If your carbohydrate intake is more than what can be stored, it will simply be stored as fat instead. If you adapt a runners diet after training time and training duration, you will ensure a rapid replenishment of the glycogen depots. It is also necessary to be aware of the training intensity, since hard training with too few rest days, makes it difficult to replenish glycogen depots again. In how to prepare the best meals for Runners, we usually recommend a distribution of dietary intake on three larger meals and 2 – 3 snacks.
A Runners Diet Plan
Breakfast is one of the three larger meals, which should not be omitted, and it must contain a good part of carbohydrates. If you want to be completely sure that your dietary intake is optimal, you can contact a nutrition counselor and tell him about your training periods and intensities.
For a long-distance runner, the energy distribution could look like this:
Carbohydrates 55 – 70 %
Proteins 10 – 15 %
Fat 20 – 30 %
A runners diet – What the different meals should consist of
Lunch 20 to 25%
3 snacks a total of 15-30%.
To achieve a good absorption of the food the meals should be evenly spread throughout the day and in a way, so the stomach is almost emptied just before the training begins. A good meal plan during the day could be like this:
- Breakfast at 8:00 a.m.
- Snack at 10:00 a.m.
- Lunch at 1:00 p.m.
- Snack at 4:00 p.m.
- Evening meal at 7:00 p.m.
The diet should also contain proteins and fats, which give the body essential nutrients. Nutrients that we cannot get by only eating carbohydrates. As runners, it can in some cases be beneficial to take supplements if needed.
A Runners Diet – Carbohydrates
Carbohydrate is our main source of energy. The body uses different sources of energy (protein, carbohydrate, and fat) depending on how hard it has to work. At rest and during activities at low intensity, the body primarily burns fat, while during physical activity it primarily burns carbohydrates.
The harder the body has to work, the greater proportion of the combustion is made up of carbohydrates. During very hard physical training, the body will mostly only use carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are therefore our most important energy source, and the energy source the body likes to use most during physical activity.
If you run every second or third day, it is not necessary to think so much about how much carbohydrates you get in your diet. If, on the other hand, you run often, with high intensity, and for a long time, the need for carbohydrates is greater, and it’s necessary to replenish the carbohydrate stores – both during and after training.
Unlike fat, which can be stored in unlimited quantities, the body can only store small amounts of carbohydrates. So, it is necessary to ‘fill up’ glycogen stores between your training sessions.
A runners diet – carbohydrates daily calculation
A blueprint for carbohydrates can be calculated in how many grams of carbohydrates per kg of body weight you must have daily, e.g.:
Daily training at moderate duration/low intensity: 5-7 g/kg/day, e.g. 6 g x 70 kg = 420 g carbohydrate
Daily training at moderate to hard endurance training: 7-10 g/kg/day
Daily training at extreme volume 4-6+ hours: 10-12+ g/kg/day
Protein – The body’s Building Blocks
Protein exists in all body cells, where they are involved in the construction of organs. Brain, enzymes, glands, nerves, and hormones, all are built up of proteins. Protein is therefore also the muscle-building blocks – that is why bodybuilders have to intake more protein than the average person does. Proteins are essential for body functions before, during and after training or a race.
If you run a lot, it is important that you eat the right amount of protein and also the right type of protein. Proteins are composed of different building blocks, called amino acids, and nine of them we have to get through the diet.
There are thousands of proteins that all have in common that they are composed of amino acids, but always in different proportions. The important proteins are those that contain one of the 20 amino acids that the body uses to build its own proteins (albumin).
The body needs 0.7-0.8 g protein per. Per kg body weight.10 – 15% of the energy in the daily diet should consist of protein. If you keep it there, you will in most cases get enough protein so the muscles can rebuild and recover after a training session.
Where do we get proteins from?
We get protein from animal foods such as meat, eggs, fish and cheese, and from vegetable foods such as legumes, grains, nuts, potatoes and bread. If you eat a varied diet, the need for protein is automatically covered.
The protein utilizes best when we eat animal and vegetable proteins by the same meal, preferably in the ratio 1: 3. Vegetable proteins also have the benefit that they contain fewer calories and more vitamins, minerals and fiber.
Vegetable protein sources like beans and grains generally have an inferior content of essential amino acids than animal protein sources such as milk, cheese and other dairy products and meat, fish and poultry.
It is particular one of the essential amino acids, lysine, which easily will be lacking in a vegetarian diet. Are you a vegetarian, you can come soy protein into your daily diet. Soy contains more essential amino acids than other vegetable protein sources.
Protein is the only nutrient that is digested already in the stomach. Therefore, you can feel tired of a protein diet. The process demands large amounts of energy, which means large amounts of blood which also comes from the brain and leads to fatigue.
On the other hand, protein stays a long time in the stomach and gives satiety. Some protein compounds in meat and milk contain the amino acid tryptophan, which has a calming and sleep-inducing effect.
Fat In a Runners Diet
Fat includes the important fat-soluble vitamins and essential fatty acids, and it is easy getting enough of it daily. Fat is also a good energy supplier for easy/moderate runs over a long time. It is preferable if most of the fat comes from vegetable foods, such as nuts, seeds and vegetable oils, as well as from fatty fish (or fish oil).
If you eat too much fat, you can reduce it by choosing lean products from meat and dairy products.
Your fat consumption also decreases automatically when you eat more vegetables, fruits and whole grains. Let’s say, you want to achieve weight loss, it can only happen if the body consumes more energy than you intake with the diet. Metabolism – processes require 70-80% of the energy, physical activity requires the rest.
Since it is important to have filled the glycogen depots in muscles and liver for daily training and competition, it is important to have a diet with a high carbohydrate percentage. That means the corresponding fat percentage must be low.
Vitamins are organic substances and the body cannot produce most of them, therefore they must be supplied from outside. They all have very different properties and effects and therefore they cannot replace each other. Vitamins are necessary for us to absorb nutrients from our diet, and they are divided into fat-soluble and water-soluble vitamins.
The fat-soluble vitamins are heat stable and do not go lost to the same extent as the water-soluble vitamins by boiling or frying. The fat-soluble vitamins absorbs from the gastrointestinal tract with fat.
When they only absorbs with fat and come from fat-containing products, we cannot completely exclude fat-containing products from our diet. The fat-soluble vitamins can be stored in the body as opposed to the water-soluble vitamins. So, we have to be aware of not eating too many of these vitamins e.g. from vitamin pills.
The water-soluble vitamins cannot be stored in the body like the fat-soluble. Therefore, we must have them supplied from the outside with the diet to receive the daily recommended amount.
Both too few and too many vitamins may contribute to various diseases. Some of the vitamins that could be important for runners are described below.
B – vitamins
B – Vitamins works as a catalyst in chemical reactions inside the cells. These reactions increase during intense running. They allow the metabolism of carbohydrates, lipids and amino acids; it means they contribute to the transformation of these substrates within the cell to produce ATP energy.
As a runner, you have a large carbohydrate need and you must get a sufficient supply of B – vitamins. Especially the B vitamins thiamine, riboflavin and vitamin B-6 are necessary for the body’s energy conversion, while folate and vitamin B-12 are required in the synthesis of new cells, such as red blood cells and the repair of damaged cells.
Let’s take a closer look at B1 (thiamine) as an example. Thiamine’s main function goes on in the carbohydrate metabolism, where it acts as a co-enzyme that converts blood sugar to energy. Thiamine needs increases with higher carbohydrate content in the diet and by higher energy conversion.
If there is not enough thiamine, the decomposing of glucose and glycogen will reduce and an accumulation of lactic acid substances takes place. Therefore, the need for thiamine to runners is higher than the recommended values.
Tests have shown that the performance ability decreases if there is a lack of B1, B2 and B6. Other tests have shown that particular runners who eat very little to maintain low body weight, have to be extra aware of their B-vitamin status.
B – vitamins come mainly from fish, oatmeal, meat, wholemeal bread, milk and green vegetables such as green beans and broccoli.
C – vitamin
C-Vitamin (water-soluble) or ascorbic acid contributes to building the connective tissue that holds muscles attached to the bones. Besides, C-Vitamin also contributes to improving the absorption of iron and helps prevent the constant depletion of the cell walls, which is bigger for runners. Their cells are more vulnerable because of the great oxidation. Some long-distance runners use C-vitamin in hard training periods and particularly in the winter to prevent colds.
C-Vitamins do not necessarily prevent disease. However, a possible ill period may be shortened. The need for C-vitamin increases a lot if you train hard, since C-vitamins are among the water-soluble vitamins, and thus flushes out with sweat. If you smoke, it will also be a good idea to get an extra supply. Coffee inhibits the uptake of C-vitamin and calcium.
Some diet experts advise against the great supplements of C – vitamin for several reasons: it is still unknown exactly how large amounts affect the ability to absorb and use other substances and high doses can irritate the stomach and cause diarrhea. Besides, doses over 200 mg automatically excrete via the urine but it can avoid by spreading the dose in several portions.
C-vitamin comes mainly from cabbage, black currants, citrus fruits, kiwi, new potatoes and juice.
E-Vitamin is fat-soluble. There have been allegations promoting that large doses of E – vitamins should be favorable to endurance which of course would be beneficial for long-distance runners, but that could not be substantiated. On the contrary, we warn against taking large daily supplements of E – vitamins as it might have side effects. If you take blood thinners, you should not take extra E – vitamins without first talking to your doctor, as it can be harmful. The daily need is about 10 mg, and there is nothing to suggest that hard training would increase the need.
E-Vitamin comes mainly from vegetable oils, nuts, green leafy vegetables and whole grains.
Q10 – A co-enzyme
Q10 is neither a vitamin nor a mineral, but an excipient or co-enzyme, which includes in the cells’ energy factories (mitochondria’s) and helps with increasing energy conversion. Q10 is also one of the most important antioxidants, which helps to prevent the harmful oxidation of the cells. It may mean that long-distance runners with their higher oxygen circulation may have additional needs for a supplement of Q10.
Many athletes take Q10 because they feel that it gives more energy and endurance, and this seems to be confirmed by various studies. But some experts disagree. The body forms Q10 in the liver, and it is a question of whether we need to get it as a supplement. There is however evidence that hard physical training increases the need.
Measurements of Tour de France riders’ blood thus showed significantly lower concentrations in the summer when they trained hard than in the low season. There will probably be a fall in production of Q10 with age, so a supplement here might be appropriate.
Q10 comes mainly from fish, poultry and meat.
Minerals and Traces
Minerals and trace elements are inorganic substances, which work as building materials in the body and help to maintain essential life processes. The body contains these inorganic substances in greater or lesser concentrations, which have a variety of functions.
When the amount of a substance in the body is greater than 50 mg/kg of body weight, it is called a mineral, and when the amount of a substance is less, it is called a tracer.
The most important minerals are calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, potassium, chlorine and iron. Of the trace elements shall be mentioned copper, iodine, fluorine, zinc, chromium, cobalt, manganese, molybdenum and selenium. Minerals and trace elements can be stored in the body and used when it is needed.
Anemia means low blood count or more precisely a too small amount of hemoglobin in the blood.
The organism fails in producing enough hemoglobin due to too few “building blocks”. An important building block is iron, and iron deficiency is the leading cause of anemia
Hard physical training, has a negative effect on the body’s iron content:
- When you land on the foot, red blood cells will break. Some of the iron destroys here, and the rest circulates in the system and uses again.
- The training has a negative effect on the body’s ability to absorb iron.
- You also lose iron through sweating.
- The muscles’ need for oxygen increases because the muscle mass increases.
Long distance runners and anemia!
This means anemia is relatively common in particular among long-distance runners, the condition is called sports – anemia. In sports anemia, there will be less hemoglobin and thus less oxygen available.
During training and competition, you will experience this by slight headaches, fatigue, hard muscles, loss of appetite and bad competition and training results, which will be a part of the symptoms of iron deficiency.
Usually disappears anemia again in a matter of weeks, if you eat foods with high iron content and at the same meal drinks juice or eat citrus fruit. Both of these have a high content of C-Vitamin, which increases the absorption of iron.
You may consult the doctor for a blood status check if you start with a hard training period. But even if the hemoglobin level is within the normal value, it may still be insufficient for your increased needs.
The Oxygen capacity will be reduced and lactic acid formation will increase. If you take supplements of iron, you should be aware that this might interfere with the absorption of zinc and calcium.
Avoid overdosing as it can have serious side effects. The daily requirement is about 18 mg for women and 10 mg for men. Women’s increased needs are because they lose blood by menstruation.
Iron comes mainly from meat, egg yolk, bread, beans, peas, spinach and parsley.
Most of the body’s calcium depot is located in the bones, where its main function is to act as supportive tissue. We have to make sure to get enough calcium since we can get fatigue failure. In women, there seems to be a correlation between absent menstrual periods and fatigue failure.
Calcium is also important for muscle work, coagulation and acid-base regulation in the blood, the kidneys and nerves function. There is a certain calcium loss through sweating. This loss is always most at the beginning of the training but decreases gradually.
Calcium is mainly in dairy products and cabbage.
Magnesium is important for the body’s energy production, heart function, bones and carbohydrate metabolism. It is in the bones but is also part of several enzyme systems. Both nerve and muscle cells are dependent on magnesium. The estimated daily requirements for magnesium are 300-350 mg. However, when you sweat a lot, you can add 50% to this.
Magnesium comes mainly from legumes, nuts, green vegetables (vegetables) and whole grains.
Potassium is important for fluid balance, heart rhythm, nerves and muscle work. For daily running activity in hot environments with fluid loss of 1-2 liters per day may the need rise considerably. A large potassium loss can affect muscle work and the storage of glycogen in the muscles. This can impair performance.
Potassium comes mainly from fruits vegetables and meat.
If you sweat a lot, due to hard physical training in a hot environment, it can lead to salt depletion, which in severe cases can cause muscle cramps. Most people get plenty of salt. The daily requirement is usually about 1 g per day but most people get more than 10 grams daily.
If you are a Marathon Runner, I hope you like this Marathon Runners Diet blog and if you have any questions about this topic or want to leave your own Personal review, please leave a comment below.
5 thoughts on “How To Prepare a Runners Diet – the Best Meals”
Thank you for a very informative article. I want to start running so this information is most useful for me and made me aware of what nutrients I should specifically incorporate into my diet for best results, and maintaining good health. I see you have given a lot of different food suggestions but do you follow a specific diet or meal plans or do you just eat whatever you like that has the relevant nutrients?
Thank you for your comment. I really appreciate it.
I’m not always follow a specific meal plan on a daily basis. I have developed a habit eating the right healthy meals that works for me. Ex. I eat a lot of pasta and rice.
The typical marathon runner will need to consume thousands of calories on race day to power his or her high-intensity run. A few hours before any long run, eat a meal high in low carbohydrates, moderate in protein and low in fat to give your body all the nutrients it needs for the next few hours. Porridge with fruits, a chicken sandwich and fruit or a bagel and peanut butter are good options.
Thank you for the comment. Now I get hungry.
You have to find out what fits best to you by trying. We are different persons but carbohydrate will be on top of the list and on race day you can use ex. gels if you have trained it over a couple of months, or you risk stomach challenges during the race.