Nutrition for runners doesn’t have to be complicated! A whole-food-based meal plan is great not only for your day-to-day meals but also for fueling your training.
A runner’s diet isn’t just an afterthought—it’s a primary component of training, preparation, and performance. Nail your running diet, and you’ll prime your running engine for maximum performance.
Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation, fad diets, and convenience foods that can make it difficult and confusing to make good choices. We got you covered. Below, we’ll show you the most common runner’s diet mistakes and how to avoid them.
Running Diet Nutrition Mistakes To Avoid
Instead of feeling bogged down, learn how to avoid making these six running nutrition mistakes to amp up your daily plate with healthy foods and habits.
#1: Pushing Veggies To The Side
Instead of throwing vegetables on the side of your plate, aim to make them the bulk of the majority of your meals. Filling half your plate with vegetables, whether raw or cooked, is a sure way to hit your daily fiber requirement. They’ll also help with hydration, meeting your daily vitamin and mineral needs, and upping your intake of antioxidants.
To avoid boredom of the same old rotation of green beans, corn, and carrots, try integrating vibrantly colored vegetables throughout the day.
- Red cherries
- Yellow peppers
- Purple and yellow beets
- Purple and green kale
- White asparagus
- Red onions
If you need more motivation to stop skipping the veggies, this insight from nutritionist Coach Elizabeth might do the trick:
“Leafy green vegetables are ideal for weight management as they are typically low in calories. They are also useful in reducing the risk of cancer and heart disease since they are high in dietary fiber, and rich in folic acid, vitamin C, potassium, and magnesium, as well as containing a host of phytochemicals, such as lutein, beta-cryptoxanthin, zeaxanthin, and beta-carotene. One study showed that one daily serving of green leafy vegetables lowered the risk of cardiovascular disease by 11 percent.”
If you’re looking for more information and motivation, jump over to this video, “10 Key Vitamins and Minerals for Runners” to learn how to avoid any nutrient deficiencies that might affect your training and recovery.
#2: Avoiding Fats
Eating fat does not make you fat. Instead, think of fat as another energy source, along with carbohydrates and protein.
Without healthy fats, your body can’t build the hormones that tell it to turn protein into muscle, which is the best way to become a stronger runner. Including fat in your diet can also help with satiety, or feeling full. Consuming certain fats such as Omega 3 fatty acids, found in foods like walnuts and fatty fish, can also help reduce inflammation, which is great news for a runner.
Bottom line, up fats to around 30% of your daily calorie intake, then hit the road.
Some of the quality sources of fats include:
- Cold-pressed olive oil or avocado oil
- Fatty fish
Interested in learning more about whether a high-fat diet can be beneficial for runners? TRE nutritionist Coach Elizabeth weighs in with “High Fat Diet for Runners – Big Win or Epic Fail?”
#3: Cutting the Carbs
Realistically, you should probably only be cutting back on carbs if they’re packaged, processed, or fried and delivered through a drive-thru window.
Going totally carb-free deprives your body of much-needed pre and post-workout fuel. Your brain, muscles, and everything in between use glycogen stores as their preferred energy source, which comes from the carbohydrates you eat. Additionally, unrefined complex carbohydrates contain fiber, vitamins, and minerals which all help keep your body in top running performance. You can also include so-called “ancient grains,” as they are often gluten-free and contain protein and trace vitamins, giving you extra bang for your buck.
While you don’t need to focus on carb-loading, aim to consume the bulk of your daily carbohydrates near your training sessions for the most benefit to your fueling and recovery needs.
Good sources of whole grains are:
- Yams or sweet potatoes
- Squash of all kinds (acorn, butternut, spaghetti)
- Brown rice
If you’re wondering how your training and racing carb needs differ from your daily dietary needs, we’ve got all the details. In her video “Runners Need Carbs,” Coach Elizabeth explains the carbohydrate intake specific to different types of runners, from a 5k racer to a marathoner. Check it out for more information!
#4: Living On The Sports Foods
Sipping Gatorade throughout the day isn’t much different than drinking soda—you’re just downing a bunch of sugar with some added electrolytes. Grabbing a “protein” bar as your go-to snack, while convenient, isn’t the best strategy, either. And on that note, you should use sports nutrition products such as energy gels and gummies sparingly.
These sports drinks and “foods” are great on long-distance runs when you need quick energy to avoid an upset stomach. But in day to day life, they can be a convenience crutch.
Soda, juice, sports drinks, and even sugary coffee can lead to tooth decay, consuming extra calories, and increased cravings for sugar. Protein bars are more like candy bars, and it’s easy to eat on (or two?) without thinking about it.
The best advice is to stick to real, high-quality foods, drink PLENTY of water and avoid processed foods with added sugars, salt, and fats.
- Try reducing, if not cutting altogether, the amount of sweetener in your coffee.
- Infuse your water with lemon, fruit, or cucumbers for a refreshing drink.
- Replace soda with sugar-free bubble water.
- Brew cold, unsweetened ice tea to replace juice.
- Rehydrate after a run with unsweetened coconut water.
You don’t have to ditch the coffee and tea, though. Coach Elizabeth is a fan of both: “These two beverages boost mental health, liver health, and promote a healthy heart. The key is to leave out the sugar and milk, which takes away most all their benefits. Coffee is even being studied most recently for its healthy effects on longevity and cancer prevention, while tea has been a long-standing healing remedy.”
For many more tips specific to your training runs and hydration, electrolyte balance, and sweat rate jump over to this video, “Hydration For Runners.”
#5: Eating Inconsistently
Busy runners often eat erratically in terms of the timing, composition, and quality of their meals. Some days they may graze all day and on others go long stretches without anything.
Some days may include kale salad and lentils, while others include frozen dinners and processed snack foods.
We’re all busy people and while an occasional grab-and-go meal won’t totally derail your nutrition plan, it’s not a long term solution. Just as you need to keep a regular and consistent running schedule, the same strategy applies to eating! Plus, having food on hand to eat right after your run will set you up for quick recovery!
- Keep a bag of almonds, pretzels, and raisins in your glove box.
- Know you’re going to be out and about all day? Pack some veggie sticks, a water bottle, and apples to get you between meals.
- Make overnight oats if you’re stressed for time in the mornings.
- Prep ingredients for a smoothie and store them in the freezer. Just pop a banana, berries, and a few leaves of kale in a bag. Throw it in the blender with water and you’ll be eating in no time.
In fact, if you’re looking for a new smoothie recipe, let Coach Elizabeth walk you through her favorite blend in this video, “Perfect Post Run Smoothie.”
#6: Not Planning Ahead
Before your busy life gets the better of you, block out time on the weekend to grocery shop, plan meals, prepare lunches, snacks, and dinners so you can stay healthy and consistent on the weekdays.
Cooking up a grain, a protein or two, some veggies, and prepping fruit can make a huge difference in having ready to go meals in the fridge.
- Cook a pot of rice, quinoa, or roast some yams
- Prepare your choice of protein, whether that’s a meat, bean, or tofu source.
- Wash salad greens, roast mixed veggies, and chop carrots, jicama, and other veggies for snacking.
- Prep fruits like berries, kiwis, and grapes in small containers for convenience.
- Mix up tahini, lemon juice, and a splash of pure maple syrup for a healthy dressing to keep in the fridge.
With these in hand it will be much easier to fill your plate with healthy choices in no time. You don’t have to look far, in fact. Coach Elizabeth has some “On The Go Lunch Ideas For Runners” here for you to whip up in your kitchen. Meal prep made easy!
Follow the Best Running Diet that Works for You
With these simple and actionable tips, you’re on your way to boosting your daily nutrition habits, from first steps to race day. Take intentional steps to improve your runner’s diet and maximize your performance—you’ll notice the difference when it counts.
For even more nutrition tips, be sure to download our mobile app for all our resources, including our 30 day Healthy Habits Challenge, led by Coach Elizabeth.