The Complete Beginner’s Guide To The Runners Diet

Eat the right things at the right times, and you’ll run better. In fact, if you’re serious about reaching your full potential, you cannot ignore the importance of a proper runner’s diet.

Being a runner means more than just logging the miles. Having your nutrition plan dialed in is equally important. This is the case whether you’re running to lose weight, to run a race, or just to be in shape.

Would you like to learn how to design the perfect training nutrition plan when running? Then you’ve come to the right place.

In today’s +7000-word post, I’ll delve deep into the basics of proper runners diet for beginners. Yes, it’s pretty exhaustive guide, but I felt like I had to do it because the topic of nutrition for runners is that important.  By the end of this post, you’ll have all the pieces you need to start eating healthier.

Disclaimer: Before you go any further, I’d like for the record to clearly state that I’m not a certified nutritionist or dietitian. While I went to great length to research the nutrition guidelines shared here, don’t hesitate to consult with a professional before you embark on a new diet.

What is Runner’s Diet?

Just as it is important to follow a well-rounded running, it is essential to fuel your body well.

But let’s make things clear before we proceed.

Runners’ diet is not about weight loss. Eating healthy while running doesn’t mean counting calories or removing entire food groups from your daily eating menu.

Sure, healthy eating promotes positive weight changes and a healthier lifestyle, but the word diet has nothing to do with trying to remain unrealistically thin, instilling strict dietary limitations, or depriving yourself of the foods you love.

In fact, healthy eating involves eating in such a way that makes you feel great, increases your energy levels, regulates your mood, and improves your overall fitness and health levels.

Runners diet is all about consuming the right foods at the right times so your body can have all the energy and fuel needed to perform at its best.

The Main Building Blocks of A Runners Diet

There’s a broad range of nutrients we need, but in general, the main ones, what’s known as macronutrients, can be broken down into three categories: Carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.

In essence, macronutrients, or macros for shorts, stand for a broad range of chemical compounds that our bodies need in large amounts for optimal functioning (unlike micronutrients, which are needed in small amounts).

The Exact Runners Diet Diet Breakdown

As a general rule, a healthy diet should be (1) high in the complex carbohydrates, (2) moderate in lean protein, and (3) sufficient in healthy fats.

That translates to about 55 to 65 percent of daily calorie intake coming from carbohydrates, 20 to 25 percent from fats, and 15 to 20 percent from proteins.

Of course, these proportions aren’t written in stone. They depend on many factors, including your fitness level, training intensity, body weight, physiology, and personal preferences.

Let’s dive a little deeper into each macronutrient and discuss their importance for runners.

The Runners Diet – Carbohydrates For Runners Explained

Also known as saccharides, carbohydrates, or carbs, for short, are your body’s preferred source of energy.

Carbohydrates include sugars, cellulose, starches, and a host of other compounds found in living organisms. These occur naturally in plant-based foods, such as grain, such as grains.

But not all carbs are the same. The fact is, most foods contain more than one, or a mix of carbs, proteins, and fats, in different amounts and ratios. That’s one of the reasons designing nutrition plans is tricky.

The Main Building Blocks

Chemically, carbohydrates are organic molecular compounds made from three elements: carbon (C), hydrogen, and oxygen (H2O), with a ratio of hydrogen twice that of oxygen and carbon.

These molecular compounds are divided into two main categories:

  • The complex carbohydrates—the polysaccharides (mostly starches and fiber), and
  • The simple carbohydrates—the monosaccharides and disaccharides (mostly sugars).

Both types, as we are going to see, differ in their chemical structure and the impact they have on your body.

The Process

Think of carbohydrates as your body’s primary source of crude oil.

When you consume foods containing carbohydrate (except fiber), your body breaks it down and converts it into glycogen (a form of glucose), then stores in your muscles, liver, and bloodstream.

These stores act as fuel to make energy—just like high-octane unleaded gas.

When you start running, the glycogen stores are converted into energy that contracts the working muscles. The longer and/or harder you run, the more glycogen you use up.

For most runners, glycogen stores are depleted after a 90- to 120-minute effort (think long runs).

What’s more, when you consume more carbs than you use up, the excess is turned into fat (stored energy for later use). That’s why too much of it results in weight gain (and one of the reasons low carb-diet are so popular).

Simple Vs. Complex

I hate to sound like a broken record, but not all carbohydrates are created equal. These “sugars” can be divided into two main forms: the simple and the complex.

This classification depends on the carbohydrates’ molecular structure, which has a drastic effect on how they are digested by your body.

The Simple Carbs

If you think that soda cans and chocolate bars would be in this category, you’re right.

Also known as the bad carbohydrates, simple carbs include all the monosaccharides—containing one sugar unit, and disaccharides—containing two sugar units.

Simple carbs are tasteful and ideal for a short-term energy boost as they require no further breakdown from enzymes and, thus, are quickly absorbed into the bloodstream. That might sound like a good thing, but there is, as we are going to learn shortly, a huge downside to it.

Here’s the bad news. Simple carbs are low in fiber and nutrients and offer little more than calories regarding overall nutrition. For that reason, these carbs are usually referred to as empty calories.

Research has revealed that consuming these carbohydrates can lead to a host of health problems like type 2 diabetes, obesity, etc. So, as a rule of thumb, avoid these carbs, except on occasional indulgences or cheat days.

The Main Sources of Simple Carbs

Simple carbs include:

  • Sugar
  • Syrup
  • Candy
  • Cake
  • Soda
  • Beer
  • Fruit juices
  • White bread
  • Pastries
  • White pasta
  • White rice

(Practically every food item you need to avoid if you’re serious about reaching your fitness and health potential).

The Complex Carbs

Complex carbs, also known as polysaccharides, are starches made up of long chains of simple sugar units bonded together in what’s known as saccharide chains.

Also, these carbs are made from longer molecules chains than their simple counterpart. That’s why these carbs take longer to break down and get digested by your body.

High in The Right Nutrients

In general, complex carbs are unprocessed (or slightly processed) and still contain a variety of essential nutrients, and fiber found naturally in the food.

What’s more, complex carbs are low to moderate in calorie density. This means that you can consume filling amounts and satisfy your hunger, but not worry about throwing your whole nutrition balance and calorie intake out of whack.

The Main Sources

High-quality examples of good carbohydrates include:

  • Whole grains
  • Brown rice
  • Broccoli
  • Lentils
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Pasta
  • Bananas
  • And other fresh and dried fruits.

Carbs Needs In Runners

According to the Institute of Medicine, the recommended dietary daily allowance for carbohydrates is about 130 grams per day. This is the bare minimum required to fuel your brain, central nervous system, and red blood cells.

But as a runner, you’ll need, definitely, more than 130 grams per day.

In fact, your carbs needs in grams will vary according to many factors, including your training level, training intensity, fitness goals, and personal physiology and preferences.

Carb needs & Bodyweight

As a rule of thumb, consume an amount of carbs based on your body weight. According to experts, this is roughly 2 to 4 grams per pound of body weight.

As a general guideline, simply multiply your weight in pounds by 3.2 (or multiply your weight in kilogram by 7).

Once you have a rough estimate, break down that amount into the proper portions, then spread it out over the day. This might translate to roughly 80 to 100 grams of carbs at three meals, a couple of healthy snacks, and some carbs while exercising—especially runs exceeding 90 minutes.

Carbs Needs Based on Training Intensity

Or, if you are a serious runner,  determine your daily needs by assessing your training volume/intensity.

Use the guidelines below to guesstimate your general daily needs. Just keep in mind that one gram of carbs contains four calories.

  • Low to moderate intensity training—45 to 60 minutes a day. 2 to 4 grams of carbohydrates per pound (or 4 to 8 grams per kilogram) of body weight.
  • Moderate to somewhat intense endurance exercise—60 to 120 minutes a day. 2.5 to 5 grams of carbohydrates per pound (or 5 to 10 grams per kilogram) of body weight.
  • High-intensity endurance exercise. Over three hours a day. 4 to 8 grams of carbohydrates per pound (or 8 to 16 grams per kilogram) of body weight.

These are suggestions taken from the 5th edition of the Manual for Professional. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Chicago, IL; 2012.

Example

If you weigh 180 pounds and engage in relatively intense endurance exercise, running, and cross-training for at least one to two hours every day, then you’d need something in the range of 450 to 900 grams of carbs each day.

The Simple Formula

Calculate calorie intake first, then break it down it into the right proportions (do the same thing with the other macros)

Here is the simple formula for determining your carb needs in grams:

Step 1.

Multiply the average number of calories you consume in a day by 0.55 to 0.65 (the lower and upper limit of carb consumption). This helps you work out the average amount of calories from carbohydrates.

Step 2.

Divide the number of calories from carbs by 4 (carbohydrates contain four calories in each gram).

For example, for a 2,300-calorie diet,  Make sure that least 1300 to 1500 of your calories come from carb sources every day. That translates to roughly 320 to 370 grams of carbohydrates.

Step 3.

Plan your meals and portion sizes around your daily carb needs.

Where To Find Them

Here is a list of some of the most common sources of carbohydrates, along with portion size and exact content.

  • One cup of sliced plantains = 48 grams
  • One medium baked potato = 37 grams
  • One cup of yum = 37 grams
  • One cup of parsnips = 26 grams
  • One medium sweet potato = 24 grams
  • One cup of butternut squash = 22 grams
  • One cup of acorn squash = 22 grams
  • ½ cup of cooked greens or orange veggies (spinach, broccoli, or carrot) = 20 grams
  • One cup of tomato sauce = 16 grams
  • One cup of beets = 16 grams
  • One slice of bread = 15 grams
  • One cup of canned/diced fruit = 15 grams
  • ½ cup of cooked pasta, rice, quinoa, or polenta = 15 grams
  • ½ cup of cooked porridge = 15 grams
  • ¼ cup muesli = 15 grams
  • One cup of canned/diced fruit = 15 grams
  • 1/2 cup of cooked or dried beans, peas, and lentils = 15 grams
  • One medium banana, orange, or apple = 12 to 15 grams
  • One medium artichoke = 14 grams
  • One cup of Brussel sprouts = 12 grams
  • One cup of sliced carrots = 12 grams
  • One cup of rutabagas = 12 grams
  • One cup of broccoli = 12 grams
  • One cup of mashed pumpkin = 12 grams
  • One cup of sliced jicama = 11 grams
  • One cup of collards = 11 grams
  • One cup of sliced jicama = 11 grams
  • One cup of red cabbage = 11 grams
  • One medium cucumber = 11 grams
  • One medium potato = 10 grams
  • One cup of eggplant = 9 grams
  • One cup of turnips = 8 grams
  • One cup of okra = 7 grams
  • One cup of asparagus = 7 grams
  • One cup of Swiss chard = 7 grams
  • One cup of spaghetti squash = 7 grams
  • One cup of mustard greens = 6 grams
  • One medium tomato = 5 grams
  • One cup of green bell pepper = 5 grams
  • One cup of cauliflower = 5 grams

The Runners Diet – Dietary Proteins For Runners

Protein is literally the building block of life. As such, these compounds are needed to produce energy, maintain primary biological processes, and sustain life.

More specifically, proteins are primarily essential for building, repairing, and maintaining cells, tissues, and organs throughout your body, but also important for other vital bodily functions, including:

  • Metabolism,
  • Digestion,
  • The production of antibodies that fight infections,
  • Immune system integrity,
  • Hormonal messaging,

Dietary proteins can also serve as a source of fuel when your glycogen stores wear out. This is especially the case during long and hard training sessions.

Then God Said: “Let There Be Protein.”

According to science, the human body is made up of about 100 trillion cells, with each cell housing about 10,000 types of different proteins. Yes, that’s a huge number.

In fact, roughly 18 percent of your body weight comes from protein in the form of lean tissue. Proteins also comprise 10 percent of your brain and 20 percent of your heart tissue. Likewise, they are a fundamental component of bone, organs, glands, skin, hair, and bodily fluids—except urine and bile.

Essential Vs Non-essential Amino Acids

Protein itself is composed of 22 types of amino acids—all of which are crucial for normal functioning. Only nine of them are what’s known as the essential amino acids— the compounds that our bodies need but does not manufacture. Instead, you’ll have to get them from nutrition sources.

Here is a list of the nine amino acids we can get only from diet: isoleucine, histidine, methionine, lysine, threonine, valine, tryptophan, isoleucine, and phenylalanine.

The remaining 13 amino acids are produced by our bodies. That’s why they’re referred to as non-essential.

The Complete Vs. The Incomplete

As previously stated, proteins are not created equal. Some are complete whereas others are incomplete.

The Complete

Complete proteins contain all nine of the essential amino acids. For that reason, your body can readily use them for protein synthesis—the process of building and/or repairing of muscle tissue.

Primary sources of complete proteins include animal products. In fact, most animal-based sources of proteins, such as poultry, meat, eggs, and fish, provide all the vital amino acids your body needs in significant quantity.

The Incomplete

Incomplete proteins are those that may contain significant quantities of amino acids, but not all the nine essential amino acids, or don’t deliver enough quantities to meet your body’s needs.

As a result, when you consume incomplete proteins, your body cannot fully use them during protein synthesis.

Most plant-based sources, such as vegetables, beans, grains, and nuts are often deficient in one or more of the essential amino acids.

The Solution

Just because incomplete proteins are, incomplete, doesn’t make them inferior, nor does it mean that you can’t get sufficient complete proteins from a plant-based diet.

All you need to do is combine different plant-based food to help provide your body with the proper balance (and amount) of essential amino acids.

Here are a few tasty examples.

  • Spinach salad with almonds
  • Grains and legumes based soups or stews
  • Hummus with whole-wheat bread
  • Yogurt with Walnut
  • Rice and peas
  • Brown rice and beans
  • Whole grain noodles with peanut sauce
  • Legume with nuts
  • Yogurt with almonds or sunflower seeds
  • Legumes with seeds
  • Beans and corn
  • Salad made with buts and beans
  • Green peas and brown rice
  • Legumes with grains

The Standard Recommendation

According to current guidelines, the average person should aim to consume about 0.6 to 0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight. So, for instance, if you weigh 160 pounds, you would want to consume about 100 to 130 grams of protein per day.

But you are no ordinary person, aren’t you?

You are a runner. And for that reason, you need more protein than the average Joe and Jane. The standard recommendations are likely not enough to offset the oxidation of proteins during exercise.

Protein Needs In Runners

Here are some protein intake suggestions based on the training load to help guide you in the right direction:

Moderate Training

If you do light to moderation training, you’d need 0.7 to 0.9 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight.

Moderate to Intense Training

Once you rack up the miles or do any form of strength training, your protein needs increase.

In fact, prolonged and/or strenuous training may boost dietary proteins needs to as high as one gram of protein per pound of bodyweight (or 1.9 grams per kilogram of body weight) per day.

Half-Marathon and marathon runners might need to shoot for at least 1.2 grams of protein per lb. of bodyweight.

Example

Jane is a female runner weighing 150lb. To consume enough protein to support her training, recovery, and overall health, Jane would be looking to ingest about 120 to 150 grams of the macronutrient every day.

The 20 grams Post-Run Protein Rule

Consuming the right amount of protein isn’t the only significant factor you need to consider.

Timing is also of the essence if you’re serious about ensuring that you’re getting the most out of your protein intake.

Research shows that consuming protein within the recovery window can speed up glycogen synthesis. During the recovery window, your muscles are primed to receive and use up nutrients to repair and replenish itself from the damage experienced while running.

In fact, according to research published in “Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise,” consuming a meal or snack containing both protein and carbs post-workout can improve running performance and optimize muscle recovery.

The Complete List

If the above intake recommendation sounds like too much, then take a look at the below list and consider how much protein in common foods and dairy products. Refer to this list whenever you’re sketching your diet plan to ensure that you’re getting enough sources of protein in your diet.

Animal-based Sources

  • 6 ounces of tuna = 40 grams
  • 6 ounces of fish, salmon or cod = 40 grams
  • 4 ounces of lean red meat = 35 grams
  • 4 ounces of skinless chicken = 35 grams
  • 4 ounces of lean pork = 35 grams
  • 3 ounces of roasted turkey = 26 grams
  • 3 ounces of steak = 26 grams
  • 4 ounces of trout = 27 grams
  • 4 ounces of fresh, Atlantic farmed, salmon = 25 grams
  • 3 ounces of lamb = 23 grams
  • 3 ounces of salmon = 22 grams
  • 3 ounces of pork = 22 grams
  • 3 ounces of shrimp = 20 grams
  • 3 ounces of lobster = 16 grams
  • 3 ounces of scallops = 14 grams
  • One ounce of broiled, beef, Sirloin steak = 8 grams
  • One ounce of baked, roast, beef = 8 grams
  • One ounce of, dark meat, chicken = 7 grams
  • One ounce of Salmon = 7 grams
  • One ounce of, white meat, chicken = 7 grams
  • One ounce of turkey breast = 7 grams
  • One large, 50g, egg = 6 to 7 grams
  • One ounce of Cod = 6.5
  • One ounce of tuna = 6.5 grams
  • One ounce of Scallops = 6 grams
  • One ounce of shrimp = 6 grams
  • One ounce of Flounder = 5 grams
  • One slice of roasted turkey breast = 5 grams
  • One ounce of smoked ham = 5 grams
  • One large, white only, egg = 3.5 grams
  • One medium slice of bacon = 2 grams

Plant-based sources

  • ½ cup of raw tofu = 19 grams
  • One cup of lentils = 16 grams
  • ½ package of tofu = 14 grams
  • One cup of black beans = 12 grams
  • ½ cup of pinto beans = 11 grams
  • ½ cup of soybeans = 11 grams
  • ½ cup of lentils = 9 grams
  • ¼ cup of pumpkin seeds = 8 grams
  • ½ cup of black beans = 8 grams
  • ½ cup of chickpeas = 7 grams
  • ½ cup of black eyed peas = 7 grams
  • One ounce of peanuts = 7 grams
  • Once ounce of roasted almonds = 6.2 grams
  • One ounce of almonds = 6 grams
  • One ounce of flax seeds = 6 grams
  • One ounce of Chia seeds = 5 grams
  • One ounce of walnuts = 4 grams
  • One cup cooked rice = 4 grams
  • One ounce of roasted pistachios = 5 grams
  • One ounce of roasted cashews = 4 grams
  • ½ cup of quinoa = 4 grams

Dairy food

  • One cup of cottage cheese = 28 grams
  • 6 ounces of Greek yogurt = 18 grams
  • 4 ounces of cottage cheese = 14 grams
  • One cup of regular, non-fat, yogurt = 11 grams
  • One cup of milk = 8 grams
  • Two tablespoons of peanut butter = 8 grams
  • One cup of skim milk = 8 grams
  • One ounce of mozzarella = 7 grams
  • One slice of cheddar cheese= 6 grams

The Runners Diet – Healthy Fats For Runners Explained

Dietary fats, along with carbohydrates and proteins, are one of the essential macronutrients—something your body needs in large amounts to function optimally.

What is usually referred to as dietary fats in the fitness and diet circles is actually a class of substances called lipid. These comprise all the lipids found in plant and animal tissue, which are consumed as food.

More specifically, dietary fats are made up of a large group of water-insoluble organic compounds that can be further divided into triglycerides, cholesterol, and phospholipids.

The most common type of fats (the solid form) or oils (the liquid form) are a mix of triglyceride (triacylglycerol) with slight amounts of other lipids.

I know I’m boring with all these scientific terms, but just bear with me.

Saturated Vs. Unsaturated

Dietary fats can be broken down into two broad categories, based on their biochemical structure and their impact on the body: saturated and unsaturated.

  • Saturated fats contain high amounts of hydrogen, but no double bonds, and tend to be solid at room temperature, whereas
  • the unsaturated kind houses one or more double bond(s) between the carbon atoms (more on these distinctions in the upcoming sections).

The Many Roles Of Fats

Here are a few of the main functions of fat:

  • Transporting vitamins (mainly A, D, E, and K) throughout your body, offering better nutrient absorption.
  • Ensuring proper functioning at the cellular level, and keeping structural integrity.
  • Helping keep a stronger immunity system
  • Aiding in hormone productions—mainly estrogen and testosterone
  • Helping control inflammation and blood clotting
  • Helping keep your hair and skin healthy
  • A secondary source of energy as the largest reserve of stored fuel available for activity.
  • Assisting in the protection and the insulation of vital internal organs in the form of adipose fat, which your stored fat

The Good—the Unsaturated Fats

Good fats are what’s known as unsaturated fats. These score high in disease-fighting and illness-preventing antioxidants, like vitamin E, etc.

In fact, research has shown that unsaturated fats help reduce bad cholesterol levels, which, in turn, cuts your risk of cardiovascular disease.

Here are some of the healthiest sources to include in your diet

  • Avocados
  • Olive oil
  • Nuts, including almonds, pecans, pine, peanuts, cashews, and pistachios.
  • Seeds, mainly sunflower and sesame.
  • Fatty fish
  • Natural peanut butter
  • Egg yolk

The Many Shades of Good Fats

Unsaturated fats can be further broken down into polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats.

Monosaturated fats

Biochemically, monounsaturated fatty acids, also known as or MUFAs, contain a single, double bond in their fatty acid chain. The more double bonds a fatty acid contains, the more fluid it is.

Research shows that consuming these fats improve cholesterol levels, which can reduce the risks of cardiovascular disease.

Not only that, numerous studies have revealed that monounsaturated fatty acids may have a positive impact on insulin levels blood sugar levels, which can be particularly beneficial if you have type II diabetes or other insulin-related issues.

Mono oils are usually liquid at room temperature, but start to harden at refrigerator temperature.

Common sources of monounsaturated fat include olive, canola, and olive oils, and avocados.

The Polyunsaturated Fats

Biochemically, polyunsaturated fats, or PUFAs for short, have more than one double bond in their fatty acid chain between its carbon atoms.

The most well-known polyunsaturated fatty acids today are the omega-3s and omega-6s. These are essential nutrients that your body uses to produce vital chemicals needed for optimal functioning.

Evidence shows that these are particularly valuable to your heart, and might decreases the risk of coronary artery disease.

Research indicates that they reduce the level of harmful cholesterol (LDL) and boost the level of the healthy kind, or what’s known as HDL. Research has also linked monosaturated fats to a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke.

Unlike the mono kind, polyunsaturated fatty acids tend to be liquid both at room temperature and in the refrigerator.

Common sources include corn, soybeans, sesame, safflower, many seeds and nuts, soybeans, and their oils. Good portions of these oils can also be found in eggs from flax- or fish-fed chicken.

The Bad—the Saturated Fats

So what are saturated fats? What exactly they’re saturated with?

The third classification of fats are saturated with hydrogen.

More specifically, saturated fats are fatty acids in which all carbon atoms are bonded to hydrogen atoms.

Saturated fats, or what’s known as the bad kind—block your arteries and contributes little to your overall health and well-being levels. Evidence shows that these fatty acids increase total blood cholesterol and LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol levels, increasing the risks of cardiovascular issues.

Saturated fats are often found in animal sources of foods, such as red meat, poultry, and full-fat dairy products.

According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, you should limit your saturated fat intake to no more than 7 percent of your total calorie intake. This might translate to less than 20 grams a day for men, and 15 grams for women.

Or, better yet, replace saturated food sources with PUFAs and MUFAs.

The Ugly—The Trans Fats

Now that you have a basic understanding of the essential sources of fat, it is time to reveal the evil villain of the dietary fat world: trans fats.

Trans fats can occur naturally in some foods in tiny amounts, such as those from animals, including red meats and full-fat dairy products. But, in general, these fatty acids are the only of the four types of fatty acids that are man-made.

Also known as hydrogenated fats, trans fats are a chemically produced form of fatty acids.

More specifically, trans fats are produced in a “food lab” when liquid vegetable oils are forced, with the help of nickel catalyst, through a hydrogenation process at high pressure, making the oils more solid—in a process known as hardening.

In other words, trans fats are created by processing vegetable oils, turning them from a liquid into a solid.

Common sources of trans-fat rich foods include:

  • Cookies
  • Commercially baked pastries
  • Pizza
  • Muffins
  • Doughnuts
  • Crackers
  • Packaged snack foods
  • Fried foods (mainly fried chicken, French fries, chicken nuggets, and breaded fish)
  • Stick margarine
  • Candy bars

Keep these fatty acids on the watch list. Avoid any food or dairy products that have the words “hydrogenated vegetable oil,” “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil,” or “shortening,” in their ingredient list.

Also, food items labeled as “trans-fat free” usually contain less than half a gram per serving. So, it’s quite misleading. So, please do not be swayed.

Replace foods rich in saturated and trans fats, such as whole milk, butter, and baked foods with food rich in unsaturated fats (check the list above).

Healthy Fats Needs In Runners

Most experts recommend that as much as 15 to 25 percent of your calories should come from fats and less than 7 percent from saturated fat.

Just keep in mind that the average American average intake hovers around 35 percent, according to survey.

So, as a runner, if you consume 2800 calories per day, then less than 600 of these calories should be from dietary fats. That translates to 65 to 75 grams of fat a day.

The List

Here is a long of fat-rich foods.

  • One cup of Brazil nuts = 93 grams
  • One cup of whipping, heavy cream = 88 grams
  • One cup of whole Filberts (hazelnuts) = 84 grams
  • One cup of dry and roasted cashews = 63 grams
  • One cup of pistachios = 60 grams
  • One cup of walnuts = 62 grams
  • One cup of silvered almonds = 53 grams
  • One cup of dry, roasted, whole, almonds = 47 grams
  • One cup of sliced almonds = 45 grams
  • One ounce of ghee = 28 grams
  • One cup of half & half cream = 27 grams
  • One cup of fresh coconut = 27 grams
  • One ounce of whole macadamia = 21 grams
  • One ounce of pecan = 20 grams
  • Two tablespoons of smooth peanut butter = 17 grams
  • Two tablespoons of creamy or smooth peanut butter = 16 grams
  • One ounce of dry roasted peanuts = 14 grams
  • One ounce of pine nuts = 14 grams
  • Two tablespoons of reduced fat, peanut butter = 12 grams
  • One tablespoon of lard = 12 grams
  • One tablespoon of regular butter = 11 grams
  • 2 tablespoon of Nutella = 11 grams
  • ½ cup of evaporated whole milk = 10 grams
  • One cup of whole goat milk = 10 grams
  • One ounce of white chocolate = 15 grams
  • One tablespoon of almond, hazelnut, walnut, and truffle oils = 13 grams
  • One tablespoon of soybean, olive, canola, safflower, corn and sesame oils = 13 grams
  • One ounce of pepperoni = 13 grams
  • Once ounce of dark; 70%, chocolate = 12 grams
  • Once ounce of Camembert = 12 grams
  • One ounce of Havarti = 11 grams
  • One ounce of extra black 82%, chocolate = 10.5 grams
  • One ounce of regular cream cheese = 10 grams
  • One ounce of Gorgonzola = 10 grams
  • One ounce of America, processed, cheese = 9 grams
  • One ounce of goat cheese = 9 grams
  • One ounce of regular cheddar = 9 grams
  • One cup of whole milk = 9 grams
  • One tablespoon of whipped butter = 8 grams
  • One cup of regular chocolate milk = 8 grams
  • One ounce of Danish cheese = 8 grams
  • One ounce of Gouda = 8 grams
  • One ounce of Edam cheese = 8 grams
  • One ounce of Parmesan cheese = 7.3 grams
  • One cup of regular yogurt = 7 grams
  • One ounce of shelled and cooked peanuts = 7 grams
  • One ounce of brie = 7 grams
  • One ounce of Feta cheese = 6 grams
  • One ounce of whole mike mozzarella = 6 grams
  • One ounce of fresh Mozzarella = 5 grams
  • One ounce of ground beef = 5 grams
  • One ounce of low-fat cheddar = 5 grams
  • ½ cup of cottage regular cottage cheese = 5 grams
  • One cup of low-fat chocolate milk = 5 grams
  • One cup of 2% fat milk = 5 grams
  • One cup of low-fat yogurt = 4 grams
  • One large egg = 4.5 grams
  • One small egg = 3.5 grams
  • Two tablespoons of reduced fat peanut butter = 2.5 grams
  • One cup of almond of, low-fat, almond milk = 2.5 grams
  • ½ cup of 2% low-fat cottage cheese = 2 grams

 How To Design A Nutrition Plan

Now that you know all you need to know about the building blocks of a runners diet, let’s see how can you put it into practice

Determine your Calorie Maintenance Level

Every person has a set amount of calories that they need to consume each day in order to keep their current weight. This is what’s referred to the Calorie Maintenance Level in the fitness circles, and is the number of calories your body will use up to support your metabolic rate and regular daily activities.

There are many ways and methods for guestimating calorie maintenance level. Yes, guest the estimation. One quick way to get an approximate estimate of what your daily calorie maintenance level is to multiply your current body weight in pounds by 14 and 18.

In essence, your daily calorie maintenance level will be typically somewhere in between these amounts. For example, a 170lb runner would require a daily calorie maintenance level of roughly 2400 to 3000 calories per day.

But, if you are leading an active lifestyle, running, and/or doing other forms of exercise, your daily energy needs will go up. This depends on the intensity, frequency, and duration of the workout session. That’s why your daily body requirements will vary from one day to the next.

Here is the oversimplified formula for figuring out your weekly running energy expenditure:

Weekly Energy Expenditure = Weekly Mileage X Calorie Burn per Mile.

Just don’t get me wrong here. This formula is not written in stone. As I have previously mentioned, many factors affect calorie burn while running. That said, the above formula can set you on the right path toward understanding your energy needs while running. And that’s a good thing.

Here are some of the most common recommendations.

  • If your main fitness goal is to losing weight, then shoot for a daily calorie” deficit” of around 20 percent below your Calorie Maintenance Level.
  • If your main fitness goal is to increase strength or improve endurance level shoot for a daily calorie “surplus” of roughly 250 to 350 calories above your maintenance level.

For more, check this online calorie burn calculator from Runners World.

Get Professional Help

In case you need more help, consider enlisting the help of a trained sports nutritionist or dietitian.

They can help you better estimate your energy needs, then devise a nutrition plan even design a weekly or monthly menu book to help you optimize your training and recovery times. But this might be over the top—especially if you are just starting out and don’t need professional help.

Time Your Intake

Timing is the most important factor in a runner’s diet—right after the type foods you opt for.

As a rule of thumb, leave, at least, two to three hours between eating and running, depending on the content and size of the meal. Discipline your intake takes a big part of this, so don’t underestimate the on-time schedule.

Before A Run

Aim for at least 30 to 40 grams of carbohydrates one to two hours before running. Try a fruit, a bowl of cereal, an energy bar, whatever works the best for you. Sure, choose the low sugar one!

If you run first thing in the morning, have a small, carb-rich breakfast 20 to 30 minutes before you head out the door. Running on an empty stomach may, but not always, burn up all of your stored fuel, which can compromise your performance.

If you don’t have the time (or the stomach) for a full breakfast, then experiment with eating a small piece of fruit, a smoothie, or a hypertonic sports drink, before heading out.

The Right Foods

To get the most of your pre-run meal choices, focus on these four things:

  • Foods you’re familiar with, especially before a serious workout or race. It’s never nice to have a funny tummy during a workout.
  • Low-fat foods.
  • Low-fiber foods.
  • Carb-rich, and protein moderate foods.
  • Make sure the food is moderate in both protein and carbs.

Eating During A run

This is what you need to if you are planning to run for more than 90 minutes.

Consume 30 to 40 grams of carbohydrates for every 45- to 60-minute of exercise. A gel pack is usually a good choice. These deliver about 25 to 30 grams of easily digestible carbs.

For the full guide to eating on the run, check my post here.

Eat Post Run

Just don’t resume work, life, or whatever, on an empty growling stomach. There is no guarantee that you’ll be reaching for a healthy and nutritious food when the hunger pangs strike.

For more on post-workout eating, check my post here.

The Tenets of Healthy Eating

Once you have figured your carb-to-protein-to-fat proportions, it’s time to pay attention to the food itself.

The three basic rules for a healthy runner’s diet are:

  • Balance,
  • Variety, and
  • Once you master these three aspects of your diet, you’ll be on your way to success.

Balance

Balance is the first step toward nice things in this world. In order to stay healthy, you always have to tune in between good and bad, also for eating.

Balanced eating is not your typical trendy, yo-yo, or crash diet. Instead, it’s the type of eating you should stick to for life. Simply consume essentials and avoid overeating.

By following a balanced diet, you’ll ensure that you’re consuming all the essential nutrients that your body needs to function properly and optimally.

To find balance, get the bulk of your daily calories from these main food groups:

  • Fresh vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Fresh fruits
  • Lean proteins
  • Legumes
  • Nuts

Keep in mind that one food group does not have all the answers. It cannot provide you with all the nutrients you need.

Variety

Your diet could have all the characteristics above, but it might still lack variety, which is the second pillar of healthy, optimal eating. If that’s your case, then you’re missing out, big time. Before you start being creative, let’s get to know what variety I’m talking about.

Variety stands for opting for a wide range of foods from each main category every day to ensure a nutritious diet. The more colors, the merrier.

Variety is the spice of life, and is definitely a significant goal and milestone when it comes to eating well.

In fact, most nutrition experts would agree that variety is one of the cornerstones of good quality, well-rounded diet.

a study published in the “Journal of Nutrition” revealed that, the more varied your food choices, the more likely you’re to get proper amounts of nutrients and fiber.

Also, be sure to opt for a variety of different foods from within the food categories themselves to keep your daily menu interesting and provide you with a wide range of macro-and micronutrients.

Moderation

Moderation is all about regulating or controlling your daily food intake. It involves making sure not to eat too much or too little of any food or nutrient.

In other words, moderation is really about consuming the right amounts of foods at the right times while meeting your nutritional requirements and maintaining a healthy weight.

Not only that, but moderation also means not going overboard with treats, alcohol, fast food, or restaurant meals.

Of course, feel free to enjoy your treats, but do it once in a blue moon since most reward foods tend to be high in calories but low in nutrients and fiber. Take more and don’t blame anyone if you gain significant weight, especially if you are into junk food.

Nutrition experts recommend getting at least:

Five servings of grains. Examples of one serving include one slice of bread, one small tortilla, ½ cup of whole-grain cereal or cooked oatmeal, one ounce of raw rice or pasta, one cup of ready-to-eat cereal flakes, and ½ cup of popped popcorn.

Six servings of vegetables (Fresh, frozen, canned, and dried). Examples of one serving include one cup of raw leafy greens, ½ cup of cooked peas or beans, and ½ cup of cut-up vegetables.

Five servings of fruits. Examples of one serving include one medium-sized fruit, ½ cup of cut-up fruit, or ¼ cup of dried fruit.

Conclusion

There you have it. Today’s article is an in-depth dive into the building blocks of a proper runner’s diet and how to design the perfect nutrition plan for runners.

But it barely scratches the surfaces of performance nutrition. That’s why I highly urge you to continue your education and learn more about the subject. Your diet, after all, is as important as your training. There’s no way around that.

Please feel free to leave your comments and questions in the section below.

In the meantime, thank you for dropping by.

Keep running strong

David D.

 

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