How Many Calories Should A Cross Country Runner Eat


How many calories should a cross country runner eat? This is the question I’m going to answer today. There’s no hard and fast number here. However, there is a formula you can use that will help you find out how many calories you should eat based on information provided by the pros. Every successful cross country runner knows that you need to eat in order to improve your overall performance and health. But how many calories should runners eat on a daily basis?

Cross Country Runner Nutrition

You need to know how to gas your tank. Most times, running cross country meets you hit your pace. But there are times you need to speed up, which costs energy too. But what is most important is that you develop a solid nutritional plan that works for you. Everyone’s nutrition is different when it comes to food and preparation. So, just like making sure your car has gas to drive each day, you need your body prepared to run as well. Lacking energy only puts more strain on your body and hinders your performance. Here are some things to help you improve your energy.

Three high school boys racing on gravel during a cross country race close to the finish.

The Standard Routine

Fueling for a race requires about 2.5-4.5 grams per pound of body weight, or 55-65% total coming from carbohydrates. This is the standard for your nutrition and training six days a week.


Having full glycogen stores is essential. Glycogen in your primarily stored in your muscles and some in your liver. The more trained you are, the better and more efficient your storage capacity and glycogen usage will be.

Your body can store up to 500 grams total in the muscles and liver.


Consuming 20 grams of whey protein one hour before is excellent to preserve muscle from breaking down too much. However, you have to make sure the body is prepared by consuming proteins to rebuild and repair muscles to maintain optimal and maximal performance. Muscles need to function properly to use carbohydrate fuel effectively and efficiently.

If muscles are not prepared to run, it is like driving your car with low air in the tires. You will damage the car in some way.


And with fats, you want to consume about 20% of your meal. So mainly, the fats you get should be from the foods you eat like nuts, seeds, salmon, etc.

Understand How Your Body Burns Carbs

You must understand how fuel gets broken down to optimize your nutrition and maximize your energy at the highest potential. For example, running at a fast pace and a high intensity, and depending on the distance, in about 20 minutes, you can deplete all your glycogen stores. So, it is critical to know how much glycogen your pace and distance will burn up to learn how many carbs you will need. Also, once the glycogen and carbs are running out, you will start to use fat as fuel. So, it is essential to know how much you need for both.

For example, if you weigh 165 pounds and run 11-12 MPH, you will burn about 700-750 calories in 30 minutes. With this being the case, you will be tapping into your fat energy stores.

Night Before Race

Eat your dinner specifically high in carbohydrates. Follow the 70% carbs, 20% Fat, and 10% Protein rule. The reason for eating like this is for the energy to work correctly. Protein is not fuel, so it needs to be appropriately used for rebuilding muscles.

Eat complex carbohydrates that have a medium glycemic index. This will allow them to get stored as energy properly. The higher the index, the faster it breaks down into glucose, which means it will not get stored as glycogen and used more readily for energy. Choose carbs like whole-wheat pasta, brown rice, beans, etc.

Calories Count

Runners need big meals to handle big hills.

The high school cross-country season is ready to begin, and that means two things: More miles and more hills. That also means you need to pay extra attention to your eating habits, or you’ll be fading at practice and walking the hills. You don’t need to stuff yourself, but you need substantial, energy-rich meals-probably more food than you realize-to fuel your training and racing this fall. The following seven tips will make adding those extra calories a cinch.


Boys and girls are different. The average high school-age boy burns at least a few hundred calories per day than the average girl.


20-Minute Total-Body HIIT Workout

Why? Mainly because boys tend to weigh more. This is also the reason why, during running, boys burn about 20 calories per mile more than girls do. As a result, boys generally need to eat more than girls.

All runners should eat a balanced diet including complex carbohydrates such as pasta, fresh fruit, and bread. They should also get plenty of lean protein such as turkey, chicken, and low-fat dairy. But since boys are bigger and have more muscle than girls, they should also be sure to take in more protein, say, a couple extra slices of turkey on a sandwich or a second hot dog from the grill.

Girls, because of menstruation, need more iron than boys, and should make iron-rich foods such as fortified cereals, lean beef, and spinach part of their everyday diet.

2. THINK 500

You’re a runner, not a couch potato, so you shouldn’t eat like a couch potato by going overboard with empty-calorie foods such as cookies and chips.

But sometimes a reverse psychology comes into play, and the more runners train, the less they eat. It’s the wrongheaded idea that the thinner you are, the better you’ll run. Not so. You need adequate food to fuel your heavy-duty sport.

That’s why we want you to “Think 500.” Ellen Coleman, R.D., sports dietitian and author of Eating for Endurance, says that high school runners need 500 more calories per day than their nonathletic counterparts. That’s at least 2,800 per day for athletic boys (as opposed to 2,300 for sedentary boys), and at least 2,400 for athletic girls (versus 1,900 for inactive girls). These numbers are important. How can you determine if you’re meeting them? Check our next tip.


First, eat a hearty breakfast before school, and then follow up with a hearty lunch. Make sure you eat a substantial amount of your daily food intake by lunchtime to ensure you have energy to burn during your afternoon run.

“Think of it as putting fuel in your gas tank,” says sports dietitian Nancy Clark, R.D., author of Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook. “If the tank is low, you’ll run out of gas, and end up on the side of the road.”

Clark recommends that young runners try to consume 70 to 75 percent of their daily calories by the time of afternoon practice. This includes a morning snack (at about 9:30) and prerun snack (at about 2:00) in addition to breakfast and lunch.

Balancing your eating is also key. Don’t try to eat a small breakfast and then a gigantic lunch. That will make you bloated and tired for your afternoon run. Better plan: eat two meals and two snacks.


Grabbing a deep-fried apple pie at McDonald’s on the way to school is not a smart way to get more calories. Nor is tearing into a bag of barbecue potato chips at lunch. Plan ahead to get the right fuel.

Clark says the key is eating an extra half-serving of healthy foods. Have an extra half bowl of Wheaties with a banana at breakfast. Or pack an extra half of a turkey-and-cheese sandwich at lunch. “The bottom line,” says Clark, “is to remember to think in terms of eating complete meals, and not just snack, at meal times.”


Your dinner and postrun snack should make up roughly 25 to 30 percent of your daily calories. At night, food replenishes calories burned during running and aids in muscle recovery.

Plan to refuel with a snack (banana or energy bar) after practice. And then have a energy-replenishing dinner-a chicken breast, broccoli, and rice, for example. Go ahead and eat dessert, but avoid loading up on snacks all night long.

Eating light at night is also the best way to maintain an ideal weight. Late-night snacking can lead to weight gain.


Hunger is your body’s signal that you are running low on fuel. If you feel hungry, by all means, eat. But it helps to distinguish true hunger from a craving. You might think you’re hungry for a third or fourth slice of pizza, but in reality you could just be craving it. Eating slowly, savoring each bite, will satisfy you more than if you wolf down a couple of slices.

Runner’s Caloric Intake

Full length rear view of people in sports clothing

If you’re training for a race, experiment to see what foods work well for you before and during your runs.

Running for exercise isn’t a license to eat whatever you want, whenever you want. Successful runners use nutrition tips for runners to optimize their performance, whether in training or getting ready for a race.


If you’re training for a race, experiment to see what foods work well for you before and during your runs. I f you’re running for longer than an hour, you’ll probably need to eat during the run, so see what foods your stomach will tolerate.

Calories for a Runner

When you’re training for a race, you need to consider your eating habits while training and apply those to your races. There’s some wiggle room when it goes to calculating total calories for a runner.

How many calories you burn depends on how fast you run, how much you weigh and your metabolism. According to Harvard Health, a 125-pound person running 3 miles at a 10-minute-per-mile pace will burn about 300 calories. A 155-pound person running 10 minutes per mile will burn about 372 calories on that same 3-mile run. A 185-pound person running the same pace will burn about 444 calories.

You can figure out where your own weight is on that spectrum, and your approximate pace, and apply them to Harvard’s calorie calculator. The 125-pound runner is burning about 100 calories per mile. So running 5 miles at a 10-minute-per-mile pace would burn about 500 calories.

If you’re an active woman, you should probably eat about 2,400 calories a day until age 30, according to the U.S. Dietary Guidelines. Active women aged 31 to 60 should eat 2,200 calories a day. Active men should eat about 3,000 calories a day until age 35, and about 2,800 calories a day from 36 to 55.

Nutrition Tips for Runners

Once you’ve figured out how many calories you’re burning, you can calculate how many extra calories you need to eat to fuel your run. You also need to assess your goals. If your goal is to run a fast race, you should eat differently than if your goal is to lose weight.

Runners need to consider these factors in choosing what they eat. Timing your meals to match the demands you’re placing on your body can make all the difference in your training and racing, says the Mayo Clinic.

You need to make sure the calories you’re eating provide the right mix of carbs, protein and fats. When you’re training one to three hours per day, you should take in 2.7 to 4.5 grams of carbs per pound of your weight each day, says the Mayo Clinic. Carbs are the primary fuel source needed for endurance exercise, according to Andrea N. Giancoli, writing in the March 2016 issue of Today’s Dietitian.

The American Council on Exercise (ACE) says as distance and running time increase, so do calorie and carbohydrate needs. The extra carbs help the muscles store glycogen, the body’s primary energy source used while you’re exercising. If you’re regularly doing extended runs or training for a marathon, the ACE recommends a diet of 55 to 65 percent carbohydrates to store the optimal amount of glycogen. Runners should aim to get these carbs from whole grains and fruits, not simple sugars and highly processed foods.

Good Diet for a Track/Cross-Country Runner

Running burns hundreds of calories per hour.

Track and cross-country runners burn an extraordinary number of calories during practice and competitions. Many runners don’t get enough food to fuel the energy needed for the sport, according to Dan Benardot, author of “Advanced Sports Nutrition.” Running requires a specialized diet that ensures adequate nutrient intake and energy supply. An eating plan designed for track and cross country can also improve performance.

Nutrient Ratio

A runner’s diet should largely contain carbohydrates, combined with moderate amounts of protein and fat. Carbohydrates convert to glycogen, giving you energy to complete a training session or competition. Protein gives you energy as well, and also aids in muscle function and recovery. Fats are important for energy in the right amounts. North Cobb Cross Country recommends a daily calorie intake that is 55 to 60 percent carbohydrates, 20 to 25 percent protein and 20 percent fats.


Not all carbohydrates are created equal, making some better choices for track and cross-country runners. Fruits, vegetables and grains are good sources of complex carbohydrates, while soda, candy, cookies and cakes are examples of poor carbohydrate choices. Complex carbohydrates digest slowly, giving you long-lasting energy for running. Choose whole-wheat bread and pasta over processed versions, as whole wheat is higher in complex carbohydrates. Most fruits and vegetables are good options, but avoid high-fiber choices immediately before a run as they may cause digestive disturbances that slow you down and hinder performance.


For most people, excessive protein intake results in an increase of stored fat. For track and cross-country runners, who expend large amounts of energy each day, this extra protein offers fuel. To ensure that you’re getting enough, include lean meats in your diet. Good options include lean beef, chicken breast and fish. Nuts, beans and dairy foods are additional options that increase your protein intake.


Too much fat plays a role in weight gain, which may affect your running schedule and performance. However, some fat is vital for energy on the track. Like carbohydrates, not all fat choices are good ones. Avoid fast food, commercial snacks and desserts, frozen entrees, and candy, which contain few to no nutrients and are high in calories, sugar and salt. Instead, opt for healthy fats, such as fish, olive oil, avocados and nuts.

Sample Meal Plan

Reading nutrition labels makes it easy to plan and prepare meals that contain the right mix of nutrients to fuel your running schedule. Breakfast might be whole-grain cereal with milk and fruit or whole-grain toast with eggs and fruit. Good lunch choices include whole-wheat pasta with tomato sauce and grilled chicken or a sandwich made with whole-wheat bread, lean meat, cheese and sliced vegetables. Dinner could be grilled salmon with brown rice and steamed broccoli or a burrito made with beans, lean ground beef, avocado, cheese and lettuce. Snack on nuts, yogurt, sliced fruits and vegetables and string cheese.

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