Nutrition for runners is a complex topic with so many different opportunities for mistakes that I’ve compiled a huge toolbox here to help you find exactly the resources, tips and tricks that will keep you from bonking, feeling strong as the miles increase and we always hope avoiding stomach pains during the race!
Let’s see if this sounds familiar…
Kathy finishes her long run, bolts through the door making a beeline for the blender, oblivious to the sweat trail forming through the kitchen.
She must chug her Green Smoothie in 30 minutes or the whole run will be a complete and utter waste.
Sometimes that’s how a runners diet feels…a little insane, too many must’s and should’s, not enough “what makes my body feel good and WHY?!”
Luckily, by now you know I’m going to exhaust everything until I find the answers to these questions.
I like simplicity. I love habits and I go absolutely gaga over researching things.
Nutrition for Runners
Over the last couple of years, I’ve been diving into learning more about what actually matters and what nutrition tips are important.
I’ve put together a list from that research – and here is a massive round up for you to pick and choose the things that will make the biggest impact for you!Let’s start at the logical place, the beginning.
One of the key things you’ll learn here is what all those letters behind their names mean and that your personal trainer shouldn’t be your nutritionist!!
As a running coach, I can share little tips of what’s worked for me like using dried pineapple for a running fuel because it actually helps prevent digestive issues. BUT I can only share based on my experiences, not based in science or lots of schooling like a dietitian!
Once you’ve read that and have the basics, it’s time to move on to the areas that interest you the most! I’ve broken them down by topic to help answer the questions of what should runners eat.
Do you need to eat within 30 minutes of a workout?
Do you actually need to force down food immediately post run??
It depends on your goals. You’ll hear me say that a lot, but I truly believe that no two people are alike and what works for you may not always work for someone else.
You can indeed achieve good recovery and muscle gains without immediate food, but many find that if they wait to get protein/carbs they become ravenous throughout that day or the next, turning to less optimal choices.
Read more on managing hunger for distance running >>
Understanding that we need high quality meals feels like a no brainer, right? So now it’s about how to time it to prevent stomach issues and give you enough fuel.
The right foods will indeed make your running feel easier. And sorry to tell you a marathon training runners diet is not exclusively carbs and most definitely not sugary carbs.
Other tips to help you find the right foods at the right time:
- Best Post Run Meals for Recovery
- Best Pre-Workout Snacks
- Should You Do Fasted Cardio?
- How Does Intermittent Fasting Work for Runners?
- What to Eat Before a Race?
- Using Whole Foods on Long Runs
- 7 Carbo-Loading Mistakes to Avoid
- Running Hydration Done Right — yes this is part of good nutrition
- Best electrolyte powders for runners
Running for Weight Loss Keys
There’s only one thing that I dislike about Instagram and it’s the promotion of “perfect diets” that you see everywhere.
Six pack ab wearing ladies are talking nutrition and how eating only beans is the world’s best choice, while another says she eats a whole buffalo each day. So what are you supposed to do?Exaggeration, maybe. You’ve seen it too though, right?
What foods can make you run faster?
The truth is, there are some basic principles from every single diet plan out there that will help us feel better, recover faster, and train harder.
- eat more green leafy vegetables
- eat more fiber
- eat less sugar
- eat less process foods
- eat enough to fuel your lifestyle
Beyond that, the “perfect diet” is one that works for your body and indeed it may not be what works for your significant other, your running buddy, or your annoying cubicle mate.
For example, greek yogurt is a fantastic snack, unless like me you’ve figured our dairy is an issue because of a food intolerance! And if your runner diet is based around should foods then you might be eating things that don’t actually make you feel well.
Food stress could show up with these symptoms:
- Muscle aches
- Skin issues
- Mood swings
Whether you’re looking for diet for marathon training for beginners or how to eat to crack your PR is all about fueling up with energizing food that is easy to digest (which in part typically means it’s good for you!) and helps your body to repair from each workout to improve and be ready for the next.
Remember, hunger is triggered by the need for nutrients! The key concept to understand is it’s NOT just about calorie counting.
These foods give us the biggest nutritional bang for our digestive energy. Brendan Braizer’s idea is that we want most of our energy focused on training, recovering and living, not on digestion. While fitness magazines try to point to picking hard to digest foods as burning more calories…could be true, but isn’t the fastest way to athletic results.
Nutrition for runners isn’t just macros or carbs, it’s finding the foods that fuel YOU. Yes, I know you may have a weight loss focus, but that doesn’t mean you get to underfuel, eat crap because you burned calories and expect the best from your body.
Protein Ideas for Runners
Try finding ways to increase your protein, which will not only make you feel full, but improve muscle recovery and as you increase miles ensure you don’t lose muscle!
- High protein power bowls
- High protein desserts
- High protein pancakes
- 97 High protein breakfast ideas
- Best protein powder for your goals
- Can Protein Timing Reduce Body Fat?
You have to figure out what diet and food is best for you and not worry about if it works for someone else!
In terms of running for weight loss, we know that the food we eat is important because calories play a role. However when it comes to running nutrition you have to know it goes way beyond that.
Step 1 Understanding Calories, Macros
- How Many Calories to Runners Really Need?
- Do Macros work for runners?
- Is a High Fat Diet Better for Runners?
- Racing weight or underfueling?
Step 2 Understanding How We Burn Fat and Carbs
- How to exercise to burn more fat?
- Can Intermittent Fasting curb Carb Cravings?
- 3 Common Nutrition Mistakes of Runners
- How to Conquer Your Sugar Cravings
Step 3 Setting Yourself Up for Success
- 3 Different Meal Planning Methods for Food Success
- A guide to running for weight loss
- Understanding the Female Athlete Triad – pitfalls of cutting calories
- How to Go Plant Based as a Runner? – a must read before making a big switch
- Marathon runners diet plan example
Supplements for Runners
Too often we skip the “eat well, live well” thing and jump right into taking supplements because of the quick gains that are promised in a lot of sports nutrition products.
Recovery faster than Usain Bolt.
^You’ve seen that before, right?
The keyword there is “quick” for a reason. As quickly as you can gain something, you can just as quickly lose it as well once you stop. Finding balance with food that is sustainable for a long time is more important than anything.
Of course there is a place for supplements, especially because distance runners deplete their bodies in a way that would require eating pounds and pounds of greens daily to fully recover.
BUT if you don’t have the food right, you’re only getting a fraction of the benefits.
Remember that food is THE most important thing, then the supplements can follow.
When it comes to supplements, I’m picky and you should be too. We should always be picky about everything we put into our bodies.
Read a little bit more below to learn why it’s important to do your supplement research before just picking out something random you’ve seen work for someone else.
- What Vitamins Runners Need?
- The One Supplement all RD’s Recommend: Probiotics
- Preventing Stress Fractures with Sports Nutrition
- Best Plant Based Sources of Iron to Prevent Iron Deficiency
- Electrolytes – what are they and why you need them
- Magnesium for Body Composition, Performance, Cramps and Calm!
- Why Runners Benefit from some Supplements and What I take
How to start improving your runners diet?
I feel like a record on repeat with this phrase lately, but it remains true which is why I always go back to it…
- If it feels overwhelming, you’re trying to do too much.
- Pick one area to begin with and make the change! Take it slow, make it simple.
- Once it sticks, start focusing on the next area that matters.
Suddenly you’ll find without a whole lot of effort or angst, you’re eating more veggies or drinking more water, or whatever your goals were…don’t make it overly complicated. You want to do something that you know is going to stick around long term.
Now with that said the real question remains – what are you going to do?
Not quite done exploring? Checkout all the healthy, easy recipes I’ve shared >>
What area of your nutrition do you need to improve?
How often do you use supplements in your training?
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