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Running burns more calories than most other types of exercises. As a runner, It’s important to ensure that the food you eat is either preparing your body for that burn or repairing it afterward. Some of the best foods for runners may come as a surprise, but incorporating them into your diet will be highly beneficial.
Whether you’re brand new to running, or a seasoned veteran, nutrition is key. If you’re a total beginner, however, there’s more to it than just diet – you should also read these tips for new runners.
Best Foods to Eat Before Running
The way you eat before a run will differ depending on whether you’re doing your normal Sunday run vs. preparing for an intense race.
Coming up on a run, especially a long run or race, eating the right foods is critical to your performance.
What to Eat 24-48 Hours Before a Race
You may be able to ignore this time period if you’re just a casual runner. Due to their competitive nature, races generally put you in a position where you work much harder than you would during a normal run.
You’ll want to ensure you eat plenty of lean proteins and healthy fats. Loading up on carbs at this point won’t do much for you.
Foods high in omega 3 fatty acids such as wild-caught salmon & walnuts are top choices. You’ll also benefit from eggs and lean cuts of red meat.
Additionally, this is the time to load up on veggies such as broccoli, carrots, and leafy greens.
Food list: wild-caught salmon, walnuts, almonds, eggs, lean red meat, broccoli, carrots, leafy greens
Foods to Eat the Day Before You Run
The day before you run, you should add a higher number of carbohydrates to your diet. Healthy carbs such as oats and sweet potatoes work well.
Avoid carb-loading unless your run or race is going to last longer than 90 minutes. I’m always surprised at seeing runners doing a 10k race (about an hour) who load up on carbs the day before a run.
Dairy products such as plain yogurt and cheese are also excellent foods to eat the day before a run. They have a great balance of calories from protein, fat, and carbs. If your stomach is sensitive to dairy, you’ll have to skip out on them. Consider black beans or whole-grain pasta as an alternative.
Peanuts and peanut butter (not the sugary kind) are also great additions to your diet at this time.
Food list: sweet potatoes, oats, plain yogurt, cheese, black beans, whole grain bread, whole grain pasta, peanuts, unsweetened peanut butter
Foods for Runners Right Before the Run
When it comes to the morning of your run, there is a lot to take into account. What you eat the last few hours before you hit the pavement will largely vary from person to person.
Personally, I eat very little before a run. My stomach doesn’t like being jostled around with any food in it. But that’s not the case for every runner, especially if you’re running later in the day.
This is the time when you want to eat light foods that give quick energy. In other words: sugar. But you can’t just load up on candy and cakes and pies before a run… well you could, but you’d be paying for it later on.
Bananas are the perfect pre-run snack. They’re loaded with nutrients, calories, and sugar. They are very likely the best food for running stamina.
You can also eat a small quantity of carrots (baby carrots or 1 small regular carrot).
Other good choices include cashews and granola bars. Coffee is also a great way to start the day before a run.
Interestingly enough, dark chocolate is also a highly recommended snack before a run. Snack-sized of course.
Food list: bananas, berries, carrots, cashews, granola bars, wheat toast, raisins, cheese sticks, coffee
Foods to avoid: spicy foods, high-fiber fruits such as apples & pears, fried foods, high-fiber veggies such as broccoli, beans
Replenishing Foods After The Run
While this post focuses mainly on foods, I must stress that fluid intake is of utmost importance. Because my runs are generally less than 90 minutes, I never carry water or food with me, which means I need to do some replenishment once my run is completed.
What to Eat Immediately After Running
Fresh fruit wins the gold medal when it comes to what foods runners should eat after a run. Bananas are a good option as are watermelon and other fruits that contain lots of water.
If you’re running a race, you’ll frequently see lots of fresh fruit available at the finish line. You’ll also see lots of granola bars and cereal bars.
My favorite after-run snack is a turkey sandwich on whole-wheat bread.
Food list: bananas, watermelon, grapes, turkey sandwich, granola bars, cereal bars
Recovery Foods for Runners
Within a few hours of finishing your run or race, you’ll want to be getting into a full meal. While the calorie burn from your run may give you feeling that you can get away with indulging in anything, it’s easy to overdo it.
Your first after-run meal should include the nutrients your body needs to repair muscles and connective tissue. That means healthy fats and proteins.
The best foods will be similar to the foods you want to eat in the 24-48 hour period before your run. Skinless chicken or steak are good options for protein.
Healthy fats can be obtained by eating avocado which also contains a lot of potassium, a critical nutrient for endurance athletes.
Food list: avocado, chicken, turkey, lean red meat, broccoli, leafy greens, eggs
Foods for Runners: Final Thoughts
Any serious competitive runner will tell you there’s a science behind what they put into their body. But a good diet isn’t limited to just the super serious.
Whether you’re running for weight loss or just for fun, running takes a toll on your body and makes it stronger, no matter what level you’re at.
With the right food choices, you’ll be able to run longer, run faster, and recover quicker.
Sources & Additional Reading
Runner’s World: The 15 Best Foods for Runners
Competitor Running: 7 Healthy Foods that Runners Should Try to Eat Every Day
Wikipedia: Carbohydrate Loading
Looking for other health and fitness tips? Check out these posts:
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- 5 Surprisingly Easy Tips to Meal Prep on a Budget
- 5 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started Working Out