Nutrition for Runners – The Basics

Having a solid training plan is just one piece of a huge jigsaw puzzle to becoming a better runner. Many runners put in the hard work through many hours of training but when it comes to nutrition, they make careless mistakes.


Source: Foody Ideas on Pinterest

Many live by the notion that if you work hard enough, you can get away with eating whatever you want! True? Not quite. While it may be true that you may not gain a significant amount of weight, you may be compromising performance. Eating unhealthy, processed “junk” could lead to a compromised immune system (amongst others) which would derail your performance goals.

What’s #trending?

There is something about new trends and fads that keep us motivated. When our daily routine seems all too mundane, we turn to something fresh and new.

Diet and nutrition go through the same motions. One minute meat is good and carbs are bad and the next thing you know the tables turn. It is not surprising that many people actually don’t know what a healthy meal looks like because well, the rules keep changing. And I don’t blame them. The DASH diet, Weight Watchers, Atkins diet, Mayo Clinic diet, the cabbage soup diet, the South Beach diet, the TLC diet, the Mediterranean diet…… and the list goes on.

So, what should runners eat?

The problem with these diets is that some of them completely eliminate one food group or the other. While they may help you to lose some weight in the short term, they are not sustainable for the average runner.

Let’s take the DASH diet as an example. Foods that are allowed in this diet are mainly low in saturated fat, trans-fat, sodium, excess sugar and cholesterol. It is a typical heart healthy diet that should be followed by certain groups of people. However, as an athlete, you need not cut your sodium intake.

When it comes to deciding what to eat to support your daily activities including your run, there is no one size fits all. What works for one person, may not work for you.

Here is a general guide to get you started!


There are many similarities when you think about basic health, fitness and running. Of course, there are many other aspects about nutrition that can enhance performance. But for now, we will focus on eating for general health.Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetThink about it: our diets are centered on building a strong antioxidant defence system to fight off cancer and other diseases, we eat to maintain low body fat to reduce the risk of heart diseases and diabetes.

In effect, having a strong immune system would mean that you are able to fight off oxidative stress caused by running (which may lead to muscle soreness, fatigue etc) and having a lean body composition would translate to less energy cost of movement which would enhance performance.

The Plate Guide

I like Harvard’s Healthy Eating Plate guide which is an extension of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA’s) MyPlate guide to address a few deficiencies.

Healty Eating PlateCopyright © 2011, Harvard University. For more information about The Healthy Eating Plate, please see The Nutrition Source, Department of Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health,, and Harvard Health Publications,


According to the Healthy Eating Plate, half of your plate should consist of fruits and vegetables. They are packed with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties which are good for general health because they have a protective mechanism against many chronic diseases.Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetHalf plate of VEGES – CHECKED!

As for running performance, a strong antioxidant defence system would mean that you are able to recover from training that would otherwise place undue stress on your muscles (muscle fatigue, muscle soreness etc).

Go for:

Think of eating the RAINBOW! Go for colour and eat from a wide variety. Berries, broccoli, spinach, apples, bananas, cabbage, cauliflower, grapefruit, carrots, pumpkin, kale, tomatoes, watermelon, pineapple, mangoes, asparagus, figs, lemons……

Your mother was right, EAT YOUR VEGES.


To some runners, grains are a big part of their diet because it is the richest source of carbohydrate. They help in topping off glycogen stores just before a run. The fibre from grains also improves digestive function (to keep the tubes clear of unwanted waste) and reduces the risk of colon cancer.Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetWholewheat chocolate pancakes! Eating healthy can be yummy too!

Go for:

Think “whole” and “brown” (No, not that! Ewwww!). This includes brown rice, whole wheat pasta, wholemeal bread, oats, quinoa, barley……

Compared to their “white” counterparts, whole grains offer more vitamins, minerals and fibre. Also, they are digested more slowly and keep you feeling fuller for longer. This prevents the unwanted insulin spike and blood sugar crash that would otherwise occur when consuming more refined grains (white rice, white bread etc).


This can either be from plant or animal sources. Protein is essential to everyone and especially to runners as you need the materials to repair/build up muscle tissue that has been broken down/damaged.


Go for:

Lean meats (fish, chicken, turkey), legumes, beans, seeds……

Some meats are better than others as they contain less saturated fat and more unsaturated fat. Avoid meats that are processed, high in trans-fat and saturated fats which can increase LDL cholesterol levels.

Opt to eat cold water fish such as salmon, herring or mackerel. They contain omega-3 fats (EPA and DHA) that are found in animals. These fats significantly reduce the risk of heart diseases. They are also thought to improve cardiac efficiency during exercise which would translate to better running performance.

A dash of Plant Oils

Healthy vegetable oils are among the best plant base sources of healthy fats. They are antioxidant rich and offer essential omega-3 polyunsaturated fats that support cardiovascular and nervous system function.

Go for:

Plant oils from nuts, seeds, olive, canola, soy, sunflower, flaxseeds……

IMG_0767Avocados also offer a rich source of healthy fats!

Drink Up!

Hydration is a big part of running. When you run (especially on a hot day), you lose significant amounts of water. Water needs to be replaced to bring the body temperatures back to optimal conditions.Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetFruit infused water! Great way to rehydrate post-run!

Go for:

WATER, coffee or tea.

Water would be your best bet. Avoid isotonic drinks that contain too much sugar unless you have been out running for over 2 hours. Most of the time, these drinks add more empty calories and sugar which are the major causes of obesity. Coffee has been known to give you a mental boost, improve mental alertness and reduce a runner’s perception of effort. Drink a cuppa just before you head out for your run! Tea offers many antioxidant properties and is also relaxing to take just before bed.


This is the best part about Harvard’s Healthy Eating Plate! I like how they incorporate any form of activity to complete the healthy living picture. When it comes to diet and exercise, there needs to be a balance. Having one or the other would not lead to a healthy lifestyle. Similarly, runners who train hard but fail to eat well will not be able to perform to the best of their abilities.


Staying active is also a big part of weight control. The CDC recommends 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity per week or 75 minutes a week of vigorous activity. Also, it is important to incorporate 2/3 days per week of muscle strengthening exercises. These simple steps will help you to achieve fitness and maintain a lean body mass.

Runners will not have a problem moving but most of the time, they neglect strength training. Remember to throw in a few strength training sessions to maintain muscle mass which can lead to an overall increase in metabolism.

*Stay away from processed and fried foods!

*Currently working on a Ebook incorporating STRENGTH training and RUNNING! Stay tuned!*

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