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What Should Runners Eat to Maximize Their Performance? Runners Diet

If you run regularly, whether it’s an easy jog around the block to stay fit or an intense training regimen to prepare for a marathon, you are still counted as a runner. Amature or professsional, treat proper nutrition as your partner. You can't train, perform or recover without it.

Here are some tips to help keep runners well-nourished and ready to win.

Long Distance Running
Ultra Running

Foods for Runners and Joggers: Runners Diet

A good diet can boost your physical health and help you meet your fitness goals. Make sure your meals emphasize the following basic components:

  • Fruit and vegetables for vitamins, minerals and antioxidants

  • Lean protein such as fish, poultry, beans, lentils and tofu

  • Healthy fats such as olive oil, avocado and nuts

  • Healthy carbohydrates such as rice, whole grain breads/pastas and oatmeal

Athletes may have different optimal balances, but in general, people who include running or jogging as part of their fitness regimen should get 60% to 70% of their calories from carbohydrates, with lean protein and healthy fats each accounting for 15% to 20% of their remaining calories.

Don’t skimp on carbohydrates

While low carbohydrate diets have gained popularity among those seeking weight loss, they may not be suitable for distance runners who rely heavily on carbohydrates for endurance.

Very low carbohydrate diets like the ketogenic diet, when combined with running, are generally not recommended for runners. Unless specifically advised and monitored by a healthcare professional, adopting a keto diet while running may not be medically safe.

Runners Diet
Oat Meal

For distance runners, carbohydrates play a crucial role as they require more carbs compared to individuals who aren't engaged in regular training. Insufficient carbohydrate intake can strain the body and hinder post-run recovery.

Here's why: Running utilizes both glucose in the bloodstream and glycogen stored in the liver and muscles as primary fuel sources. Consuming an adequate amount of carbohydrates ensures these energy stores are replenished to support training sessions effectively. When carbohydrate stores become depleted, runners are more susceptible to energy depletion and hitting a physical or mental wall during their workouts.

Running Diet — Vitamins and Minerals

Running changes your body and your nutritional needs. Often when people start a running regimen, they are trying to lose weight or get in shape quickly, and they don’t realize they need to adjust their diet.

Especially in women runners, tend to overdo the running while not eating enough, and this can have an effect on health if they do not adequately replenish lost vitamins and minerals in their diet.

For women in particular, calcium and vitamin D are essential for bone health to avoid loss of bone mineral density and the risk of stress fractures.

Grape fruits and Supplements
Real Food Vs Supplements - Vitamins

For more vitamin D, include these foods in your meals:

  • Vitamin D-fortified dairy and almond, soy or rice based beverages

  • Eggs

  • Cereal fortified with vitamin D

  • Tuna

  • Salmon

For more calcium, try:

  • Yogurt and cheese

  • Tofu

  • Edamame

  • Almonds

  • Canned fish with bones (such as sardines)

Iron deficiency can affect women and even have an impact on their running performance. Menstruation puts female athletes at higher risk of iron deficiency, and if iron isn’t replenished in the diet, decreases in hemoglobin can occur and bring on anemia. Hemoglobin is what carries oxygen throughout the body, including the muscles, so if there is a deficit, the muscles may feel the effect of insufficient oxygen during exercise.

Iron-rich foods include:

  • Poultry and other meat

  • Legumes, such as peas and beans

  • Dark, leafy green vegetables such as kale

  • Dried fruits and raisins

  • Iron-fortified breads and cereals

Eating iron rich foods in combination with foods high in vitamin C, such as citrus, bell peppers or berries, since vitamin C helps increase the body’s absorption of iron.

What to Eat Before Running ― and When

For optimal performance, aim to consume a full meal approximately two to three hours before your run. Ensure that the meal includes a combination of carbohydrates and protein, prioritizing healthy carbohydrate sources.

If it's been longer than three to four hours since your last meal, consider having a carbohydrate-rich snack about 30 minutes before running to ensure sufficient glucose levels for your workout. Prior to your run, focus on consuming easily digestible carbohydrates to minimize the risk of gastrointestinal discomfort such as cramps or diarrhea.

Try these:

  • Bananas

  • Oats

  • Slice of bread

  • Potatoes

Glucose Boosters for Long Distance Runners

If you are training for a marathon or distance event and are going to be out for over an hour, you will want to bring some fuel with you. Energy drinks, gels and other sources of quick blood-glucose boosters are available, but you can also use something as simple as fruit snacks.

Try practicing with these items as you train so you can pick the formulas that are best for you, and you can work on accessing and ingesting them smoothly without breaking stride.

What foods should runners avoid?

Before a run or the night before a big race, Eidel recommends going easy on:

  • Spicy foods or foods overly high in fat, which can cause GI upset

  • Foods that are very high in fiber, which can cause gas and cramping

  • Caffeine ― Although it is tempting to grab a caffeine boost right before a run, runners should remember that for some people, caffeine can stimulate the GI tract, which can result in diarrhea or the need for an emergency bathroom break

Does carb-loading work?

It's possible. Carb loading involves consuming a substantial amount of carbohydrates, especially those easily absorbed like white bread, pasta, and rice, 24 to 48 hours prior to a significant race or long-distance run. This practice aims to replenish the body's glycogen stores and reduce the risk of exhaustion during the event.

Research suggests that carb loading can benefit individuals preparing for a race. However, it's crucial to ensure that during this period, the body also receives adequate rest to effectively store the ingested carbohydrates. The recommended amount of carbohydrate grams varies from person to person, but generally, carb loading has shown to be advantageous before a long-distance event.

On the other hand, casual runners may not require carb loading. Simply incorporating extra carbohydrates into their daily diets can suffice.

What to Eat After a Run

It’s common for people not to feel hungry after a run, but a snack or light meal of complex carbohydrates and protein within the first hour after running can help replenish glycogen stores and to support recovery and rebuild stressed muscles. For example:

  • Peanut butter and banana

  • Egg on toast (whole wheat)

  • Comfort food - local delicacy of protein rich and carbs

  • Protein shake or smoothie (if your hunger has gone for a toss)

Running to Lose Weight

If you’re interested in running as part of a weight loss plan, getting adequate nutrition is a must. Even casual running or jogging burns calories and can be hard on the body. Runners can become undernourished at first because they don’t understand how much energy they’re burning when they run and what they need to properly recover.

Eating enough is also essential to building muscles, which can aid in fat burning ― a plus for people working on achieving or maintaining a healthy weight.

For optimal weight loss, your plan should not rely on running alone but also include strength training and proper nutrition.

Listen to your body

If you run regularly, you should pay attention to the effects of what you eat and when, especially on running performance. Learning what works best for you can take some time and a little trial and error, but it is worth it, since running, jogging and other regular aerobic exercise offers so many health advantages.

Instead of mimicking the diet plan of other runners, it's a good idea to consult a dietitian or doctor, and listen to your body if you’re not keeping up with your training goals.


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