It is common knowledge that in order to run long distances, you need fuel. With that in mind, what kind of fuel? Well, the type of food you eat can have a direct impact on your race performance. A runner’s diet should be rich in complex carbohydrates and protein while being low in fat and sugar. These are all vital nutrients for energy production so it is important to get them through what you put into your body every day. Today we are going to talk about how exactly 8 week diet plan for runners can help improve your running performance.
What Are The Essentials Of A Running Diet?
In order to have a healthy diet for runners, you need to include the following:
These carbs are made up of long chains of sugars and starches found in whole grains, vegetables, fruits and beans. These complex carbs also contain fiber, which slows down digestion and absorption, resulting in a more steady supply of energy.
In addition to providing fuel for your runs, consuming complex carbs can help stabilize blood sugar levels which is important because if your blood sugar levels go too high or too low during a race, you’ll feel less energized and may experience fatigue or cramping (9). For example, pasta is a great choice when you want to eat something before your run for a quicker burst of energy, but you should also consider whole grain bread for sandwiches or wraps at regular mealtimes.
Protein is essential in building and repairing body tissues which makes it necessary for the maintenance of lean muscle mass. It is important to understand that proteins are not used by our bodies as primary energy sources.
Instead, they are broken down into amino acids which are used for several purposes in the body but can be later converted into glucose through a process called gluconeogenesis. This means that protein consumption alone will not give you enough energy to keep running, but it can prevent you from feeling tired during a race because it supports the energy needed to power through difficult workout sessions (7).
So make sure you get protein at every meal if your goal is to improve your running performance. You can get enough protein from lean meats, fish, eggs, and low-fat dairy products.
These are a great source of energy for runs because they supply 9 calories per gram which is more than carbohydrates or proteins that both have 4 calories per gram (4).
However, eating a diet high in fats alone will not be helpful since the body cannot fully process them into glucose quickly enough for quick use as an immediate energy source. Your body typically starts to burn fat for fuel when it runs out of carbohydrates.
Therefore, it’s best to combine fats with complex carbs when you eat before your training session to give you that extra edge you need especially when performing intense workouts like speed training. For example, don’t choose just peanut butter on plain toast but instead, put it in a sandwich with whole wheat bread.
It is essential for runners to stay hydrated but don’t confuse hydration with loading up on sugar-sweetened beverages. Research shows that hydrating with sugar-sweetened drinks can reduce physical performance and increase cardiovascular disease risk (10). This may be best explained by the Glycemic Index where sugary foods absorb right into the bloodstream causing one’s blood sugar levels to spike fast and then fall sharply after a short period of time resulting in fatigue.
Drinking plain water or sports drinks are great options for hydrating before workouts. However, you should avoid drinking too much water immediately before running since this can dilute the sodium in your body. This can cause hyponatremia which is more common among long-distance runners since they are at risk of losing more electrolytes via sweat during workouts (5).
As a result, it’s important to match your fluid and electrolyte intake with your sweat loss so you don’t fall short on hydration and risk cramping or feeling dizzy during runs. To do so, drink two cups of water for every hour that you run during the day prior to the race itself. If you have time after training sessions, consider drinking an electrolyte beverage that contains sodium, potassium and bicarbonate which can help maintain blood pH levels especially if your sweat losses are high.
You Can Also Boost Your Running Performance By Including Supplements In Your Diet
It’s best to get all your nutrients from your diet, but if that isn’t possible, you can get a head start on your running performance with various vitamins and minerals that are essential to building lean muscle mass, regulating energy metabolism, and preventing injuries. Some of these include:
- Calcium which helps build bones and teeth
- Potassium needed for fluid balance and muscle contraction
- Iron for runners without which you may feel more tired or fatigued during runs
- Vitamin C which may reduce fatigue during exercise by helping blood vessels relax
- Fish oil since omega 3 fatty acids may enhance endurance capacity while promoting good cholesterol levels in the body.
Always talk to your healthcare provider about any supplements before you start taking them.
Fat, Carb & Protein Ratios For Runners
This was based on studies showing that high carb diets were most effective at replenishing glycogen stores within two hours after exercise while low carbohydrate diets resulted in more fat burning during exercise but took longer to recover afterward (3).
The numbers are not absolute rules. There is no one-size-fits-all diet for runners since everyone’s body is different, so listen to your body. If you feel good and energized, you are probably doing the right thing for your diet.
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How Many Calories Should Runners Eat?
If you’re a runner who wants to know how many calories of each macronutrient should be in your daily diet, consider that there is no general answer. Caloric needs vary depending on age, gender, weight and level of activity.
The idea of having a pre-set caloric intake recommendation based on factors of height and weight does not exist because this would make it difficult for people to maintain their ideal weights when they tend to change frequently over time or if they are trying to gain muscle mass or lose fat. For example, an active person will need more calories than someone who is sedentary while someone with a lot of weight to lose will need fewer calories than someone who just wants to maintain.
Based on these factors, it’s recommended that runners eat anywhere from 1.7 to 2.4 times their RMR (resting metabolic rate) or sometimes higher depending on the intensity of their training (3).
8-Week Diet Plan For Runners
Here’s an 8-week diet plan for runners that can help you improve running performance and eat more nutritious foods with the right macronutrient ratio.
A healthy runner’s breakfast should include a combination of complex carbohydrate foods and lean protein sources. Some ideas for this meal include:
- Whole-grain toast or bagel with almond butter and banana slices
- Whole grain cereal with milk and berries
- Oatmeal with yogurt, fresh fruit, and cinnamon
- Eggs on whole-wheat toast with avocado slices
- Yogurt and granola with fresh berries
A runner’s lunch should include a combination of carbohydrates, protein, and vegetables. It’s meant to keep you energized and help you recover between workouts (3). Some ideas for this meal include:
- Sesame salad with tofu, brown rice, and vegetables
- Turkey or chicken sandwich on whole grain bread with lettuce and tomato
- Low fat soup with whole grain crackers
- Tuna salad made with mayo on whole-grain bread or crackers
- Turkey sandwich on whole-wheat bread or wrap with hummus and veggies
- Chicken breast or fish fillet with brown rice and steamed broccoli
- Salad topped with shrimp, artichoke hearts, and pine nuts
Snacking can help a runner meet their nutritional requirements and maintain a healthy weight. However, snacks should not consist of high-fat processed foods or sweets since these will impede running performance. Here are some good examples of healthy snacks that can keep your energy up and cravings down:
- Apple slices with peanut butter
- Pears and almond butter
- Cherry tomatoes or radishes with cream cheese (make it more interesting by adding different herbs like basil, mint, cilantro, dill)
- Cucumbers dipped in hummus
- Roasted nuts (low fat and low sodium)
- Berries or melon with yogurt
A runner’s dinner should include a combination of lean protein, complex carbohydrate foods, and vegetables. This is meant to help you wind down from a workout and start the recovery process (3). Some ideas for this meal include:
pork tenderloin served with brown rice and sauteed vegetables
- Tilapia fillet served with whole-wheat pasta and broccoli
- Salmon with quinoa and green beans
- Skinless, roasted chicken breast over quinoa pilaf
- Lentil soup made from scratch
- Turkey sandwich with veggies on whole wheat bread
- Beef stir-fry served over steamed broccoli or brown rice turkey chili made from scratch
- Oven-baked chicken breast with roasted broccoli and brown rice
- Chicken korma ( Indian curry ) made with cauliflower, potatoes, and lentils
Diet Tips For Runners
Proper nutrition for runners is all about knowing what, when, and how much to eat. Here are some helpful tips you can use to fuel the right way:
Eat Nutrient-Dense Foods
Eat a variety of nutrient-dense foods during the day. These include healthy fats, lean protein sources, and whole grains as well as fruits and vegetables. Eating nutrient-dense foods helps you consume the nutrients necessary to support your body throughout training and recovery.
Foods that contain carbohydrates are particularly important for runners because they deliver energy from your body’s favorite fuel source known as glucose (9).
Eat Before Activity
Many people find it helpful to eat a small amount of carbohydrate before activity so the food is ready for energy use when exercise begins. The type of food eaten depends on personal preference. Some runners choose a simple snack such as fruit or yogurt, while others enjoy eating breakfast just prior to exercising. Experiment with different types of foods before workouts to see what works best for you.
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Eat After Activity
For many runners, eating after an activity is just as important as eating before. Eating carbohydrate-rich foods within 30 minutes of completing a run gives your body the necessary fuel to begin recovery (6). For some people, this means enjoying a small snack such as fruit or yogurt after exercise; others may prefer to have a larger post-run meal including whole grains and lean protein sources. The amount you eat will depend on factors like intensity, duration, time of last meal, etc. Some food choices are better than others. For example, it’s usually not helpful to choose fast food options for recovery meals because they provide more calories than the body needs at one time. It’s also not helpful to avoid carbs after exercise, because the body needs carbohydrates for energy and to begin recovery.
Avoid Low-Carb Diets
Some athletes try to lose weight by eating a diet that is very low in carbohydrates, but this is likely to have a negative impact on your performance as well as your overall health. For one thing, being deficient in carbs can lead to muscle cramps and fatigue during prolonged endurance events like long training runs (8). This means you’re more likely to give up before reaching your goals.
In addition, if you follow a carb-restricted diet over the long term, it’s likely you’ll only see short-term results from doing so. This is because restricting calories from carbs can cause you to feel tired and sluggish – things you don’t want to be feeling while you’re working out hard.
Since all foods fit into a healthy diet, you can enjoy the occasional treat such as french fries or cupcakes. However, make sure to keep these treats occasional and not part of your everyday routine.
The Bottom Line
The main thing to remember about a diet for runners is that you should eat foods that give you the energy necessary to complete your workouts but still allow you to pay attention to quantities so you don’t overeat.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Antioxidants: In Depth (2013, nih.gov)
- Antioxidants and Skeletal Muscle Performance: “ Common Knowledge” vs. Experimental Evidence (2012, nih.gov)
- Fueling for Performance (2018, nih.gov)
- How many calories are in one gram of fat, carbohydrate, or protein (n.d., usda.gov)
- Hyponatremia in Athletes (n.d., gssiweb.org)
- International society of sports nutrition position stand: nutrient timing (2017, nih.gov)
- International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: protein and exercise (2017, biomedcentral.com)
- Low-carbohydrate diets: what are the potential short- and long-term health implications? (2003, pubmed.gov)
- Physiology, Carbohydrates (2021, nih.gov)
- Sucrose-Sweetened Drinks Reduce the Physical Performance and Increase the Cardiovascular Risk in Physically Active Meals (2021, hindawi.com)