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Clean Eating for Runners

By Andrea Cespedes

Clean eating involves choosing whole, natural products instead of processed and refined foods. While clean eating can benefit anyone, athletes -- especially runners -- may experience improved performance with a healthy, clean-eating plan. A clean eating plan can also help you settle into a natural weight, which can make you lighter and faster.

Calorie Needs

The average running, training for a half-marathon and running 20 to 25 miles per week needs at least 2,500 calories per day. If you run more, you probably need an even higher daily calorie intake. A clean eating plan usually involves eating at least three meals and two smaller snacks. A runner should definitely follow this strategy as you need pre- and post-run snacks along with your regular meals.


The average person needs to consume between 45 and 65 percent of calories from carbohydrates daily. A runner should aim slightly higher – from 65 to 75 percent of daily calories. Long-distance runners in particular need additional carbohydrates to fuel your muscles’ glycogen stores. Clean sources of carbohydrates include fresh fruits, sweet and white potatoes, corn, beans and legumes, brown rice, oatmeal, 100-percent whole wheat bread, quinoa and whole wheat pasta.

Energy Foods

Distance runners often rely on energy bars, sports drinks and artificially flavored gels to power through workouts. These products offer valuable fuel and energy, but are often available in more-natural alternatives. Look for drinks flavored with real fruit juice or natural sugar, rather than high-fructose corn syrup. Opt for bars with all-natural ingredients, or consider having a few dates or a banana pre- or post-run. Seek out gels made with honey and without artificial colors and flavors – at mile 13, you don’t care about the color of your energy source and nothing tastes that good anyway.

Meal Plan

A typical day where you plan to run 8 to 10 miles might begin with a breakfast consisting of a cup of oatmeal cooked in water with 1 cup blueberries, 1 cup skim milk and two slices of whole wheat toast. Have a few dates and a banana about 30 minutes an hour or so before your run and follow with a glass of 100 percent sour cherry juice and a natural energy bar. Use a naturally-sweetened sports drink while running. For lunch, have 4 ounces of roasted chicken breast with 1 cup of brown rice, 3/4 cup of whole-kernel corn and 1 cup of broccoli. For your afternoon snack, have 1 cup of grapes, 1 cup of non-fat yogurt and ¼ cup of granola sweetened with honey. For dinner, have black beans with quinoa, chopped tomatoes, diced jalapeno, olive oil and lime juice.

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