There’s no one approach to having the best diet for runners training. We will outline several different things to consider in this article so that you can see what a diet should look like while training for a race or increasing your runner’s mileage. Of course, these are all suggestions to help maximize your running potential and overall health.
A well-rounded diet when you are a runner can boost your physical health and help you meet the goals you set for yourself. This is why you need to eat certain foods to give you the energy to keep pushing while running. Specifically, runners need more calcium and vitamin D to help with bone health. This means having less risk of stress fractures in their bones. Some vitamin D options include eggs, tuna, and salmon. For more calcium food options, you can try yogurt, almonds, and tofu.
The number of calories you burn depends on how much you weigh, how far you run, and how long you’re running for. The average person burns between eighty to one hundred and forty calories per mile when they are running. When running five miles, people burn between four hundred and seven hundred calories. For our last example, thirty minutes of running will burn between two hundred and eighty to five hundred and twenty calories.
The best foods to eat before a run include calcium and vitamin D as well as sugar. These nutrients include the minerals and energy you will need as you start your run. Examples of these foods would be bananas, oatmeal, eggs, smoothie, yogurt, and toast with jelly or honey. Here is a list of a few pre-run meal ideas:
1. Eggs and toast
The photo above includes a whopping 5 eggs, which might be too many for some people to eat before exercising. We recommend anywhere from two to three eggs before a run alongside one to two pieces of toast. This breakfast provides protein, carbs, and loads of vitamin D.
2. Bagel with protein
A lot of runners enjoy bagels before runs because it gives them a lot of energy from the carbohydrates. It is best for running prep when paired with a protein like deli meat, eggs, or nut butter.
3. Oatmeal with fruit
Oatmeal is a lighter breakfast that is perfect to have before a run. You might want to keep it pretty bland because too much sugar can make it heavier on the body, which is not optimal for running longer distances. Instead, try adding fruit on top for natural sugar and fiber.
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The best foods to eat after a run include something that will help you gain back energy you have lost from the run. It’s also best to eat a smaller portion right after and then plan your next full meal. This helps your stomach digest the food better seeing as it did a lot of work on the run. You especially need protein after a run to help recover and rebuild your muscles. Here are a few ideas of snacks to eat after a run:
1. Protein shake
A protein shake will help you build muscle after a run, so this is a great option. It also relieves your immediate hunger until you can cook your next meal. There are lots of protein powders that you can add to smoothies including whey or pea protein, but you can also add nut butter if you do not have the powder variety on hand.
2. Chicken and vegetables
A quick meal of grilled chicken with some salad or roasted vegetables is an extremely healthy option to help you re-build muscles after a run. It’s also a filling option that will hold you over for a few hours until you are ready to enjoy a full meal.
Salmon is a great protein for runners, so something like this smoked salmon toast would be a great re-fueling meal full of Omega-3 fatty acids. Paired with some vegetables, this is a great post-run meal that can help you restore energy until dinner time.
During your run, you may start to feel hungry, which is totally normal as you are burning calories and energy. While you shouldn’t stop to eat a full meal because that may upset your stomach, you can and should eat small snacks that can help you boost energy while running. This is especially true if you’re a long distance runner training 8+ miles at a time.
Protein bars are good to help fuel you as you are running. Some of the best bars for runners include Cliff bars, Go Macro bars, and Gatorade Whey Protein bars. If you don’t want a protein bar, you can opt for a quick energy natural snack like dried fruit or nuts.
We also recommend having an electrolyte drink that contains a lot of sodium and not necessarily sugar. The reason for this is that you sweat out a lot of salt while running, so you need to add that back into your body for continued hydration. Examples include Gatorade powder that you can put in water, another sports drink like Powerade, or Nuun‘s sport hydration tablets.
The best diet for runners training consists of three things: carbohydrates, fat, and protein. Carbohydrates are especially key if you are a long-distance runner because you will burn up a ton of this energy very quickly. Fat helps provide healthy joints, nerve function, and general health. Some foods that contain healthy fats are avocado, nuts, cheese, and eggs. Lastly, protein will help muscle growth that you are trying to build and prevent injury by strengthening your bones. Some foods high in protein are fish, lean beef or chicken, and beans. Of course, you should always add some fruits and vegetables into your diet for health and fiber.
Runners should focus on fueling their bodies on a day-to-day basis. The word “diet” can immediately strike a chord in some people as “watching what you eat” or calorie counting. However, this is nearly impossible for successful runners to do. In fact, you should focus on eating enough while running, not cutting back on how much you eat.
While some people support Keto or Whole 30 as the best diet for runners training because they eliminate carbs, these can be very hard to do while running 20+ miles a week. The one thing most diets have in common is suggesting that people eat more vegetables and lean protein while cutting back on junk foods that are not as nutritional. This can definitely help your running as long as you are getting enough nutrients.
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Yes, you can be a vegan and a runner. If you have a plant-based diet, you can adjust some of your daily requirements and recommendations to include plant-based proteins. Vegan proteins include tofu, nuts, beans, and more. You can also try protein supplement powders that are veggie-based and do not include dairy. Having added protein in shakes or in smoothies will help you stay full and recover your muscles after running.
Lastly, one of the biggest recommendations for all vegans, but especially those who run or train for sports, is to look into B-12 supplements. B-12 can be found naturally in foods that vegans do not consume like fish, red meat, and eggs. It is a nutrient that is known to help with energy, so that is why it is recommended for those not consuming animal proteins.
While you can consume any foods you choose, here is a list of foods and drinks you may want to avoid as a runner.
- Sugary sodas
- Frozen, pre-made meals
- Energy drinks
- Fast food or fried foods
The main reason to avoid these items is dehydration or too much caffeine, sugar, and sodium.
What foods are best for running recovery?
Here is a list of foods that are the best for your body’s recovery:
- Protein recovery bars
- Protein shakes
- Fresh fruit smoothies
These foods help you access energy quickly, increase your fiber and carbohydrates, and keep you full for longer periods of time. They also contain protein, which helps your muscles recover.
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If you are looking to improve your running, start with small changes whether it be changing your diet or adding another mile to your run. Don’t push yourself all at once. It will take time to get you to where you want to be. When you begin to change your routine, jumping right in can affect your body negatively like making you feel fatigued or causing pain. Instead, take one thing at a time so that you do not burn out and can make adjustments that improve your performance over time.
Your diet is only one piece of the puzzle, but it’s definitely an important one. By feeding your body the right nutrients, you will feel that in your energy level when you’re running. Be sure to eat before, during, and after a run for optimal performance and focus on those post-run recovery foods and electrolytes. Food is fuel every day and this is even more so true in the sport of running.