When you’re a runner, proper nutrition is critical. This is true whether you’re looking to lose weight, boost performance, or improve health. The right diet maximizes energy, prevents electrolyte imbalances, aids digestion, and optimizes recovery.
I can go on and on endlessly about this subject because I’ve made my share of mistakes. Probably the worst mistake I ever made was underestimating my calorie needs. I started skimping on meals with the intention of speeding up my weight loss results, and it had a serious outcome — my running performance suffered horribly. In fact, I wanted to quit many a time.
Now that I look back at it, I don’t regret making that mistake. It was a valuable lesson—something I’d to experience first-hand to fully appreciate.
Diets Are Hard To Maintain
Maintaining a healthy diet is more easily said than done. Been there, done that. I struggled for years to figure out the right diet, but thanks to consistency, practice, and a bit of luck I was finally able to turn my nutrition around and bring myself into shape.
I got pretty down on myself when I figured out what I was doing wrong, but I now know that I was far from unique. Nutritional mistakes are universal, even among runners of all training backgrounds and levels.
There’s no reason for you to go through the learning curve that I did – I’m here to help you learn the mistakes and what you need to do to fix them.
- Not Eating Enough
This is probably the first mistake I made when I took up running as a means for weight loss. My reasoning was simple. If I drastically reduced my calorie intake, I’d lose a ton of weight.
I was wrong.
The truth is that depriving your body of vital nutrients gains you nothing. It actually undermines your workouts AND your weight loss progress.
Eat appropriate portions of healthy foods. As long as your diet is mainly made up of vegetables, lean proteins, healthy fats, and some fruits, you’re on the right path.
Looking to shed weight? Aim for a 500-calorie deficit per day.
Weight loss is a numbers game. As a general rule, men should aim for eating at least 1800 calories per day, while women need about 1500 calories a day. On hard training days your need for more nutrients is higher than usual, so spend less time worrying about calories.
- Eating Whatever You Want
Many runners overestimate their calorie burn and underestimate the amount they consume. This is why many struggle with weight gain, despite training every day.
Here’s the truth. You simply can’t outrun a crappy diet. Yes, you can go ahead and try it, but I’d bet you won’t go that far.
Running for miles and miles every day doesn’t give you license to eat everything under the sun. That’s why you got to be aware of your eating habits. Learn to recognize the signs that you’re full, so you don’t end up overeating.
Also, practice the 90/10 rule. That means you should eat healthy and clean 90 percent of the time, then give yourself 10 percent for cheat meals and occasional indulgences.
What’s more? Keep tabs on your daily calorie burn with a GPS watch or an online calculator. These types of tools can help you keep tabs on body weight, training intensity, and other valuable stats.
- Not Consuming Enough Protein
I hate to break it to you, but skimping on protein will do nothing but set you back on both your running and fitness goals. And you don’t want that.
You may think of protein as being a bodybuilder’s main nutrient, but as a runner, you might need even more protein than a strength buff.
Why? There are plenty of reasons. Protein keeps you feeling full for longer, speeds up your recovery and ensures optimal health.
I could go on and on about the importance of protein, but I’ll do that on another day in another blog. In the meantime, you can learn more about it here.
To get enough protein, aim for 1 to 1.5 grams per pound of body weight.
How can you do this? Simple: Add at least 15 to 20 grams of protein to every meal. Some of the best sources include lean meats (such as poultry and fish), eggs, milk, yogurt, almonds, and nuts.
- Addicted to Sports Nutrition
Performance nutrition—sports drinks, gels, chews, etc. —has its place in a running program. But going overboard piles on more calories than you need, eventually leading to weight gain.
Eating too many energy bars can also result in nutritional imbalances. When you go for processed junk instead of whole foods, you end up sacrificing vital nutrients such as vitamins, carotenoids, fiber, etc.
Know when you need specialty sports nutrition and when you don’t. For instance, you don’t need special drinks and gels for short runs of less than 50 to 60 minutes.
Planning to run longer than that? Then consume 40 to 50 grams of carbohydrates—the equivalent of a 16-to-32-ounce sports drink—per hour of exercise.
Remember that energy bars are not a meal replacement. Be sure to eat high-quality foods such as veggies, lean protein, and fruits, and also drink plenty of water to keep your body well hydrated.
- Running Away from Fats
Skimping on fat? You’re doing your body a big disservice.
Here’s the truth. Eating fats won’t make you fat any more than eating money will make you rich. Not only that, but purging all types of fat from your eating plan is like throwing the baby out with the bath water.
Dietary fats help your body absorb nutrients like Vitamins A, D, and K. They also regulate hunger, reduce your cholesterol level, aid digestion, and a host of other vital functions.
Make healthy fats a priority. Eat plenty of mono-and polyunsaturated fats, which are found in avocados, fish, nuts, olive oil, and seeds. These are what protect your heart and promote feeling full.
The fats that you need to avoid like the plague are trans fats. These are the manmade hydrogenated fats typically found in cookies, fast foods, and other processed items.
Healthy fats should make up 20 to 25 percent of your daily calorie intake. As a rough guideline, consume a half gram per pound of body weight per day.
For the full guide to dietary fats, check my post here.
- Ignoring Post-run Fueling
It took me years to realize the importance of my post-training diet. I just didn’t know better, so I kept reaching for junk, non-nutritious, food to satisfy my post-run cravings. I ended up taking in loads of empty calories and little to no nutrients at all. Until one day when I learned about the importance of post-training eating for both performance and recovery, That’s when I changed my ways.
Eating during the recovery window is crucial because that’s when your body is most receptive to nutrients. If you skip post-workout eating, your muscles won’t get the stuff it needs to repair itself and build new muscle after a run.
That, sooner than later, limits recovery and hinders performance. I’m pretty positive that you want none of that.
Two words: Plan ahead. Have your post-run recovery snacks and meals ready beforehand. Choose foods loaded with carbs and protein to replenish your muscle and hold off hunger.
Depending on your preference and personal goals, go for a 3-to-1 or 4-to-1 ratio of carbs to protein.
If you don’t have the stomach for solid food following exercise (which is the case for some of us), then go for liquid options. My favorites include chocolate milk or a smoothie with a protein shake. This is also a great way to reward yourself after a run!
- Not Drinking Enough Water
I cannot emphasize this enough. Runners who stay well-hydrated run harder, perform better and have an enjoyable time doing it.
Water is essential to almost every bodily function. As research shows, losing two percent of body weight in fluid can drastically reduce your power and athletic performance.
Keep your body well hydrated throughout the day. Shoot for at least 100 to 120 ounces of water—the equivalent of 12 to 15 cups.
As a rule, drink 8 to 12 ounces of water right before you start running to ensure that you’re hydrated starting off.
Planning a long session? Drink on the run. Aim for at least 6 to 8 ounces of fluid every 10 to 15 minutes.
To measure your dehydration level, watch out for changes in body weight before and after training. For every pound you lose, drink at least 16 ounces of fluid.
- Rushing Results
In my opinion, the biggest mistake you can make when it comes to trying to achieve diet success—or in any other area of life—is rushing results.
Change takes time, and when you’re trying to change something that’s hard and tricky like a nutrition plan, you need to be patient.
Every runner is different and responds differently to various nutrition plans. The secret to success boils down to EXPERIMENTING with different methods and finding the solution that works for you – and this takes time.
Start with the basics. Eat clean most of the time and experiment with different diet plans, then evaluate each approach for its short-term and long-term benefits. Your goal is to find what works best for you.
Remember to go slow and go small. As a rule, make small changes, one at a time. For example, start by trying to develop a post-run eating strategy, or with eating more protein. Drink more water and don’t skip breakfast. It’s not sexy, but it all works.
Each of these steps and fixes put together will help you lay the foundation for healthy eating.
Remember: This is your life we’re talking about, and you’re in it for the long haul. Every positive change you make is worth the effort, but it may take time for it to become second nature. Be patient with yourself.
There you have it!
The above diet mistakes are some of the most common I see runners (as well as non-runners) make on a consistent basis.
Now it’s your turn. Are you making any of these mistakes? Or do you have other insights you’d like to share?
I’d love to hear from you in the comments section.
In the meantime thank you for dropping by.
Keep Running Strong