Runner’s diet: what to know

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Running takes a lot of energy, but knowing what and when to eat can be confusing for new runners. Eating a balanced diet with adequate carbohydrates will keep runners energized and satisfied.

Each plan is individual. No single diet works for everyone, and there is no specific diet that works for every runner.

If someone is starting a running program, they may want to make some changes to their current diet. They can to concentrate to consume an adequate amount of carbohydrates, to eat enough before and after training and to fill his plate with various fruits and vegetables.

A person’s calorie needs vary depending on their weight, height, and energy expenditure. Runners should be aware that they will need to increase their calories to recover and function properly when increasing their mileage.

Read on to find out what runners should eat, how they should plan their pre- and post-race meals, and more.

A runner’s diet typically includes a balance of all three macronutrients: carbohydrates, protein, and fat.

By focusing on eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, people are generally getting enough micronutrients. These include vitamins and minerals that help the body function and recover from workouts.

Macronutrients

Diet is individual and different ratios of macronutrients may work better for some people than for others. According to Institute of Medicine, people should aim to consume:

  • 45 to 65% carbohydrates
  • 10-35% protein
  • 20-35% fat

Runners should also make sure that they are consuming enough calories to support their training program. The caloric needs of a person depend on several factors, which includes:

  • resting metabolic rate
  • The daily activities
  • specific training needs
  • body composition
  • race conditions

As a general rule, the more kilometers a person travels, the more calories they will need.

Learn more about how to determine daily calorie needs.

Micronutrients

Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals, and the body uses them in many life-sustaining biological processes. A balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables will generally provide a person with a healthy level of micronutrients.

They can be particularly important for athletes.

Doing a lot of training can put the body in an inflammatory state, sometimes immunocompromised. It makes it easier to get sick and feel exhausted. A 2000 article points out that in addition to eating enough calories, consuming enough micronutrients can minimize the inflammatory effects of training.

While most people can get their micronutrients from food, some people with restricted diets may lack them.

Research from 2019 suggests that people who follow a vegetarian or vegan diet may need supplement with vitamin B12, vitamin D, and iron to replenish nutrients lost through sweating during running.

Eating enough protein, carbohydrates, and fat will keep runners fit and healthy. Although individual needs vary, many runners can follow some basic guidelines when planning their diet.

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are a fundamental component of a regime of runners. They are the most accessible form of energy in the body because they are easily broken down during exercise.

A 2008 study of elite runners found that most participants consumed 50-70% of their daily calories from carbohydrates. Those who trained at higher intensities and walked longer distances needed more carbohydrates.

While most amateur runners don’t run the 100 or more miles per week that elites do, they should still focus on getting enough carbs. Eating too little can lead to slow runs, poor recovery, injury, and overtraining.

Nutritional sources of carbohydrates contain fiber, vitamins and minerals. Some popular sources of carbohydrates among runners understand:

Learn more about nutritious, high-carbohydrate foods to try.

Some runners limit their fiber intake at certain times to avoid gastrointestinal discomfort. This could mean eating a low-fiber meal before a workout, long run, or run. However, the amount and types of carbohydrates that an individual’s gut can tolerate vary from person to person. Runners may therefore want to experiment with the pre-race foods that work best for them.

Protein

Protein builds and repairs hard-working bones, tissues, and muscles. This means that eating enough protein is essential for muscle recovery after training.

a little 2017 study elite runners found that participants suffered fewer injuries and had better endurance when supplementing their diet with whey protein. However, people who run recreationally can get all the protein they need from their diet.

It can be helpful to prioritize consuming a high protein snack or meal after a run. Research of 2008 suggests that consuming a source of carbohydrate and protein after a workout promotes glycogen storage, which may aid muscle recovery.

Healthy protein sources include:

Fats

Fat is an essential part of a balanced diet and is 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 diet. Additionally, endurance athletes may notice that 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 difficult to get the right nutrition before workouts. They need to find a balance between eating enough calories and not eating foods that can upset their stomachs.

Runners should aim to eat an easily digestible meal or snack before a race. If they are doing a longer run, they may want to consume more carbohydrates to ensure they have the energy to complete the workout.

They should also prioritize a snack or meal that is high in carbohydrates and protein after the race.

Before you run

Runners should eat a small meal that is low in fat and fiber before running. They should aim to have a moderate amount of protein and a high amount of carbohydrate.

Several hours before a workout, a person should consume 1 to 4 grams (g) of carbohydrate per kilogram of body mass. An hour before running, they may want to recharge their energy stores with a small, high-carb snack, such as a banana.

While running

Runners don’t have to worry about consuming food during most races. However, long efforts like marathon training runs require people to eat while they run.

If someone runs for 1 to 2.5 hours, they should aim to consume 30-60g of carbohydrate per hour.

After running

The meal that a person consumes after a run is important for muscle recovery. What they should eat depends on the length and intensity of their run.

They need to make sure their meals contain protein to promote muscle repair and carbohydrate to replace depleted glycogen stores. In addition, they must drink plenty of water to replace lost fluids.

Whether a person is training for a 5k or a marathon, starting a new running program may require dietary changes.

Anyone who thinks they could benefit from a better understanding of how their diet affects their training may want to contact a registered dietitian. They can help a person plan their diet to support running performance and help runners cope with any issues they may have.

A runner’s diet varies from person to person, but it should incorporate a balance of macronutrients, adequate carbohydrates, and micronutrients from plant foods.

Carbohydrates are the energy source for runners because of the body’s ability to break them down quickly during episodes of intense physical activity. Runners should focus on getting enough nutrition ahead of time to fuel runs, as well as a high carbohydrate and protein snack to rebuild muscle after training.

If a person wants to improve their diet to increase their running performance, they may want to contact a registered dietitian.


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