What to Eat While You’re Training for an Ironman Triathlon

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John Joseph wears many hats—vegan author, musician, and Ironman triathlete. In his book Meat Is for Pussies: A How-To Guide for Dudes Who Want to Get Fit, Kick Ass, and Take Names, he explains, “You’d be surprised by how easy it is to replace that disgusting, poisonous meat with delicious combinations of fruits, veggies, whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, and endless other options,” he writes.

The book also tackles every vegan’s favorite question: “Where do you get your protein?” (Short answer: from food). “[Y]ou don’t need to eat a cow to be as strong as a bull,” Joseph writes.


You can find vegan athletes everywhere these days, including triathletes Hillary Biscay, Brendan Brazier, Rich Roll, and Dustin Hinton; NFL players Bryant Jennings and Griff Whalen; UFC champion Nate Diaz; and boxers David Haye and Cam F. Awesome, among others.

“OK!” You must be saying to yourself by now. “I want to fuel myself in the ways these super-humans do. How do I get started?” Glad you asked! Here’s how to eat like a vegan triathlete:

1. Know your protein.

Nutrition experts estimate that most of us need between 0.8 and 1 gram of protein per day for every kilogram of body weight. That works out to 55 grams of protein per day for someone who weighs 150 pounds or approximately 10 percent of normal caloric intake. (People in endurance training and pregnant women might require a bit more, of course.) If a vegan eats a reasonably varied diet and consumes a sufficient amount of calories, he or she will undoubtedly get enough protein. And unlike animal protein, plant-based protein sources contain healthy fiber and complex carbohydrates.

2. Eat small meals more often.

Eating several small meals a day keeps you feeling energized instead of lethargic. It also helps athletes stay consistently nourished during training. Smoothies, vegan protein bars, and other protein-rich, nutrient-dense snacks help to keep you energetic throughout the day.

3. Know your body’s needs.

Everyone is different when it comes to fueling before a race and recovering afterwards. Some triathletes can eat potatoes before a race, while others prefer endurance gels or liquids. Ironman Brazier finds pre-performance products with green tea and yerba mate helpful, while Biscay likes to ingest caffeine during a race in the form of a PowerGel. Brazier, whose performance product line, Vega, is 100 percent plant-based, says, “as far as fuel goes, yeah, I think the easier it is to digest and absorb, the better.” This means you should avoid processed foods and consume whole foods, vegetables, fruits, and grains instead. Becoming an Ironman doesn’t happen overnight, and learning what works for you is an important part of the process.

4. Eat plant-based foods to feel good.

Many athletes report feeling a variety of health improvements after the switch to eating vegan. Biscay explains, “I have asthma, and eliminating dairy from my diet has really helped my breathing. It has also helped my stomach; I suffer from a bloated stomach while running much less frequently now.” Haye credits vegan eating with getting rid of his eczema and dandruff, helping him feel more refreshed in the morning, and faster recoveries after workouts.

5. Treat yourself.

Healthy fats, carbs, and protein can help you recover after a workout or race. Don’t be afraid to treat yourself to a gourmet vegan meal that includes all this good stuff. Yes, even triathletes have a vegan doughnut once in a while.

On your way to picture-perfect health? Be sure to check out our suggestions for delicious plant-based pre-workout foods and packaged supplement options.

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