Runner's diet plan: What to know – Medical News Today

Running requires a lot of energy, but knowing what and when to eat can be confusing for newer runners. A balanced diet with adequate carbohydrates will keep runners fueled and satisfied.
Every diet is individual. No one diet works for everyone, and there is no specific diet that works for every runner.
If someone is starting a running plan, they may want to make some tweaks to their existing diet. They can focus on consuming an adequate amount of carbohydrates, eating enough before and after workouts, and filling their plate with various fruits and vegetables.
A person’s caloric needs will vary depending on their weight, height, and energy expenditure. Runners should be aware that they will need to increase their calories to recover and perform properly when they increase their mileage.
Read more to learn what runners should eat, how they should time their pre-run and post-run meals, and more.
A runner’s diet plan typically includes a balance of the three macronutrients: carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.
By focusing on eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, people will typically consume enough micronutrients. These include vitamins and minerals that help the body function and recover from workouts.
Diet is individual, and different macronutrient ratios may work better for some people than others. According to the Institute of Medicine, people should aim to consume:
Runners should also make sure they are eating enough calories to sustain their training program. A person’s caloric needs depend on several factors, which include:
Generally, the more mileage a person is running, the more calories they will need.
Learn more about how to determine daily caloric needs.
Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals, and the body uses them in many crucial life-sustaining biological processes. Eating a balanced diet full of fruits and vegetables will usually provide a person with a healthy level of micronutrients.
They may be particularly important for athletes.
Doing a lot of training can put the body in an inflammatory, sometimes immunocompromised, state. This makes it easier to get sick and feel run down. A 2000 article points out that in addition to eating enough calories, consuming adequate micronutrients can minimize the inflammatory effects of training.
While most people can get their micronutrients from food, some people with restricted diets may be lacking.
Research from 2019 suggested that people who follow vegetarian or vegan diets may need to supplement with vitamin B12, vitamin D, and iron to replenish the nutrients lost through sweating while running.
Eating enough protein, carbohydrates, and fats will keep runners fueled and healthy. While individual needs will vary, many runners can follow some basic guidelines when planning their diet.
Carbohydrates are a fundamental component of a runners’ diet. They are the body’s most accessible form of energy, as they break down easily during exercise.
A 2008 study of elite runners showed that most participants consumed 50–70% of their daily calories from carbs. Those who trained at higher intensities and ran longer distances needed more carbs.
While most amateur runners are not running the 100 miles or more per week that elites do, they should still focus on eating enough carbs. Eating too few can cause sluggish runs, poor recovery, injury, and overtraining.
Nutritious sources of carbohydrates contain fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Some popular carbohydrate sources among runners include:
Read more about nutritious, carbohydrate-rich foods to try.
Some runners limit their fiber intake at certain times to prevent gastrointestinal discomfort. This could mean eating a low-fiber meal before a workout, long run, or race. However, the amount and types of carbohydrates an individual’s gut can tolerate varies from person to person, so runners may want to experiment with which pre-run foods work best for them.
Protein builds and repairs bones, tissues, and hardworking muscles. This means eating enough protein is essential for muscle recovery after workouts.
One small 2017 study of elite runners found that participants experienced fewer injuries and had better endurance when they supplemented their diets with whey protein. However, people who run recreationally may get all the protein they need from their diet.
It might be helpful to prioritize consuming a protein-rich snack or meal after a run. Research from 2008 suggests that consuming a source of carbs and protein after a workout promotes glycogen storage, which can aid muscle recovery.
Healthy protein sources include:
Fats are an essential part of a balanced diet and are particularly important for nerve function.
A 2018 review noted that athletes, including those who run or swim, tend not to consume enough fat in their diets. Additionally, endurance athletes may notice their performance improves when they include more healthy fats in their diet.
Healthy sources of monounsaturated fats include:
Healthy sources of polyunsaturated fats include:
Many runners find it challenging to consume the right nutrition before workouts. They need to strike a balance between eating enough calories while not eating foods that can upset their stomach.
Runners should aim to eat an easily digested meal or snack before a run. If they are going for a longer run, they may want to consume more carbohydrates to ensure they have the energy to complete the workout.
They should also prioritize eating a carbohydrate- and protein-rich snack or meal after running.
Runners should consume a small meal containing little amounts of fat and fiber before running. They should aim to have a moderate amount of protein and a high amount of carbohydrates.
Several hours before a workout, a person should consume 1–4 grams (g) of carbs per kilogram of body mass. An hour before running, they may want to top up their energy stores with a small carbohydrate-rich snack, like a banana.
Runners do not need to worry about consuming food during most runs. However, long efforts like marathon training runs require people to take in nutrition while they are running.
If someone is running for 1 to 2.5 hours, they should aim to consume 30–60 g of carbs per hour.
The meal a person consumes after a run is important for muscle recovery. What they should eat depends on how long they were running for and how intense their run was.
They should ensure their meal contains protein to promote muscle repair and carbohydrates to replace depleted glycogen stores. Additionally, they should drink plenty of water to replace lost fluids.
Whether a person is training for a 5K or a marathon, starting a new running plan can require dietary changes.
Anyone who feels they could benefit from a greater understanding of how their diet is impacting their training may want to get in touch with a registered dietitian. They can help a person plan their diet to support running performance and help runners deal with any issues they may have.
A runner’s diet varies from person to person, but it should incorporate a balance of macronutrients, adequate carbs, and micronutrients from plant foods.
Carbohydrates are the energy source for runners due to the body’s ability to rapidly break them down during bouts of strenuous physical activity. Runners should focus on eating enough food beforehand to fuel runs, as well as eating a carb- and protein-rich snack to replenish their muscles after workouts.
If a person wants to improve their diet to boost their running performance, they may wish to contact a registered dietitian.
Last medically reviewed on October 29, 2021
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