The key to successful running is mixing the right foods with a solid training plan. You may have heard the saying ‘you are what you eat’, which is true for runners; if you eat junk food you will be unhealthy and perform poorly. Not good.
However, if runners eat the right foods then they will perform optimally in both training and races. In this article, we’ll look at the top 13 best foods for runners.
What are the benefits of runners eating the right foods?
We constantly have healthy eating advertisements shoved down our throats (pardon the pun) but are not told why healthy choices will make a difference in our lives.
If you knew why you should eat that apple a day or cut down on sugar, chances are you’d be more likely to actually change eating habits. Before we delve into the best foods for runners, let’s take a quick look at the key benefits of eating the right foods.
Eating enough of the right kinds of foods helps to prevent injury for runners. Your diet creates the building blocks of your body. Like a well-built house being more likely to survive an earthquake, a properly nourished body will be more resistant to high impact running motions like striking the ground. A healthy diet of good fats, calcium and protein are all staples for reducing the risk of injury during training.
When you work out properly, muscle and joint tissue damage occurs which is then rebuilt by the body to make you a stronger runner. Eating the right foods helps runners to recover quicker and more effectively than a runner who lives off hamburgers and French fries. Immediately after a workout, a decent combination of protein with some carbohydrates (to stimulate muscle protein synthesis) works best.
Eating the right foods means you will run better. Carbohydrates are your go-to pre-run fuel source. They raise blood sugar and glycogen levels, so your muscles can function properly during the demanding activity that running is. An issue many runners have is not knowing which carbohydrates they should be eating and often make the mistake of eating too much carbohydrate.
Better Immune System Function
Getting an illness like a cold or flu can be a huge problem for runners trying to follow a training plan. Often, ill runners need to stay in bed or temporarily stop training whilst their body recovers which means not progressing and any progress gained can be lost. Runners who eat properly provide their body with the proper minerals and nutrients to support healthy immune system function, meaning they get ill much less than runners who don’t eat properly.
Top 13 Best Foods For Runners
Oats are a fantastic breakfast option before a morning run. Simple and easy to prepare, oats provide around 25g of carbohydrates in 1 serving which can properly fuel your workout.
Oats score low on the glygemic index which means your blood sugar level rises slowly, providing you with sustainable energy rather which keeps you fuller for longer.
One of the best things about oats is that they can be customised to your taste. If you like bananas, put bananas on them. If you’re more of a blueberry person, put blueberries on them.
As green as they come, broccoli is a powerhouse food for runners. It is packed with vitamin C which helps to reduce sore muscles after long runs, especially great for post marathon and half marathon.
Broccoli is also loaded with folic acid, vitamin K and calcium, all of which contribute to healthy bodily function and strong bones. Personally, I love broccoli with a bit of salmon, tuna or tender beef.
Runners that eat a handful of (healthy) nuts at least 4 to 5 times a week tend to perform and recover better. Nuts are an excellent source of protein, vitamin E and healthy fats which reduce cholesterol levels.
I love eating nuts after a workout because they are cheap, don’t need any preparation and taste delicious. My favourite kind is cashew nuts but hazelnuts, almonds, walnuts and pistachios are all excellent choices.
Tip: Avoid salted nuts as eating too much salt can contribute towards health issues like stroke, cancer and high blood pressure. Not good.
One of my favourite foods on this list, eggs are an excellent food choice for runners. Eggs provide a good source of protein which contains all the crucial amino acids which your muscles need to recover properly.
They also contain vitamin K for healthy bones, choline for brain function and lutein for healthy sight. All needed whilst you’re running. Also, eggs contain omega-3 which is a healthy fat that helps the heart function. I eat eggs straight after a workout as they are simple to prepare and taste delicious with some pepper on a slice of toast.
5. Sweet Potatoes
This tasty food is fantastic before training or a race. A sweet potato tends to contain just 100 calories and provides a good serving of vitamin C, potassium, iron, vitamin A, manganese and copper. All essential for optimal running performance.
Before a marathon or half marathon, I always have two or three sweet potatoes with some tuna and cheese the night before. It really makes a difference to my performance as I can go for longer without feeling tired during the race.
Eating oranges is good for runners who need to reduce muscle soreness immediately after a hard workout. Oranges are packed with vitamin C which has been proven to alleviate muscle soreness and aid recovery.
Oranges also lower cholesterol, control blood sugar and contribute to a healthy immune system. Benefits we all need, runners included. A good way to get a consistent intake of oranges into your diet is to use fruit from the juice in sauces to top chicken, pork and fish dishes. The orange zest can also be used in cooking and baking, like in healthy zesty cookies for instance.
As a self-confessed coffee fiend, it would be impossible for me not to include this delicious drink on this list. Research shows coffee can give a performance boost for runners when consumed before a workout. Caffeine is a stimulant and has been shown to help runners run faster for longer.
Coffee is relatively cheap, can be prepared quickly and tastes lovely. Try to drink the coffee black so you’re not tempted to scoop mountains of sugar and pour gallons of milk into it, both of which contain excess calories you could do without.
Remember that coffee is a diuretic drink so it increases your urine output which is something to be mindful of if you’re going to run a marathon or do a training long run.
You can also get Coffee Energy Gels to consume during your workout, handy for giving you a much-needed boost during a long run.
8. Whole-Grain Pasta
Many people have heard of marathon runners eating lots of pasta in the days leading up to the race. Whole-grain pasta is brilliant for long distance running as they fill up the glycogen (energy) stores in your muscles, providing the energy you need to run long distance.
Don’t eat any pasta, make sure it’s ‘whole-grain’ pasta. Whole-grain foods are healthier as they retain a lot of their nutrients and proteins which help digestion and keep you feeling full.
Whole grains also contain tons of vitamins and minerals which contribute to healthy bodily function and optimal running performance.
9. Mixed Salad Greens
Eating mixed greens likes radicchio, endive, chard, butter lettuce, iceberg lettuce, rocket and chard, can all contribute to general health and better running performance.
These greens contain a unique blend of phytonutrients that has been shown to help reduce the risk of injury and ward off muscle soreness after an intense run. The best thing about mixed salad greens is that they can usually be bought in pre-made bags at a supermarket, ready mixed and good to eat. Convenient and simple.
You will often see marathon runners eating a banana immediately before setting off and sometimes moments after crossing the finish line. Bananas provide an excellent high carbohydrate boost before a run, proving the necessary fuel to maintain optimal performance.
Bananas are quick to eat, easy on the digestive tract and contain a healthy dose of potassium which decreases the risk of stroke, lowers blood pressure and helps to maintain muscle mass.
Bananas are packed with minerals like magnesium, chloride and sodium, which are all lost during a run so it’s good to get one inside you before heading out to replace any lost minerals.
Salmon is a superfood which runners should make a staple of their diet. Salmon contains a good source of high-quality protein for muscle recovery, omega-3 for heart and brain function, and helps to balance the bodies inflammation response.
Salmon is also good for weight control, loaded with selenium and helps to control blood pressure. All important aspects of living a healthy life and being a runner.
Runners need a lot more protein to help rebuild damaged muscles after intense workouts, particularly after a half marathon or full marathon race.
Chicken is considered a healthy meat to aid with post running recovery as it contains tonnes of protein, vitamin B to regulate fat burning during a run and it contains selenium which helps protect muscles from damage during a run. Chicken is relatively cheap, simple to be prepared and is one of the tastiest foods out there in my opinion.
13. Mixed Berries
Colourful berries like blueberries, blackberries and raspberries are all rich in anthocyanins which are great for runners maintaining good health.
Anthocyanins are a group of antioxidants which assist with muscle repair and help to prevent injury. Mixed berries also improve immune system functioning which is great for keeping runners well and staving off colds which can get in the way of a training plan.