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What’s in a Runner’s Diet?


The wonderful Utah spring thaw seems to have taken hold. With the mercury rising and your log boasting more miles, it is important to consider how you are fueling those miles. I am often asked how much a training athlete needs to eat in order to maintain health and boost performance. The answer, of course, depends on various factors including age, height, weight, gender, medical concerns, and training regimen; however, there are some key pointers for all training athletes to consider.

  • Eat breakfast – whether you choose to eat before or after a run should depend on what you want to get out of that particular training session and what your body is telling you. If you head out the door first thing in the morning for an easy distance run (under an hour), you are safe to have some water and head out the door with breakfast planned upon your return. Should you have a more intense session planned for the morning (tempo run, long run, or interval training), your performance and energy level will benefit from a light breakfast prior to the workout. Experiment with various carbohydrate rich foods to find what works best for you. Choices may include sport drinks, toast, cereal with milk, yogurt, sport bars etc… Since this pre-run breakfast is likely a smaller meal, a recovery snack (or breakfast part II) is a post-workout MUST.
    • EXAMPLES:
      • Breakfast After light morning run: 1 ¼  c cooked oatmeal topped with almonds, banana, and blueberries. Enjoy with a cup of milk
      • Breakfast split around workout:
        • Before workout – 8oz Gatorade; slice of toast with peanut butter, banana & honey
        • Post workout – 1 ½ cups cereal with 1 cup milk, & fruit
        • Stay Hydrated – keeping yourself hydrated during the day will help you stay in better touch with your body’s signals (i.e., hunger, fatigue, thirst). Remember that your hydration status is not dependent only on water consumption. Milk, sport drinks, fruits, veggies, soups, coffee, tea, juice – all of these foods and beverages contribute to your hydration status. If your urine is light yellow and you are going several times per day, you are on the right track. Keep a water bottle with you and get into the habit of drinking with meals.
        • Hungry? Pay attention to what your body is telling you. It is easy to get busy and forget that your body actually sends messages to your brain about when to eat and when to stop eating. Snacks during the day can help curb hunger and the potential to overeat if you do get too hungry. Plan snacks to support workouts. If you workout in the afternoon, consider having a light lunch and a recovery snack after the workout. Then have dinner. If you eat before your run in the morning, maybe a light mid morning snack before lunch will help keep your hunger at bay.  No matter when you incorporate your snacks, be sure to include both carbohydrate and protein for maximum performance benefit AND better staying power (adding protein helps keep you full a bit longer, and carbohydrate will replenish the “tank” after a workout or provide fuel for an upcoming workout.)
          • SNCAK EXAMPLES:
            • Whole grain crackers or pretzels & string cheese
            • Apple or banana with peanut butter
            • Veggies with hummus
            • Sport bar
            • Yogurt with or without  1/4c granola
            • 1/3 c Nuts & dried fruit
            • toast with peanut butter/almond butter & honey
            • glass of chocolate milk (great post workout snack)
            • Packet of instant oatmeal
            • Granola
            • Fruit with string cheese
            • Recover! Remember to recover with a carbohydrate & protein rich snack within an hour (preferably within 30 minutes) after long runs and interval sessions. You will recover faster, experience less muscle soreness, and be ready to go sooner than if you wait. Check out the specific recovery article on UtahRunning.com.

So what does a typical runner’s eating plan look like? Keeping in mind that portion sizes will vary based on the considerations listed above, runners should eat breakfast, a mid-morning snack, lunch, an afternoon or post workout snack, dinner, and then possibly an evening snack based on hunger level, training volume, and goals. Here is an example of a 2600-calorie eating plan.

Breakfast:

  • Fruit Smoothie: mix 1 ¼ c fresh berries, 1 container vanilla yogurt and 1 c OJ
  • 1 slice whole grain bread with 1 Tbsp peanut butter and 1 teaspoon 100% fruit spread

Snack:

  • 1 string cheese w/ 15 whole grain crackers
  • 8 dried apricot halves

Lunch:

  • Salmon or Tuna salad sandwich in whole wheat pita pocket (1 10” pita pocket with 4oz fish, 1 Tbsp olive oil, 1 tea balsamic vinegar, 2 small sliced tomatoes, fresh herbs and 3 Tbsp Parmesan Cheese)

Snack:

  • 1 cup grapes
  • Luna bar

Dinner:

  • 1.5 c whole wheat pasta tossed with olive oil (1.5T), red bell pepper, tomato, and fresh parsley)
  • 3-5 oz grilled chicken – can be mixed into the pasta
  • 1 cup steamed or roasted broccoli

Snack:

  • ½ cup plain yogurt mixed with ½ cup vanilla ice cream with 1 cup fresh fruit

by Kristi Spence MS, RD, CSSD – Masters of Science, Registered Dietitian | Sport Dietitian | TOSH Sport Science | Elite Athlete: Half-Marathon/Marathon

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This entry was posted on Thursday, January 12th, 2012 at 3:15 pm and is filed under Expert Answers, Nutrition, Pre-Race Nutrition. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

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