Diet plan for a long distance runner maintains self-health and improve physical condition. Protein and iron intake should be increased to support body organs. Athletes require more stored energy than sedentary people. They burn the food faster which is why nutrition has a crucial role in their diet plan for long distance runners…
Meal Plan for Distance Runners
Woman jogging on a road.
As a distance runner, you carefully plot a training plan to improve your time, speed and endurance. Plot a nutritious meal plan in the same way to keep your body healthy, as well as fuel your training throughout the week. The last thing you want to feel on one of your distance runs is the impact of ”hitting a wall,” the phrase used when you can’t go any further because of a lack of muscle glycogen.
Overall Calorie Needs
Before getting down to the nitty gritty of what meals to eat and when, think about the bigger picture of what you need calorically. Consult a registered dietitian for a specific nutrition plan, but as a general guideline, base the number of calories you eat per day on how much running you do. If you run 30 to 60 minutes a day, aim to eat 16 to 18 calories per pound of body weight, says registered dietitian Brooke Schantz for Loyola Medicine. If you do one to 1.5 hours of activity a day, bump that up to 19 to 21 calories per pound. Up to two hours of running needs 22 to 24 calories per pound, while two to three hours requires 25 to 30 calories per pound, or more.
Meal Plans While Training
Although runners typically think more about what they eat before a long run or race, the same amount of focus should be given to your daily meals. Registered dietitian Kathleen Porter told “Fitness” magazine that runners should break down their daily meals into 60 to 70 percent of calories from carbohydrates, 20 to 30 percent from fats and 10 to 15 percent from protein. Rather than supplement with protein powders, energy bars and fish oil, create a daily meal plan from nutrient-rich whole foods. Breakfast options include oatmeal made with low-fat milk and topped with berries and walnuts or whole-wheat toast with natural peanut butter and a side of fruit. For lunch, enjoy chili made with beans or lentils, and lean ground beef and a side salad topped with olive oil. Your dinner plan could involve fish or chicken breast with a side of roasted sweet potatoes or brown rice and plenty of steamed vegetables.
Meals Before a Race or Long Run
Part of your meal plan means figuring out what to eat before a race or long run. The Competitor website recommends carbo-loading three days before the race, such as a marathon, aiming to get 70 percent of your total calories from carbs. In “Shape” magazine, nutritional consultant Mike Roussell, PhD, suggests eating a quinoa salad made with parsley, walnuts, raisins and grilled chicken for dinner the night before the race, as it provides fat, fiber and protein. The morning of the race, drink a smoothie made from fruit, nuts and protein powder. However, don’t add any unfamiliar foods to your meal plan at this point, as it can cause stomach problems during the race.
Meals for Recovery
Don’t forget to include a meal on your plan for after the race. Running coach Jeff Galloway tells Fitbie that you should eat a 100- to 300-calorie snack within 30 minutes of finishing a long run or race; one option is chocolate milk, which is a blend of protein and carbs. Around an hour to 90 minutes after the race, eat another small meal of Greek yogurt with granola and berries.
Nutrition Plan: Fueling Long Distance Runs
When training for a race, it’s important that runners are considering a crucial aspect of training which doesn’t require hitting the pavement: Nutrition. The foundation for any athletic training program is a proper diet that strategically benefits your joints, muscles and bones – which helps improve performance and reduces risk for injury.
Keep these four nutrition tips in mind and help keep your body in prime shape for your upcoming race:
Hydration is a key component of nutrition for runners. It is important to hydrate in moderation. Although the “8-cups-of-water-a-day” rule is reliable, your natural “thirst mechanism” is still the best indicator for the amount you should drink. If you are drinking steadily throughout the day, there is little need to drink a large amount prior to your run, however, the amount of water you’ll need to drink increases in hot and humid conditions.
As you drink more, it should be balanced with other fluids rich in electrolytes. Without the balance of electrolytes, excessive water intake can lead to an unsafe drop in sodium. (Left untreated, sodium deficiency can be fatal.) Sports drinks are not a bad option for electrolyte intake, but are often rich in added sugar. If you’re looking to reduce your sugar intake, consider cutting sports drinks with a third of water.
Not drinking enough throughout the day? Keep in mind, water does not necessarily have to come in pure liquid form. Although about 80% of our total water intake comes from fluids, the other 20 percent comes from our food, such as fruits, vegetables and starches.
Keep a balanced diet
An appropriately balanced diet of protein, fats and carbohydrates is essential for all runners. Elite runners track the total grams of protein, fat and carbohydrates they consume to maximize their performance… The rest of us just need to keep one principle in mind: Everything in moderation.
And one thing to specifically moderate both during training and on race day is your fiber consumption. Certain fiber rich foods, such as vegetables and oats, will increase bowel movements − and could put you in an uncomfortable spot if you’re training far from home, or leave you waiting in long lines at the race course port-a-potties.
Protein & Fats
Protein is one of the major building blocks of muscle. When you run, a lot of strain is placed on your body. After training, protein helps your body bounce back and gain lean muscle mass. Aim to consume approximately 15% of your daily calories in lean proteins like chicken, fish, nuts and eggs.
As a source of energy, monosaturated and polyunsaturated fats (aka “healthy fats”) are ideal for runners: About 25% of your diet should be comprised of healthy fats, like those found in olive oil, canola oil, soybean oil, nuts, avocados and fatty fish, such as trout and salmon.
Runners should avoid unsaturated and processed trans fats, which can contribute to heart disease, inflammation and various other conditions. These are fats that typically solidify at room temperature and are found in full-fat dairy products, red meat and some poultry.
Carbohydrates, or “carbs”, get a bad rap in popular media, but as a main fuel source for working muscles, carbohydrates are essential for nutrition. In particular, complex carbs should comprise about 50% of your diet. Your body breaks down complex carbs slowly to provide a steady source of energy—perfect for runners looking to fuel a long run. Foods rich in complex carbs include unrefined pastas, starchy vegetables, whole grains and fruits.
Contrary to complex carbohydrates, simple carbs are broken down quickly, resulting in energy spikes and crashes — not an ideal source of energy for active bodies. While training, try to avoid foods that contain simple carbs while training such as table sugar, candy and soft drinks.
After a workout, your body has depleted a good amount of nutrients and needs to refuel. Providing your body with the right mix of nutrients will allow it to recover quicker and to its full capacity.
Within 30 minutes, runners should eat a well-balanced and healthy meal containing protein, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats. This post-workout meal should include water and fluids rich in electrolytes. Believe it or not, chocolate milk has been found to be one of the best post-work out nutritional supplements. (It can be found stocked in many professional sport teams’ locker rooms for this very reason.)
Fueling for Long Distance Running/Exercise
Carbohydrates give your body energy. They are the primary fuel source for moderate to hard exercise, especially for endurance (aerobic) exercise. As exercise intensity increases, the percent of carbs used for energy increases and the percent from fat decreases.
Studies have found that during endurance events such as the Ironman triathlon and marathon, faster finish times were correlated with high carbohydrate intake rates(1). Despite this, many athletes are not consuming adequate carbohydrates to satisfy the demands of their exercise regimens, which is why we are so passionate about having a proper marathon fueling strategy.
While low carb running may seem trendy, the research shows that it’s not helping performance at all. Plus, there can be side effects.
One study found that 74% of participants (NCAA Division I female collegiate athletes) failed to meet the minimum carbohydrate recommendation(2).
Consuming carbohydrate-rich foods and drinks in the 2-4 hours before exercise helps to:
(1) Restore liver glycogen
(2) Increase muscle glycogen stores
(3) Prevent hunger, which may impair performance
(4) Provide a psychological boost, which can help avoid bonking in a marathon
Fueling Leading Up to The Race or Long Run
The goal for fueling leading up the race is high carbohydrate, moderate protein, and low fat and fiber.
The aim is to fill up your muscle fuel stores with carbohydrates and to not consume anything that sits too heavy in the stomach or takes a long time to digest, such as fats and fiber. Here are some ideas of what to eat before running in the morning.
The same principles go for ultra distances. A vegan ultramarathon runner may want to focus on simpler carbs with less fiber, or real food options. Here are some of the best foods and snacks for ultra running.
Several days prior to the race or long run, you may want to eat less fat, such as nuts, seeds, avocados, butter, cheese, etc. and less fiber such as certain fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, beans, etc. and focus more on simple carbs such as less-fiberful fruits and veggies, applesauce, fruit juice, non-whole grain foods such as white pasta, etc.
If you’re wondering is pasta good for runners, yes, it is a great runner’s food that is rich in carbohydrates, which are necessary before a race.
You’ll still want to include some lean protein such as chicken, turkey, fish, eggs, and/or dairy products.
The night before the race or long run, you may want to eat a meal such as grilled chicken breast, some light veggies, pasta with marinara sauce, and bread. You’ll want to test out your night before meal and find what works best for you.
Pre-Workout Breakfast Ideas
The morning of a race or long run you’ll want to consume something easy to digest and high in carbohydrates such as bread, bagel, low-fiber fruits or fruit juice, dairy products (if that sits well with you), cereal, etc.
You may want to include a little bit of lean protein or a little bit of fat to keep you full and satisfied longer, but nothing that sits too heavy or causes you any GI issues.
Examples of pre-workout breakfast ideas:
- Wheat or white bagel or bread + peanut butter + banana + low-fat milk
- Oatmeal with some nuts or nut butter + berries + cinnamon
- Fruit smoothie such as strawberry, banana, pineapple + Greek yogurt + almond milk
- Sweet potato + almond butter + low-fat milk
- Yogurt parfait with fruit & granola
Again, you’ll want to experiment with this pre-workout meal or snack during training to find what works best for you and doesn’t cause any GI issues.
If you feel unable to eat breakfast prior to early morning exercise, consuming ~30 grams of easily digested carbohydrate (e.g., banana, carbohydrate gel, or sport drink) 30 minutes before exercise may improve performance and energy.
General Pre-Workout Fueling Guidelines(3) include:
|Timing Before Exercise (Hours)||Carbohydrate (g/kg body weight)|
For example, a 150-lb. athlete is about 68kg (150/2.2). So 4 hours before exercise, they would aim to consume up to 272g of carbohydrates. But if they were eating closer to exercise, such as 1 hour before, they would aim to consume less, such as up to 68g of carbohydrates.
Post-Workout Snack/Recovery Ideas
Post workout, we need to look at nutrition for recovery. This is ideally going to include carbohydrates, protein, and fluids. The goal is to refuel, rebuild, and rehydrate post-workout.
The sooner you have a post-workout snack or meal, the quicker your body will recover. This means less soreness, less fatigue, quicker recovery time so you’re ready to go for the next training session.
Carbohydrates are, again, our body’s main fuel source. So post-workout we need to refuel the muscles with carbohydrates. The longer or harder the workout is, the more carbohydrates you will need to refuel and recover. See the table below for specific amounts.
Protein is necessary for muscle recovery and rebuilding. Protein requirements post-workout are determined by your body weight. See the table below for specific amounts.
Creatine and BCAAs may not be necessary supplements if one is getting enough protein in the diet. See more in this post on BCAAs vs creatine.
Fluids are necessary to rehydrate the body. This is going to be individualized based on body weight, muscle mass, gender, age, sweat rate, environmental factors, location of workout, etc. A general guideline is to drink 16-24 ounces of fluid for each pound lost during training.
Recovery Nutrition Guidelines Post-Workout
|Body Weight (lbs.)||Carbohydrates (g)||Protein (g)|
Recovery Nutrition Ideas & Examples:
- Greek yogurt with fruit and granola
- Chocolate milk
- Oatmeal with milk, fruit, nuts
- Sandwiches (PBJ, Turkey, etc.)
- Smoothies made with frozen fruit and Greek yogurt
- Eggs, toast, 100% fruit juice
Lunch and Dinner Ideas for Recovery
Ultimately, using the Athletes’ Plates(4) from The United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOC) are a great starting point for fueling your body with adequate energy and nutrients at regular meals during training.
Depending on your overall/weekly activity level, you will want to modify your intake accordingly.
Essentially, the more active you are, the more carbohydrates you will need to fuel your body.
7 Day Meal Plan: A Healthy Diet For Runners
½ cup dry steel cut oatmeal. Cook and serve with ½ cup skim milk
1 cup fresh blueberries
Sprinkle with small handful of raisins
Green Tea or Coffee
Or you could try one of these oatmeal recipes that will change your life before 8am
95g tin light, water-packed tuna, mixed with 1 Tbsp light mayonnaise, 1 stalk chopped celery, and 2 Tbsp chopped sweet onion. Serve on lettuce with 4 slices ripe tomato
5 thin crispbreads
1 cup fresh raspberries
170g lean Pork Tenderloin, roasted
1 cup steamed green beans seasoned with garlic powder and dash black pepper
½ medium sweet potato, baked
1 cup natural unsweetened applesauce
Generous (2 cups) salad of mixed greens
Breakfast Smoothie: ½ cup unsweetened frozen berries, 1 small banana, 1 cup skim milk, 1 cup non-fat yogurt, 2 cups ice cubes. Combine in blender and process on high until smooth.
2 cups Healthy Soup: Homemade is prefered (or other soup with 120 cal/cup)
1 large red capsicum cut into strips
¼ cup hummus
Small salad of mixed greens and raw veggies
170g BBQ Chicken, skin removed
10 steamed Brussels sprouts, dot with heart healthy spread and top with a shake of fat free parmesan
½ baked sweet potato mashed
Large green salad
Zespri SunGold Kiwifruit
Spread 2 Tbsp fat free sour cream on 3 large crispbreads
Top with 85g smoked salmon. Sprinkle with, capers and chopped onion.
Serve on lettuce and garnish with 1 medium tomato, sliced
Hard-boil 3 eggs and let cool. Cut in half and scoop out yolks. Mash yolks with 1 Tbsp reduced fat mayonnaise and a bit of black pepper. Replace yolks in egg white and sprinkle with paprika.
½ cup pinto beans seasoned with chili powder
3 ribs of celery and 4 slices of red or yellow bell pepper
Whip up this GF Cauliflower Pizza With Sirloin Steak And Mediterranean Vegetables
Small mixed greens salad
170g container plain Greek yogurt
Mix in 1 medium chopped apple, ½ Tbsp ground flaxseeds, 1 tsp cinnamon, dash nutmeg.
½ whole grain English muffin
½ Tbsp heart-healthy spread (i.e. Natural Peanut Butter)
2 slices of lean turkey breast spread with Dijon mustard. Roll each slice around 30g light string cheese. Wrap each roll in a leaf of romaine lettuce.
Handful baby carrots
8 cherry tomatoes
Generous mixed greens salad
1 cup low sugar, whole grain cereal
¾ cup skim milk
½ medium banana, sliced
1 cup fresh blueberries
1 bowl (2 cups) Minestrone soup (or any soup that has about 120 cal/cup)
Large salad of mixed greens and raw vegetables
1 small whole-wheat pita
2 large eggs, scrambled
2 strips of cooked, extra-lean turkey bacon (i.e. Jennie-O)
2 Tbsp salsa
1 medium wedge cantaloupe
3 thin slices pineapple
LUNCH (D) Curried Tuna Salad
Combine a 95g water packed tin of light tuna with 1 Tbsp light mayonnaise mixed with a bit of water, 1 small apple diced, 1 Tbsp raisins, ¼ c diced red onion. Add curry powder to taste
1 cup canned light fruit salad (or 1 cup fresh)
Large salad (2 cups) of mixed greens and your favorite raw veggies
2 Turkey Burgers (85g each), grilled on tabletop grill
Splash of Worcestershire sauce for seasoning
6 asparagus (fresh, steamed, or canned)
1 cup sliced carrots, steamed
1 cup light fruit salad, canned
2 cups mixed greens, cherry tomatoes, red onion
1 cup whole grain cereal
1 cup skim milk
1 Tbsp ground flaxseed
Season with cinnamon and drizzle of honey if desired
113g 2% low fat cottage cheese mixed with 1 cup light canned peaches, top with 20g chopped pecans, cinnamon and nutmeg sprinkle
4 celery stalks spread with 2 Tbsp creamy reduced-fat peanut butter, dot with raisins
170g of lean steak, grilled
1 large zucchini cut into small chunks, cooked in medium saucepan with 1 cup diced tomatoes, 1 small chopped onion, 2 minced garlic cloves. Season with dried oregano and basil. Cook on low heat until zucchini is soft.
Mixed vegetable salad
1 fresh pear, sliced.