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 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!
Additionally if you’ve been focused on running for weight loss, we’re going to make sure you aren’t cutting calories so far that it not only hurts your performance, but your health.
What should runners eat?
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?!”
First of all, what you need to do post run is a combination of eating for recovery and actual recovery, but does that mean it must be green juices? No.
- Enough nutrient dense foods to help the body repair
- Enough calories to support your workouts
- Enough protein to prevent muscle loss
- Enough fat to keep your joints healthy
- Enough carbs to give you energy to burn fat (notice I didn’t say TONS of carbs)
It doesn’t have to be quite as complex as we think…but there are a lot of pieces, so let’s start to breakdown the runners diet.
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.
What is Sports Nutrition?
Figuring out a marathon runners diet plan is not the same as counting calories for the average person. You truly have to consider the ways in which running causes your body to use more nutrients, to breakdown and to need recovery.
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 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! If you have a trainer or coach who is writing out diet plans or even giving you macros, I’d ask you to really look at their credentials and if they know enough to not just help you lose weight, but stay healthy.
Years ago one trainer had me down to 1200 calories, while running and lifting. I’m 5’9″ and that’s less than I need to stay alive! I did that all of two days before I knew it was a path to BAD THINGS.
What should I eat as a runner?
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 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.
- Fasted runners need to eat a full meal sooner to ensure recovery isn’t hampered
- Managing hunger for distance running can also be improved by not dealing that refueling
- Best Post Run Meals for Recovery
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.
Instead of looking for a marathon diet plan to follow, try putting together a way of eating that feels sustainable for you. Checkout these tips to help you find the right foods:
- Best Pre-Workout Snacks
- 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
I started running with a weight loss goal in mind, so I understand that’s where many of you are at as well. Unfortunately, this backfires on many runners who find themselves not eating enough, running more and causing weight gain.
Which means, you need to learn how to eat enough, but not eating the “I deserve it because I ran” extra’s.
Here area few more runners diet topics that will help:
- How many calories do runner’s need?
- Cortisol and Exercise – How it causes weight gain?
- Should You Do Fasted Cardio?
- How Does Intermittent Fasting Work for Runners?
Below we will break this process down farther to help you find what will work best to get lean, not weak.
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.
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
- 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
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:
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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