If you’re a new runner, or a wannabe runner, you should realize the important role that nutrition can play in helping you succeed and feel good in training. Whether you’re a recreational runner or a competitive racer, whether you simply want to get in some miles or are striving to improve your times, eating healthy and drinking enough water can impact your performance, endurance and recovery.
But with all the information out there about nutrition for runners, it can feel a bit overwhelming to know what to do. There are no special formulas here that will make you an ultramarathoner or an elite sprinter, but just solid, straightforward recommendations.
Review these smart tips on nutrition for runners, courtesy of the experts at Runner’s World, Active.com and VeryWell Fit. Adopt them and hit the road!
Nutrition for Runners
- Analyze your diet. This seems like a hassle, but keeping a food log for 5-7 days, tracking everything you eat and drink, gives you a good picture of what you’re taking in now. Be honest, and don’t forget that handful of nuts before dinner or the mini candy bar you picked up from your coworker’s desk. No shame; just information. See where you might be eating too many processed foods or high-fat selections; not enough fruits and vegetables, or if you’re not drinking enough water.
- Eat three meals a day. Don’t skip meals in hopes of minimizing calorie intake. This leads to low blood sugar, which can make you hangry and tempted to eat whatever you can find, regardless of nutrition value. Spacing out meals regularly helps keep your energy stable and your metabolism humming. Small snacks are fine also, but aim for low-calorie items like fruit, granola or protein bars, yogurt and popcorn.
- Choose complex carbohydrates. Carbs are excellent energy sources and are NOT bad; in fact, they should be about 60-65% of your diet. Eat whole grain pasta, rice and breads; fresh fruit and vegetables, cereal, seeds and legumes.
- Consume sufficient protein. Protein helps with muscle repair, which is critical if you are logging a lot of miles. Select lean red meats, chicken and turkey, fish, eggs, beans, soy and tofu. Higher-fat sources like nuts and cheese are acceptable in moderation. Aim for 20-35% of your diet to be protein.
- Favor “good” fats. You don’t have to totally avoid fats, as they also provide fuel, but try to limit them to 15-20% of your total diet. Choose monosaturated versions, such as avocados, canola oil, olive oil and flaxseed oil, instead of lard, deep-fried or processed foods. Polyunsaturated fats, found in fish and seeds, are another good option. It’s OK to treat yourself occasionally as well, with your favorite ice cream or French fries. If you’re consistently running, you should burn those off.
- Opt for supplements. Vitamins should not take the place of a healthy diet, but can fill in gaps as insurance. Antioxidants like vitamins A, C and E help combat the damage of free radicals that are produced from exercise. Minerals like calcium, iron and sodium and potassium are important for runners as well. A multivitamin doesn’t guarantee optimal performance, of course, but can make up for shortcomings in your diet.
- Maintain proper hydration. Dehydration is actually fairly common, and can cause headaches, fatigue and muscle cramps. Drink water throughout the day, and carry a bottle when you run. Energy drinks can rehydrate during and after long runs, but don’t load up on juices or smoothies, which contain a lot of sugar. Also limit consumption of caffeine and alcohol, which are diuretics that encourage fluid loss.