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What Should Runners Eat: Essential Nutrition Tips for Runners

If you are a runner, you would know that diet is an integral part of success. When it comes to training as a runner, the diet that you consume is as important as the running itself. Even when you eat a healthy, balanced diet, some foods are better for runners and a diet particularly designed for runners would have more to benefit the runner by way of better performance. 

 


For instance, long-distance runners require a good carbohydrate source to provide for glycogen reserves in the body. On the other hand, short distance runners would require protein to build muscle mass and maintain them to allow for greater acceleration and faster speed.

 


Regardless of the length of your run, there are elements of the diet that you can control to help you see real results in performance. Some food will help you run longer, while others will help you run faster. 

 


This article will discuss various aspects of a runners diet. We will try to cover most tangents to provide you with a good idea of the type of diet you should look to maintain to see optimum results from training. 

 


Hence, without further adieu, let’s dive into the good stuff.

 

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Best Food For Runners

When it comes to food choices, though eating clean, energy-rich food is the key to success, some foods actually help runners more than others. This is because the nutrient profile of these foods contains nutrients that are able to boost performance levels, making them ideal for runners. 

 


Hence, before anything else, let’s take a look at the food that is considered the best for runners, so you have a good idea of the food that you should include in your diet. 

 


1. Potatoes

Potatoes are starchy vegetables that are a great source of energy for runners. They contain valuable amounts of potassium which makes them a must for runners. You should look to include potatoes in as many meals as possible. 

 


As a carbohydrate source, potatoes have a lower calorie content than rice for instance. When you combine potatoes with a rich protein source such as lean chicken, salmon or eggs, they make for a great recovery meal. Such a meal would contain good portions of both carbohydrates and protein. The carbohydrates will be responsible for recovering energy levels, while the protein work to repair and maintain muscle mass. 

 


As a rich source of potassium, potatoes are able to work to balance the fluids and electrolyte levels in the body. This helps regulate heartbeat and prevent muscle cramping. The fact that potassium works to prevent muscle cramping is the primary reason why potatoes are so valuable for runners. 

 


During a run, the runner tends to lose potassium through sweat. Hence, it is important that you have a good reserve of potassium in your body to prevent cramping, which otherwise would be disastrous on performance. 

 


Potatoes are also a valuable source of vitamin A, with one large potato providing the total daily requirement of the vitamin. Vitamin A is an important vitamin for runners. Not only does it improve eyesight and boost immune function, but it also works to strengthen bone tissue. The stronger bone tissues you have, the less susceptible you will be to injuries while running. 

 


The various nutrients in potatoes make them a valuable source of nutrition for runners. If you were not aware of how valuable potatoes can be for runners, now you know. 

 


2. Cherry Juice

When it comes to running, you know there is an element of pain involved. Cherries actually help you manage pain and can be very valuable for runners after a run. 

 


Post-run muscle pain is a common thing that many runners experience. Enduring this pain is a part of recovery. When it comes to training, repeated strenuous exercise is an inbuilt component of training. This is where cherry juice shines bright. Cherry juice contains nutrients that work to ease muscle pain, thereby enabling your to recover faster. This leads to the ability to continue training without painful muscles slowing you down. 

 


Studies have noticed that runners who drank cherry juice leading up the race noticed less pain after the run in comparison to the placebo group. 

 


Cherry juice can be a valuable addition to the training regimen for runners. Regardless of the length of the run you partake in, it is sure to help you boost performance. 

 


3.  Whole-Grain Pasta

Pasta is a great source of carbohydrates which is the most important energy source for runners, especially long-distance runners. 

 


A meal containing whole-grain pasta works to increase glycogen stores in the body which is broken down during a run to form glucose, which is the primary energy source. Hence, when it comes to long-distance runners, eating pasta on the night before a marathon is almost essential for success. 

 


Whole-grain pasta in comparison to other types of pasta works to keep you full for a longer period of time. They also contain additional B vitamins that are essential for building muscle. This enables improved endurance levels, thereby improving performance. 

 


You have most to gain from enjoying your pasta with some tuna instead of heavier meats. This will prevent the meal from sitting too heavily on your stomach but is still loaded with essential nutrients. 

 

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4. Dark Chocolate

Surprisingly, a little dark chocolate, eaten on an occasional basis can provide you with great nutritional value for a runner. As a runner, you are allowed to treat yourself on an occasional basis. When you do consider treating yourself, opting for dark chocolate brings with it great value. 

 


Dark chocolate contains about 70% cacao, which makes it great for lowering blood pressure. The nutrients in cacao also work to reduce cholesterol levels. The combination of lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels provide beneficial for cardiac health. The healthier your heart will be, the better oxygen delivery to muscles in your body. 

 


Dark chocolate also contains flavanols which work to reduce inflammation caused by intensive exercise. This can help you recover faster and help build endurance. 

 


This occasional treat will go a long way in fine-tuning your body, especially your heart for better performance during exercise. It will allow for stronger training sessions and a better run overall. 

 


 5. Plain Yoghurt

Yoghurt has a healthy amount of both carbohydrates and protein. It contains a high percentage of essential amino acids which are important nutrients that have to be sourced from diet alone. These amino acids cannot be synthesised by the body, hence have to obtained through food. 

 


When consumed after a run, the amino acids in yoghurt will work to boost muscle recovery. They will work to protect your muscles from injury, thereby building a stronger self. 

 


Yoghurt also contains calcium, which is important for bone health. The calcium in yoghurt will lead to stronger bones, which obviously is very important for runners. 

 


As an added bonus, yoghurt also contains live lactic acid bacteria, better known as probiotics. These probiotics work to stimulate the gut flora and boost the action of good bacteria in your gut. This resultantly helps you boost immune health, which is important for everyone, not just runners. 

 


6. Broccoli

When it comes to green vegetables, broccoli is on the top of the list for runners. They contain helpful amounts of vitamin C, making them one of the best choices for runners. 

 


You may be wondering why vitamin C is so important for runners. Vitamin C actually works to reduce the risk of developing sore muscles after an intense workout. No sore muscles mean you recover after a run much faster. This is very valuable for runners who know how difficult sore muscles can be during training. 

 


Broccoli also contains vitamin K, calcium and folic acid which works to strengthen bones. The stronger of a skeletal system you have, the less likely you will encounter a running-related injury. 

 


If you are not a fan of boiled broccoli on its own, you can try to combine it with some tofu, salmon or lean beef for added taste and nutritional value. 

 

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7. Pure Peanut Butter

Pure peanut butter doesn’t contain added sugar, salt or oil, making it a healthier option than conventional peanut butter and is ideal for runners. It is a great source of vitamin E which is an important antioxidant.

 


Though peanut butter contains fat making it high in calories, the fat in peanut butter is monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids. These fats work to lower cholesterol levels and are important for improving immune health. They also help with post-run recovery and will keep you safer from running-related injuries. 

 


The protein in peanut butter makes it valuable in a post-run meal, for it contains the amino acids that are necessary to grow muscles. It will allow you to build lean muscle mass from training, which is very important for runners. 

 


8. Oats

Oats are considered the best breakfast choice for runners to enjoy before a run. They contain plenty of carbohydrates (about 25 grams per serving) and is high in fibre. 

 


The fibre content of oats may cause digestive issues for some, hence it is important to eat your oats with plenty of time at hand before the run. So long as you allow yourself an hour or two to digest the oats before a run, you should be fine. 

 


Oats are low in the glycemic index. This means that it works to raise blood sugar levels slowly, which provides you with longer-lasting energy that is easier to sustain and maintain. It will allow you to maintain good energy levels throughout the run. It also works to keep you feeling full for a longer period of time, which will prevent hunger from hampering performance. 

 


Runners require plenty of carbohydrates to fuel their activity and oats are a valuable carbohydrate source that should not be overlooked. 

 


9.  Bananas

When it comes to fruits, no fruit is of more importance for runners than bananas. They are a high-carbohydrate fruit that works as a great energy booster. This is why you see long-distance runners eating bananas during a marathon. 

 


They also contain heaps of potassium (about 400 mg) which is especially important for long-distance runners. Potassium works to prevent cramps and good amounts of potassium in the body are required to prevent cramps. During a run, runners lose a lot of potassium through sweat, which result in cramps if you are found to be deficient in potassium. This is why it is important to have a good potassium reserve in your body to prevent the havoc of cramps from hampering performance. 

 


Other minerals in bananas such as sodium, chloride and magnesium work to lower blood pressure in the body, which is important for cardiac health and effective oxygen delivery.

 


When it comes to fruits, no fruit is more valuable to runners than bananas. It is a high-carbohydrate fruit that provides the body with all the necessary nutrients to enable you to build stamina, endurance and optimise performance. 

 


To get a deeper understanding of why bananas are important for long-distance runners, we recommend that you read this article linked herewith.

 

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10. Eggs

When it comes to runners, protein is almost as important as carbohydrates. Though carbohydrates provide the fuel for the run and are considered the obvious choice for runners, proteins are an important aspect of training when it comes to muscle recovery. 

 


Runners tend to wear and tear muscles during training and will require healthy sources of protein to repair and maintain muscle mass. Eggs are a great source of protein and are considered the easiest to digest protein source. In comparison to other protein sources such as fish and meat, eggs are much easier for your body to digest, making them the more obvious choice of protein for a pre-run meal. 

 


Eggs also contain high levels of essential vitamins and minerals which can work to maintain internal body function at optimum levels, allowing for greater endurance, leading to stronger training. 

 


Up to three eggs are day are considered safe for consumption. To get a better idea of how eggs help runners, we recommend that you read this article, linked herewith. 

 


11. Almonds

You should look to eat almonds 3 to 5 times a week. They contain heaps of vitamin E which helps to ease muscle soreness and will work to aid with recovery. 

 


Vitamin E works to prevent the damaging effects of oxidative stress and muscle damage. Almonds containing vitamin E is a great addition to a pre-run meal and contains heaps of nutrients that will help boost performance levels. 

 


You can add almonds to your stew or casserole for added nutrient value or even make some nutty almond soup. Otherwise, they are great for munching as a snack and can be valuable post-run snack to help ease muscle soreness. 

 


12. Salmon

Salmon is a valuable source of omega-3 fatty acids which are integral for health. Studies have actually led us to believe that omega-3 fatty acids as those found in salmon can work to minimise post-workout soreness. 

 


Hence, for runners, salmon can prove as a great recovery food that will help fight off muscle aches and soreness after a long run. Though you can take omega-3 supplementation to reap the same benefits, further studies are required to understand the wider and long-term impact of taking such supplements. Hence, it is a good idea to reap the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids through healthy dietary choices such as salmon. 

 


For a list of valuable omega-3 fatty acid sources which can all be beneficial for runners, find the article linked herewith. 

 

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Food For Runners to Avoid

Similar to the food that is considered valuable for runners, some foods are simply better left out and avoided. This is because they contain too many negative attributes for them to be good for runners and will work to hamper performance as opposed to improving it. 

 


Sugary foods are on the top of the list for they cause insulin spikes. Though sugar works to provide you with a quick boost of energy, they don’t really work to sustain healthy levels of energy. This results in energy dips leading to early onset of fatigue and tiredness. 

 


Transfats and saturated fats are similarly bad for runners and will more likely affect cardiac health. They are known to increase cholesterol levels, which could negatively impact oxygen delivery in the body. Further to this, they are fats, which could lead to weight gain and the inability to maintain lean muscle mass. They could work to negatively impact the physique, which would impact performance levels. 

 


Fried food are too similarly bad for cardiac health and brings with them unnecessary amounts of fat and oil which could hamper wellbeing. Runners should opt to eat a whole foods based balanced diet and steer clear of greasy fried food including fast food. 

 


With the obvious inclusion of alcohol which should be avoided, caffeine too can lead to energy dips which can be detrimental to performance. Both alcohol and caffeine should be avoided by runners who are serious about performance. 

 


For a better idea of the types of food that runners should avoid, find the full list of 15 foods herewith linked

 

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What Should Runners Eat Before a Run?

Before a run, a runner requires a good carbohydrate source coupled with some protein. The carbohydrates will provide excellent fuel for the run, while the protein will work to repair muscles that are used during the run. 

 


Oats with milk is a popular choice of breakfast for many runners. It has a good balance of carbohydrates and protein to make it a worthy pre-run meal. Ideally, regardless of what you eat, you should award yourself an hour or two after a meal for digestion before the run. This is especially important for high fibre food such as oats, which otherwise could cause digestive distress during the run. 

 


Fruit salad with greek yoghurt is another healthy choice as a pre-run meal for runners. Fruits provide greater levels of hydration while supplementing your body with the necessary vitamins and minerals for a strong performance. Greek yoghurt contains a good amount of carbohydrates and protein to make it a suitable choice for many runners. Not only does the meal provide fuel for the run, but it also works to maintain muscles which are an important aspect of performance for runners. 

 


When it comes to fruit, it is a good idea to include bananas in the pre-run meal. This will allow your body to load up on potassium reserves, thereby preventing any cramps caused by potassium deficiency. 

 


Whole-wheat bread with peanut butter and sliced bananas can too be a great pre-run meal that provides great nutritional value for runners. 

 

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What Should Runners Eat After a Run?

After a run, your muscles are worn out, which means you require a good protein source to help repair and build muscle. This has to be combined with a healthy carbohydrate source to fuel the recovery. Simply eating protein alone will not help you recover faster. You need a reliable carbohydrate source to replenish lost glycogen reserves and maintain healthy blood sugar levels. 

 


Grilled chicken with vegetables and rice is a popular choice amongst runners after a run. This meal provides a good mix of protein and carbohydrates to enable good recovery. The vegetables provide added value by providing the body with a healthy source of vitamins and minerals which may have depleted during the run. 

 


The point of a post-run meal is to replenish lost energy, repair muscles and restore vitamin and mineral reserves. Hence, you require a meal that has plenty of essential nutrients to ensure good recovery, enabling you to get back up and train again the next day. 

 


Salmon with potato is also a good choice for a post-run meal. It contains a healthy source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids with a starchy carbohydrate source, making it very valuable for runners. 

 


Fruits are too important parts of a post-run meal and will provide added hydration coupled with providing the body with essential vitamins and minerals. Chances are, you lost many minerals through sweat during the run. Hence, after the run, it is important to restore these lost nutrients to enable proper recovery and preparation for the next stage of training. 

 

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Food That Builds Stamina

If you are a long-distance runner and are looking to build stamina, your diet can help you achieve this. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables provides the body with a healthy dose of nutrients that are essential for basic bodily functions. Ensuring a good reserve of these nutrients will provide for a healthier self, that will undoubtedly lead to a stronger performance. 

 


Coupled with fruits and vegetables, healthy protein sources such as fatty fish and eggs provide the body with the necessary protein to maintain muscle mass. If you are looking to build stamina, you need to maintain a lean physique with fine-tuned muscles capable of performing for longer. The amino acids in the fatty fish and eggs provide the body with the ability to maintain quality muscle mass, which will enable you to perform longer without feeling the onset of tiredness. Stronger muscles equate to more stamina, which is why a healthy protein source is very valuable. 

 


Healthy muscle mass is of no use unless you provide the body with a healthy source of fuel. Hence, you require a high-quality carbohydrate source too. The trick to building stamina is choosing carbohydrate sources that will slowly raise your blood sugar levels, thereby providing the body with a constant supply of energy. Foods such as brown rice, oats and potatoes are great sources of carbohydrates which does just that. They provide the body with a healthy source of fuel that will burn to provide you with sustained energy levels, allow you to run better and longer. 

 


Lastly, you don’t want to forget nuts. Nuts give your body an instant boost of energy which will help you maintain healthy energy levels. Almonds are a great choice of nuts and provide exceptional nutritional value that will help you perform better. 

 


By tweaking your diet to deliver essential nutrients, you can train your body to build stamina. If you are looking to build stamina, we recommend that you take into account these considerations and incorporate them into your training regimen. Undoubtedly, over time, you should start to notice results. 

 

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Food That Builds Speed

When considering speed, muscle mass and body fat content are important aspects of performance. The less fat you have in your body, the faster you will run. Hence, you should be looking to maintain healthy lean muscle, with a low body fat content. 

 


If you are looking to improve speed by cutting weight, you have to keep an eye on your carbohydrate intake. You should look to include only low glycemic index carbohydrate sources like oats and steer clear of high glycemic index carbohydrates such as short-grain white rice. 

 


You also want to include high-quality protein sources such as salmon and beef to increase muscle mass and burn more fat. Obvious to state, sugars will not help you with anything. However, sugars that are found in fruits can be healthy and will provide a great addition to the diet to help you build speed. 

 

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Carb-Loading: What You Need to Know

Carb-loading is popular amongst runners, especially long-distance runners. It allows for you the runner to load up on carbohydrates to have a good store of glycogen reserves to provide as energy and fuel during the run. 

 


It is advised that you start carb-loading 3 to 7 days before a race. During carb-loading, you should seek to attain 85 to 95 percent of your calories from carbohydrates. This means you should seek to intake 3.6 to 5.5 grams of carbohydrates per pound of body weight. This is actually a whole lot of carbs.

 


Carbohydrates are way more important than protein and fats before a race for runners. While proteins and fats are important for muscle maintenance, you don’t expect to require too much protein or fats before a race. What is required is a steady supply of glycogen to be converted to glucose to provide as fuel for the run. 

 


This is why many runners partake in carb-loading before a race. It enables them to consume large amounts of carbohydrates to increase glycogen reserves in the body, enabling more sustained energy throughout the race. 

 


To Conclude

As you may have realised, diet plays an integral part in the success of any runner. Regardless of the distance you run, diet will provide the means to fine-tune your performance. 

 


If you are a long-distance runner, you would require a high intake of carbohydrates while short distance runners require both carbohydrates and protein in good portions. The trick to success with short distance running is lowering body fat content, which is where watching your carbohydrate intake during training works to benefit. 

 


We aimed to provide you with a good source of information that explains the importance of diet for runners. We hope after reading this word to word, you have a good idea about the types of food that you should be eating and have a good idea of the ones you should avoid to optimise performance. 

 


Remember, diet is a part of training as the training itself. Hence, take into account what you eat and you should start to notice improvements in your performance levels.

 


Happy Training!

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