I Tried Eliud Kipchoge’s Diet To See If It Would Make Me A Better Runner

I didn't run a sub-2 hour marathon, but here's what I did learn.

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It’s no secret that Eliud Kipchoge and his Kenyan compatriots are some of the best endurance runners in the world. 

There’s a list of reasons experts attribute the Kenyans’ success in endurance running. These include the widespread use of running as a mode of transportation, the high-altitude environment in which many Kenyans live their whole lives, and their ectomorph body type with long, lean legs.

In this article, we’ll look at another aspect of the Kenyan lifestyle that some experts believe is one of the biggest reasons the Kenyans are so dominant in the running world: their diet.

Most of the country’s top runners, including Eliud Kipchoge, maintain a traditional Kenyan diet. I gave Eliud Kipchoge’s diet a try to see how it impacted how I felt and my performance. This was by no means formal research, but just my experience after trying the diet of world-renowned runners.

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What is the Kenyan Diet?

Firstly, let’s dive into what exactly a traditional Kenyan diet includes.

Professional marathoner Justin Lagat shared three guidelines when trying to understand the Kenyan diet.

  1. Nothing fancy: The foods that elite runners from Kenya consume on a daily basis are the same ones they have consumed their whole lives. These foods are also quite cheap since many families in Kenya cannot splurge on fancy foods. Their staple foods include Ugali (a dough from maize flour), leafy green vegetables, milk, beans, and eggs.
  2. Simple cooking: Most foods in the Kenyan diet are prepared through either boiling or pan-frying. 
  3. Local food: Most foods come from local farms, with very few ingredients, mainly oil, sugar, and salt, that come from shops.
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Breakfast

A common Kenyan breakfast includes fried or boiled eggs and some sort of carbohydrate, typically sweet potatoes, bananas, or bread. 

Tea with milk is the most common beverage taken at breakfast, with limited coffee consumption.

Since Kenyan runners are often up early to run in the morning, it is not uncommon for them to simply take tea before their run and eat their breakfast after returning from their run.

Lunch

For elite runners like Kipchoge, lunch is usually a lighter meal, so they are able to go out for their evening training runs. When runners have two afternoon or evening workouts, they will often sit down for a second lunch in between.

Carbohydrates take the largest portion of the plate, typically 60-70%.

Rice, beans, potatoes, pasta, and green vegetables make a common appearance at mealtime since they are cheap, filling, and available year-round.

Dinner

Ugali is a well-known staple in the Kenyan diet. It is regularly served at dinner as an accompaniment to a main dish.

Ugali is a dense porridge made of cornmeal that is often served alongside greens, stews, and proteins.

Green leafy vegetables or eggs are common, and the occasional beef is served as the main dish to be eaten with the Ugali. Meat is not served every day as it is not as affordable as other staples. When meat is consumed, it is usually beef since it is cheaper than other options.

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Snacks

Runners like Kipchoge consume water and fruits as a snack throughout the day. 

Most athletes will consume between three and five liters of water per day.

Runners consume fruits at any point in the day. Common fruits in the Kenyan diet include bananas (Kipchoge’s favorite), oranges, pineapples, and mangoes.

Why is the Kenyan Diet Ideal for Runners?

Western athletes obsess over macronutrients, supplements, and protein powders in an attempt to tailor their diet for prime performance. However, Kenyan athletes stick to simplicity and rarely include any overly processed foods and supplements.

The Kenyan diet provides ideal fuel for distance runners. It is packed with healthy sources of carbohydrates, making up over 70% of their diet, which is essential fuel to get quality miles in.

As a results of Kenyans’ plant-based diets, consuming limited meat products, this also helps the Kenyan’s to avoid overemphasizing protein intake, and ensure they get enough carbohydrates. Their diets also result in less consumption of unhealthy fats, which result in increased cholesterol and inflammation.

The Kenyan diet is high in fiber, vitamins, and other key nutrients to keep runners at their best.

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My Experience

I tried the Kenyan diet for one week to see how it made me feel and if I noticed any changes to my body or to my performance as an athlete. Now, this was by no means a formal experiment, and I didn’t expect to see many changes in just one week, but I wanted to give it a try anyway.

After one week on the Kenyan diet, I not only learned how difficult it can actually be to make Ugali, but I did notice some slight differences.

Firstly, I found I was going into my workouts feeling a bit lighter. Now, I didn’t lose any significant weight on the diet, but I felt less dragged down going into a workout, especially in afternoon training sessions.

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I also found that I had more mental clarity. I think I can attribute this to the fact that the Kenyan diet doesn’t have as much variety as our Western diets. Instead of choosing from hundreds of things off a menu, I chose between beans or eggs. Having to make fewer decisions throughout the day, I found, gave me more mental energy to focus on other tasks.

One downside I did notice was some digestive issues, towards the end of the week especially. With a significant increase in my fiber intake, I should have seen this one coming but didn’t really think about it beforehand. Our Western diets don’t provide nearly as much fiber as the Kenyan diet, so I certainly noticed some bloating and gas at the end of the week.

Although I may not have run as fast as Eliud Kipchoge, I sure felt the benefits and understand why it plays such a key role in the success of Kenyan endurance runners!

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Jessy has been active her whole life, competing in cross-country, track running, and soccer throughout her undergrad. She pivoted to road cycling after completing her Bachelor of Kinesiology with Nutrition from Acadia University. Jessy is currently a professional road cyclist living and training in Spain.

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