, about 3 minutes. Add the cornstarch mixture, reduce the heat to low, and simmer until the sauce thickens, about 2 minutes.
  5. Remove the pan from the heat. Add the cooked sprouts, tossing to coat in the sauce. Serve immediately or store in a sealed container in the fridge for up to 3 days.

Per serving: Calories: 170, Fat: 8g, Sat Fat: 0.5g, Sodium: 260mg, Carbohydrates: 23g, Dietary Fiber: 6g, Added Sugar: 6g, Protein: 6g, Vitamin D: 0 mcg, Calcium: 72mg, Iron: 2mg, Potassium: 662 mg

Related Articles