For runners, sticking to meal plans or a nutrition program is just as important as keeping to an exercise or training regimen. Since everything you eat and drink will affect your performance, strategically fueling yourself with nutritious snacks and healthy meal options is the best way to strengthen your body while staying healthy. Keep in mind these nutritional tips when meal planning.
Helpful Nutrition Tips for Runners
- The majority of a runner’s diet should be whole foods, not energy bars or smoothies.
- Understand the difference between fast and slow carbs.
- Clean protein. For runners who eat meat, the best sources of protein come from the white meats.
- Cut back on artificial and unnecessary sugars.
- Perfection can be the enemy of progress. Start slow and allow yourself a cheat day every now and then.
1. The majority of a runner’s diet should be whole foods, not energy bars or smoothies.
By sticking to healthy options like fish, fruits and vegetables, whole grains, chicken, and low-fat dairy, you’ll get the nutrients you need without cutting corners by relying on processed foods. Drinking smoothies and snacking on energy bars is okay as a supplement, but try not to replace entire meals with these convenience-based alternatives. Helpful tip: By stocking up on fruits, vegetables and healthy snacks at home, you can meal prep, and have much better control over what and how much your eating and drinking each day.
2. Understand the difference between fast and slow carbs.
High-fiber, low-fiber, slow, fast, good, bad, the list goes on. It’s easy to get confused when first learning about nutritional values, but one thing for sure is that the majority of your diet is made up of some type of carbohydrate, so completely slashing them from your diet just to get in shape won’t always help you.
Food with carbohydrates that are high in fiber like oatmeal, fruit, and vegetables are good carbs because they are slowly digested and will give you long-lasting energy. These slow, good carbs should be the basis of your healthy diet as a runner whereas food made of low-fiber carbs like white rice, potatoes, or white/processed pasta are quickly digested; providing energy faster than slow carbs will. That’s not to say you can’t eat low-fiber carbs, but do so in moderation. Since you’ll be burning more energy than you did before starting your training program (or becoming a runner), you’ll want to stick to the more fiber-packed foods when planning your meals (whole grains, oats, fruits, and vegetables, etc.).
3. Clean protein.
High-protein diets are essential to runners since they promote muscle strength — meaning stronger tendons and faster recovery from injuries, satiety, weight loss, better sleep patterns, and reduced caloric intake. For runners who eat meat, the best sources of protein come from the white meats: chicken, turkey, and fish. For vegans or vegetarians, we recommend getting protein from nutritious foods like seitan, tofu, tempeh, edamame, lentils, green peas, oats and oatmeal, chia seeds, nuts, amaranth, and quinoa. Keep an open and mix it up with new foods or plant-based protein powder, you may find something you never knew you’d like.
4. Cut back on artificial and unnecessary sugars.
Consuming less alcohol, sodas, sweets, sugary snacks and anything with artificial sugars will significantly improve not only your performance training as a runner but quality of life as well. A good rule of thumb: Sugars that come from natural sources are better for you and will provide far better energy than foods made of processed sugars. Try replacing sugary snacks like candy or breakfast bars with fruits like apples or fresh-mixed berries to add color to your diet while still getting a healthy serving of sugar and satisfying your sweet tooth in an unexpected way!
5. Perfection can be the enemy of progress.
By allowing yourself an occasional soda or sweet treat at dinner, you can keep cravings in check and avoid binges. It’s all about portion control, frequency, and maintaining balance — opting for a healthy diet that works for you. Quitting your current habits cold turkey tomorrow will only cause frustration and burnout. Set small goals like choosing a glass of water rather than a soda that will just be small changes rather than complete lifestyle overhaul. Start slow and allow yourself a cheat day every now and then. Let’s face it — life is short, and food is good.