What is a good Runner’s Meal Plan?
Being a runner doesn’t just involve training hard but countless other components that we need to incorporate into our daily lives such as strength training, a good night’s sleep, and physical therapy, just to name a few. But which is most important?
It may sometimes feel impossible to keep up with the demands our body has when we run, recover, and even rest, for that matter. The sheer amount of energy we burn daily calls for a substantial amount of planning and care to ensure excellent performance on and off the track.
In this article, we are going to take a look at:
- The importance of fueling
- Day-to-day hydration for runners
- Why electrolytes are essential for runners
- Day-to-day nutrition for runners
- Why carbohydrates, proteins, and fats are important for runners
- An example of a daily runner’s meal plan
Let’s jump in!
Most runners tend to focus on what they need to eat and drink before or during their training session or a race but often overlook the importance of their day-to-day nutrition.
We not only need fuel to perform, but we need it to recover as well. Suppose we don’t provide our body with the energy it needs. In that case, it will not only hinder us from reaching our goals but cause us fatigue, compromise our immune system and put us at a higher risk of injury.
We don’t want any of that, do we? So let’s learn how to keep our body in tip-top shape and bursting with energy!
Different Runners, Different Needs
Each one of us is unique, and we have different needs. Nutrition and hydration for each of us will vary depending on weight, metabolism, sweat rate, physiological differences, training load; the list goes on and on.
That being said, it is suggested that each runner seeks professional advice from a sports nutritionist to receive the most personalized help possible. In this article, we will look at the big picture and the general, average nutritional needs of a runner.
Let’s begin with daily hydration.
How much do I need to hydrate?
Everyone needs to stay hydrated, but as runners, we expel more fluid than the sedentary person resulting in a more significant need to hydrate.
On average, a runner needs to drink between 2 and 2 ½ liters of fluid per day. This doesn’t just need to be water. This can include other drinks such as juice, tea, soda, really any liquid you consume; just watch the sugar content to not overdo it.
To reach your total, you can even include caffeinated drinks.
A cup of coffee here and there will add to your total fluid consumption; however, consuming caffeine in excess will have the opposite effect and begin to act as a diuretic, dehydrating you. Therefore, you want most of your fluid intake to be water and non-caffeinated beverages to ensure healthy hydration.
Do I Need To Replenish Electrolytes?
When we sweat, we not only expel fluid but a fair amount of sodium, chloride, and potassium. Even though we may consume hydration that contains electrolytes during a run, it may not be enough to replenish what has been lost.
There are numerous electrolyte tablets and drinks available that can replenish your losses throughout the day.
Related: Fluid and Electrolytes: A Runner’s Guide
If you feel dizzy or fatigued, you may be at a loss of electrolytes. In this case, try replenishing them with these specific hydration products. Don’t be concerned about consuming more calories as most of these products contain the necessary amount of electrolytes but zero sugar.
Now that we’ve got our daily hydration down let’s look at food.
What should I eat?
This is the million-dollar question, isn’t it. What should we eat?
Each one of us trains differently, some run 10 miles, others run 100 miles per week. The amount you train and other factors will have a substantial effect on how many calories you need to consume each day.
Seeing a sports nutritionist will help you identify the exact amount of calories you burn daily just by living, and then add your specific training load for your grand total.
The most important thing is that you are fueling enough. If not, you will begin to feel fatigued and heavy during training and unable to perform correctly.
If you are not restricted by any food allergies or sensitivities, a balanced diet is the way to go. A runner should not deprive themselves of any specific food group such as carbohydrates or protein, as each has a specific function in regards to performance and recovery.
Let’s take a look at what each component contributes to our body:
What do carbohydrates do anyhow?
Carbohydrates are converted into glycogen and stored in our muscles and liver when consumed. They are then used as energy to fuel our bodies when we exercise. In general, a pretty hefty percentage of a runner’s diet is composed of carbohydrates.
There are a lot of fad diets out there that limit, if not eliminate, carbs entirely from your diet. Sure, you can still run on a diet like that. Still, speedwork and overall performance will not be optimal as energy from sugars is needed.
Carbohydrates include foods such as fruits, starchy vegetables, bread, pasta, cereal, rice, and legumes.
What does protein do for me as a runner you ask?
Protein is used primarily for muscle recovery and can help increase muscle mass. This is why it is ideal for runners to consume recovery or protein shakes soon after a challenging workout, long run, or race in addition to in their everyday diet.
Protein includes poultry, fish, meat, and eggs. Beans, quinoa, and legumes also have protein but contain a substantial percentage of carbohydrates.
Another fad diet back in the day was a “no-fat” diet. Presently, we know that eating healthy fats is essential and should be a part of our balanced diet. It’s not the first energy source your body rushes to for use, but it is the second! Healthy fats will also aid in cardiovascular health, joint health, and brain function.
Healthy fats include avocados, nuts, seeds, nut butter, and olive oil.
As we are well aware, every runner will have different needs, but let’s take a look at an example of each food group’s daily diet intake percentages.
day-to-day runner’s meal plan Example
- Weight: 51 kilos
- Average training load: 80 kilometers of running per week plus 2 strength training sessions
Daily, this runner consumes:
- Carbohydrates: 35% of total daily fuel
These carbohydrates are a mix that includes run-of-the-mill carbs such as bread and oatmeal, dairy such as yogurt and milk, and fruit such as berries and bananas.
- Protein: 35% of total daily fuel
- Healthy fats: 15% of total daily fuel
- Vegetables: 15 % total daily fuel
- Hydration: A minimum of 2 liters of fluid per day
This breakdown includes six separate meals and snacks, from a pre-run carb-filled snack to dinner. However, this is not what a pre-race or pre-long run day would look like, as the carbohydrate load would increase for optimum performance. You can check out our carb-loading information here.
This is a day-to-day runner’s meal plan; the breakdown above doesn’t include consumption while training. Any training session exceeding one hour consists of an extra carbohydrate consumption of 50g of carbs per hour for this particular runner, (example: 2 sports gels), plus plenty of fluid.
Related: How to Make Homemade Protein Bars: 7 DIY Recipes for Runners
A protein-filled recovery drink is also added after long runs and intense training sessions. As this doesn’t occur every day, it is not in the day-to-day plan but added by the runner as needed.
Now that we have an idea of how the food group percentages are distributed, let’s look at some day-to-day meal examples for this runner.
The numbers refer to a “portion” or “portions” of that particular food group. The specific food examples are possible equivalents of said portion(s).
Eaten 1 hour previous to any daily run.
- 1 carbohydrate = ¼ cup oatmeal
- 2 fruits (carbs) = 1 large banana
- 2 carbohydrates = 2 slices toast
- 3 proteins = 2 eggs and 1 ounce cheese
- 1 healthy fat = ¼ avocado
- 1 dairy (carb) = 1 individual yogurt
- 1 healthy fat = 6 almonds
- 1 fruit = 1 cup strawberries
- 2 carbohydrates = ⅔ cup of quinoa
- 4 proteins = 4 ounces salmon
- 2 healthy fats = 1 tablespoon olive oil + ¼ avocado
- 3 vegetables = 1 cup mixed greens salad + 1 cup cooked broccoli
- 1 carbohydrate = ½ pita bread
- 1 fruit = ¾ cup blueberries
- 2 proteins = ½ cup cottage cheese
- 2 carbohydrates = 1 cup pasta
- 4 proteins = ½ chicken breast + 2 tablespoon parmesan cheese
- 2 healthy fats = 2 tablespoons olive oil (1 for cooking, 1 for salad dressing)
- 3 vegetables = 1 cup mixed greens salad + 1 cup cooked asparagus
It may seem overwhelming to stick to a nutritional plan and consume such a large quantity of fuel. Still, the benefits are essential to being a strong, healthy runner.
Take a minute to reflect on how you are currently feeling when you train and throughout the rest of the day. If you feel fatigued, perhaps you aren’t fueling enough and want to restructure your nutrition and hydration.
More energy? Personal bests? Happiness?
If that’s what a balanced runner’s diet will do for me, then sign me up!
Looking to up your running game?
Food is key, but so is sleep! Are you sleeping to optimise your running? Check out this article for the low down on sleep for runners: