Smart Eating Rules for Runners

Smart Eating Rules for Runners

by Crystal (SU)

A runner's diet has to perform two functions: maintain good health and promote peak performance.

Since runners expend extraordinary amounts of energy daily – sometimes for long hours – these athletes should eat healthy foods to fuel their workouts and build stronger bodies.

Their eating plans need to be sensible, healthy, and powerfully nutritious.

The Ideal Diet for Runners

A good nutritious plan for an athlete is built on four pillars:

  • Commitment and accountability – Athletes must be dedicated to fine-tuning their nutritional plan to balance the right foods in the right proportions, with correct preparation and timing. 
  • Eating for the sport – Different sports require different energy levels. These change with the seasons, and different types of nutrition may, therefore, be required. The main goal should be to "eat what you burn." Athletes need to focus on the quantity, quality, and nature of their food.
  • The macros – During practices, games, or training, an athlete can burn between 800 and 1,500 calories – so those calories need to be replaced. Every meal should contain servings of lean protein, colorful fruits or vegetables, healthy fats, and whole-grain, high-fiber carbohydrates. Macros aid in building muscle, endurance training, and maintaining overall good health.
  • Real food – Athletes need fresh, high-quality, nutritious food – no empty calories. Otherwise, their bodies won't recover quickly, muscle synthesis will degrade, and performance will be compromised. Beware of marketing gimmicks, because "fitness foods," “energy drinks,” and "paleo packs" and bars are chock-full of sugar, salt, unhealthy carbohydrates, preservatives, and additives.

The Three Main Meals

Food can make or break a run. The right combinations of foods will help give long-lasting energy.

Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are equally important in your eating repertoire:

  • Breakfast – A well-balanced breakfast includes at least three different food groups containing protein, complex carbohydrates, and fiber to provide energy and stave off hunger.
  • Lunches – Be sure to consume low-fiber whole grains, lean proteins, and complex carbohydrates that provide long-lasting energy for your run. Low-fiber vegetables, healthy fats, and antioxidant-rich foods will help repair tired muscles and replenish your carbohydrate levels.
  • Dinners – The night before a marathon, dinner should consist of the right types of carbohydrates, proteins, and nutrients.

Foods to Avoid Before Running

  • High-fiber foods – These can cause gastrointestinal distress or diarrhea if consumed the night before or morning of a long run. They should be eaten when you don't have a long run the next day.
  • High-fat foods – These digest slowly and give a heavy feeling, so they should be avoided before a run.
  • Caffeine – This can cause stomach issues or diarrhea if one is not used to it. Those accustomed to caffeine may get a boost to their performance.

Safe Pre-Run Foods

Familiar foods that are low in fat and fiber, and high in carbohydrates, will boost your energy without upsetting your stomach.

  • Refined carbohydrates – These are easy on the stomach because the whole grain is already broken down. 
  • Low-fiber fruits and vegetables – Grapes, grapefruit, olives, tomatoes, and zucchini are all low in fiber and provide excellent fuel before a run.
  • Dairy substitutes – Non-dairy milks derived from almonds, oats, rice, or soy don't contain allergenic lactose. Acidophilus milk and yogurts with live cultures contain bacteria that help digestion, so these are all good options.

Five Nutritional Rules for Runners 

1. Eat Less Fiber Before a Run 

Too much pre-run fiber can cause a rumbling tummy or runner’s trots. Fiber-rich foods should be consumed more than four hours before a run to allow for digestion. 

2. Eat More Salt

Runners have higher sodium needs, especially when hot and humid weather causes excessive sweating. If you don’t replace salt losses, it could lead to dehydration and impact your running performance.

3. Drink Your 


Runners are encouraged to consume calories in liquid form. Sports drinks are formulated with a unique mixture of energy, electrolytes, and fluid to get fuel and liquid into their systems quickly. 

4. Sugar in Moderation

Sugar provides instant, digestible energy. Many sports nutrition products contain the proper glucose-to-fructose ratio to ensure optimal absorption. 

5. Avoid New Foods

Experimenting with foods you’ve never tried before too close to race day can be disastrous. They should be tried and tested throughout your training to see how well your body tolerates the food. 

General Diet Principles for Runners

  • Unprocessed foods – Fresh, nutritious, heart-healthy foods – such as fish, fruits, lean meats, vegetables, and whole grains – help provide essential nutrients, help fuel your workouts, and aid in your post-run recovery.
  • Small meals – The extra calories needed are better ingested in small meals every three to four hours. Mini meals help maintain energy levels while helping to prevent hunger and overeating.
  • Eat favorite foods – Sensibly indulge in small portions to avoid cravings and bingeing. This saves calories and keeps you satisfied. 
  • Mix things up – To avoid boredom and one-sided nutrition, enjoy healthful carbohydrate choices, as fruits and vegetables supply different nutrients. Eating a variety of different colorful produce ensures complete nutrition.
  • Protein – This provides energy and repairs damaged tissue. Proteins should constitute 15% of your daily intake. Long-distance and marathon runners should consume 0.5 to 0.75 grams of protein per pound of body weight. Beans, cheese, eggs, fish, lean meats, milk, nuts, poultry, vegetables, and whole grains all provide protein.

Eating for Recovery

Pre- and post-workout nutrition is essential for an athletic body. Foods before a run help to energize, hydrate, and power you up. Ideal foods after a workout help you regain strength, recover more quickly, and be ready for the next workout.

Post-workout meals should contain carbohydrates like bread, pasta, rice, or beans to refuel the glycogen levels in your body. Fueling needs vary depending on duration, activity levels, and physical fitness goals. It's important to assess what works best for you.

Hydration is always important, especially when exercising. Fluids regulate body temperature, remove waste, lubricate the joints, and eliminate damaged cells. Proper hydration also helps control hunger cravings.

Who Can Help Me Achieve Ultimate Fitness?

If you are a runner who wants a supportive and experienced medical team on your side, contact the Physicians Weight Loss Centers for expert advice and guidance.

Call (410) 309-6570 to set up an appointment today, or fill out our online form for your free weight-loss analysis!