A runner’s diet is designed to support racing or training runs and muscle recovery. Runners do need to pay attention to nutrition and calorie content, however, as gaining weight is still possible and more pounds mean slower times. With so many food products available, including specific “sports” foods, some simple strategies will help you devise an exemplary runner’s diet.
Your runner’s diet depends on what distances you run. Sprinters need slightly more protein to develop large, powerful muscles, while marathoners benefit from a higher carbohydrate load, says Running Planet. Where you are in your training plan also influences a runner’s diet. If you are in the long-run stage of training for a marathon or ultra marathon, you will need more calories and carbs than you do in the recovery weeks after a race.
A sample runner’s diet features fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, unsaturated fats and low-fat dairy. Processed foods should be avoided as they come with extra sodium, sugar and fat and do not offer maximal nutrition to working muscles. An endurance runner should eat more carbohydrates, aiming for more than the average recommendation of 50 percent of daily calories, says renowned running coach Hal Higdon. When running long distances--about 20 to 25 miles per week--you burn about 2,500 calories per day, but the actual amount depends on your size, age, gender, activity level outside of training and your running efficiency.
Sample Meal Plan
Lance Armstrong's coach, Chris Carmichael, in his book "Food for Fitness,' recommends a meal plan for a training day that involves a 90-minute run and includes about 70 percent carbohydrates 1. Start with a breakfast of a cup of oatmeal, skim milk, two slices of whole grain toast, a piece of fruit and fruit juice. While training, consume 24 ounces of a sports drink and a fig bar or energy bar. After training, a recovery drink or recovery bar suffices. At lunch, black beans and roasted peppers wrapped in a whole grain tortilla with salsa, brown rice and a handful of baked tortilla chips offers a mix of carbs and protein. In the afternoon, enjoy a bran muffin and a banana. At dinner, herb-roasted chicken, rice pilaf, mixed vegetables served steamed, a green salad and a whole wheat role satisfies a hearty appetite. For dessert, enjoy plain yogurt with raspberries and honey.
While many runners “run to eat,” running does not give you the license to eat huge portions all the time without consideration for calories. Training for a half or full marathon requires long runs, but often they leave you exhausted so you perform less movement throughout the day. Be aware of portion sizes and the quality of your foods. It is easy to negate any calories you did burn with just one nutritionally-poor meal of burgers and fries from a fast-food restaurant. Even if you consume just 100 extra calories per day, you can gain 10 pounds in a year.
Following fad diets while trying to train for events will affect your performance. Often these diets are very low in calories and do not provide your body the energy for long runs or adequate calories for muscle recovery. Low-carb diets and diets that forbid entire food groups are not appropriate for runners.
- "Food for Fitness"; Chris Carmichael; 2004
- Shalom Ormsby/Blend Images/Getty Images