10 Nutrition Tips for New Runners

Eat smart, eat clean, eat like a runner Eat smart, eat clean, eat like a runner

Most new runners have questions about what they should be eating and drinking. There’s really no mystery to nutrition for runners, it’s just a good common sense approach.

Nutrition for Runners

I’ll break this down in to two different sections. The first is general nutrition and the second is eating before and after a run.

General Runner's Nutrition

To help with general nutrition I’ve combined a few guidelines over the years.  This is a list of 10 healthy habits:

  1. Eat every 2-3 hours . Regular feeding intervals stimulate the metabolism, balance blood sugar, and help maintain your lean mass while giving your body a reason to burn off extra fat mass.
  2. Eat complete, lean protein with every feeding opportunity. Women should be getting 20-30 grams of protein per meal and men should be getting 40-60 grams.
  3. Eat fruits and/or vegetables with every meal.
  4. If fat loss is your goal, eat veggies and fruits with any meal; “other carbs” only after exercise.
  5. Eat healthy fats daily.  About 30% of our diet should come from fat. Healthy fats include saturated fat (animal fats, coconut oil and palm oil), monounsaturated fat (olive oil, avocado and nuts), and polyunsaturated fat (fish oil, flax seed oil and nuts and nut butter).
  6. Don’t drink beverages with more than 0 calories. Water, Water, and more Water.
  7. Eat whole foods instead of supplements whenever possible
  8. Plan ahead and prepare feedings in advance.  Good nutrition is about the food but also making sure good food is on hand and available when it’s time to eat.
  9. Eat as wide a variety of good foods as possible to get a range of nutrients.
  10. Plan to break the rules 10% of the time. This is the cheat rule which allows you to eat some stuff that’s not ideal every now and again to have things you enjoy and relieve the pressure of always having to eat perfectly.
Vegetables and Fruit
Eat fruits and vegetables every meal

Start with One or Two Changes

If your diet is less than ideal now start by making one or two changes each week so you are steadily making progress. And think natural foods! Eat foods that are grown rather than foods that are man-made or processed.

Fueling Before Your Run

As for what to eat and drink before and after a run, keep it simple before you run and try a light snack like a banana or some other mostly carbohydrate food of about 100 calories at least an hour before you work out. Everyone is different so you’ll have to experiment with what works best for you. A glass of water around an hour before your run should be sufficient as well.

Refueling After Your Run

But more important than what you eat and drink beforehand is how you refuel after a run so here are some tips:

Drink

Be sure to drink a glass or bottle of water after a workout but that’s probably enough for most people. It’s tempting to drink too much but if you sip water throughout the day you should be fine.

Eat

When you run, you burn mostly glycogen, a fuel stored in your muscles. To maximize your recovery you have to eat immediately after your run even if you don’t feel hungry. It’s believed that there’s a 30-60-minute window after you work out when your body can soak up food and turn it into glycogen to reload your muscles. Wait more than an hour to refuel, and your body’s ability to make glycogen out of what you consume drops significantly.  

I like to get something in me within the first 15 minutes after a workout even if it’s an initial 100-150 calories made up of protein and carbohydrates. A cup of yogurt or glass of milk is about perfect for this because liquids are absorbed by the body more quickly. Then I’ll follow it up with a meal with proteins and good carbs like a home made smoothie, peanut butter and jelly sandwich, turkey sandwich on wheat bread with a salad or piece of fruit. Oatmeal with peanut butter is good for breakfast (or any high fiber cereal with milk for that matter.)

Keep it Simple

But keep it simple and keep it easy. Just remember, eat smart, eat clean, and eat like a runner.

This article originally appeared on WV Run Coach. Republished with permission.

Matt Young

Matt Young is a Road Runner Club of America Certified Running Coach and owner of WV Run Coach. He is also the founder of the Genesis 5K Training Program. Matt's goal is to equip each runner with the knowledge and skills to take ownership of their own running career and success.