Happy Friday, everyone! A few weeks ago I shared Ryan’s and my intention to adapt a more sustainable diet and offered some tips for how runners can eat less meat while still fueling well, feeling satisfied, and enjoying food. Today I want to share with you some of our favorite recipes recently as we’ve shifted towards a more plant-based/vegetarian diet.
Last week I also wrote about how I am tracking my food during marathon training to ensure I am eating enough carbs to support my running and hiking, enough fats to prevent injury, and enough vitamins and minerals for peak performance and optimal overall health. One wonderful benefit of what I call our “vegetarian before 6” diet is that I reap both the benefits of eating meat (protein, iron, and taste) and the benefits of a plant-based diet (anti-inflammatory, high fiber, sustainability) as I train for a marathon.
Of course, I don’t like restrictions. If we want bacon with breakfast on the weekend, we have it, and if we’re eating out, I won’t pass up a burger or chicken shawarma. I believe in balance and finding the happy medium, and food is no exception to that overarching philosophy.
Lentil Nutritional Benefits for Runners
Many of the concerns people in general and runners in particular have about a meatless or less meat diet revolve around protein and iron intake. I certainly had doubts myself, especially since I have noted the benefits of eating a bit of meat over a completely vegetarian diet for myself. However, eating the right meatless foods will ensure that you receive enough protein and iron in your diet – while also increasing your vegetable intake and reducing inflammation (which promotes better recovery).
Lentils are one of those foods offer numerous health benefits for endurance athletes. They may not seem like the obvious choice when compared to red meat in terms of protein and iron, these little legumes are a nutritional powerhouse, whether you eat meatless or not.
Beans don’t always agree with my stomach, so I tend to limit my consumption of them when training hard. Lentils, however, are easier to digest and packed with protein, magnesium, zinc, iron, vitamin B6, and complex carbs. These nutrients will promote muscle recovery and boost your immunity, both of which are important for endurance athletes since training wears and tears on the body. The high fiber content provides sustainable energy, which means you won’t succumb to runger as easily.
That’s not to mention that lentils are budget-friendly, easy to prepare, and versatile. When you’re training hard for a race, the last thing you want to do is spend hours cooking!
If you’re new to eating lentils, try them on the day before an easy run. You don’t want to find out on a long run or speed workout that they don’t agree with your stomach!
Many days for lunch I eat a power bowl with either quinoa or lentils, white or sweet potato, and roasted vegetables. This combination is so nourishing, satisfying, and delicious. I love it when I find a lunch that actually appeals to me after my long run, satiates the runger, and provides my body with the nutrients it needs for recovery.
I often prepare a batch of lentils early in the week for quick lunches. When I prepare any of the following meals for dinner, I cook enough for 4 so Ryan and I can both have the leftovers for lunch the next day. Lentils, like rice and quinoa, store and reheat well – no mushy leftovers! If anything, the flavors become more complex and enticing as they steep overnight.
If I’m not preparing lentils specifically as in one of the recipes below, I follow this basic method to cook them. I combine the lentils with chicken stock with a 1:2 ratio (1 cup of lentils for every 2 cups stock) in a pot. Since I don’t follow a strictly vegetarian diet, I use homemade chicken stock for extra flavor; you can also use water or vegetable stock. For extra flavor, I throw in a clove or two of minced garlic. Then I simply bring the stock to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook for 10-15 minutes until the water is absorbed. Then I add salt and store in the fridge in a sealed container for up to 4 days. So easy!
Lentil Recipes for Runners
Red beans and rice is a popular Cajun dish, and this lentil version beats the original in my opinion. I’ve made this for dinner a few times already, and the simplicity of the recipe and the spicy flavor make it a winner.
I haven’t made this recipe yet, but these spicy lentil vegan sloppy joes make my mouth water.
I’m a bit hesitant to call these “meatballs,” but these easy lentil meatballs would taste delicious over a whole grain pasta or mashed potatoes.
Warmer weather makes both Ryan and I crave Mexican food like crazy. As with Indian and Mediterranean food, Mexican food is easy to adapt to less-meat diet. These spinach lentil enchiladas and these roasted cauliflower and lentil tacos satisfy a Mexican food craving without any meat – and from the comfort of your own kitchen.
Baked falafel is a satisfying meatless option that you can stuff in a sandwich, eat on a salad, or serve with a bowl of rice and vegetables. Falafel can be made with chickpeas or lentils and tastes extra amazing if you add a pinch of Greek seasoning and top with a generous drizzle of tahini.
Lentils taste incredible in curries, as their earthy and meaty flavor complements the bold spices of Indian food. Try this red lentil vegetable curry for a meal rich in plant-based protein and anti-inflammatory spices.
Lentils are the main ingredient in Indian dal, which cooks them in coconut milk and seasons them with anti-inflammatory turmeric. When you serve lentils over a grain such as rice, your meal offers all of the essential amino acids for muscle repair.
The lentil and mushroom curry recipe I shared a few weeks ago is still a favorite in our household, although recently I made it with eggplant instead of green beans, which made it even more amazing. Eggplant, like mushrooms, has a meaty texture and taste, so you barely realize this meal is completely plant-based.
Speaking of meaty mushrooms, this lentil and mushroom burger begs to be grilled up with a beer in hand and some homemade fries on the side. Eating less meat does not mean giving up the gloriousness of summer grilling!
I love russet potatoes also, so I could cry over how delicious this crispy roasted potato wedges with squash, lentils, and goat cheese looks. Seriously, that’s a bowl of plant-based heaven right there.
What are your weekend plans?
Do you cook lentils? What’s your favorite lentil dish?