Runners are passionate, committed, and maybe most of all hungry! Exercise is general is demanding on your body, but running specifically requires your muscles to move your legs, your blood vessels to move blood around your body (and quickly), your lungs to breath in and out, your heart to beat, your brain to think, and to cool yourself down by sweating! Because running requires so much work from your body, you want to make sure that you are fueling it with the best nutrients!
Finding high-quality nutrition at the grocery store is so important for runners, but also non-runners too! This is much easier said than done. It can be hard to decipher out what foods are healthy in the grocery store because of all of the food advertisement and nutrient claims we see on packing. It is much easier when you know exactly what to buy.
We have compiled a list of some of our favorite foods that are an important part of an everyday diet. This list focuses on whole foods that are nutrient dense (packed with vitamins and minerals!). Eating these foods for runners is important because they may help increase performance and allow you to feel better about your runs. But, this is not an exhaustive list and there are plenty of foods that are not in here that you can still enjoy! This list is also not limited to runners. Everyone should buy these foods!
Runners need antioxidants
Your muscles can go through a lot of stress when you are on a run. This usually results in muscle soreness. Runners may not feel the stress and muscle damage as it is happening during their run, but this usually sets in the the next day. This is called delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Athletes may be able to reduce DOMS when they eat a diet high in antioxidants. So, we are starting off our list with our top high-antioxidant foods that are great for runners:
- Interestingly enough, there have been studies that say beets can increase your speed! According to a study on the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, beets shaved an average off of runners’ 5k times and helped them run 3% faster! Apparently, it’s because beets contain nitrates.
Dark Leafy Greens
- Kale and spinach contain iron, fiber, Vitamin A and C. Try making homemade Kale chips that are delicious and a great healthy and filling snack!
- Sweet potatoes are more of a starchy vegetable, so they have carbs runners (and everyone else) need to fuel their workouts. Sweet potatoes are also very high in Vitamin A, an antioxidant, and potassium, and important electrolyte. Make some baked sweet potato. Yum!
- Potatoes are a really good source of carbohydrates for runners! Most runners just think about pasta when it comes to carb loading, but potatoes are just as good or even better than pasta! You can boil them, mash them, or bake them. Potatoes are so versatile and can be made in so many delicious ways. And, they are easy to digest, which is definitely a plus!
- Eggplant’s contain so many beneficial vitamins for runners. Eggplants provide vitamin K, which helps with blood clotting, and manganese which is an antioxidant and can help with wound healing and bone health. It is also a good source of carbohydrates and has vitamin C, vitamin A, calcium and iron.
- We all LOVE apples! We definitely have “an apple a day” at least! Apples are rich in antioxidants and the flavonoid quercetin. Quercetin has been shown to enhance running performance! Apples are a great snack and are delicious additions to a bowl of cereal, oatmeal, or even in a salad! Look at all of these recipes!!
- An important source of healthy fats which are important for runners because it provides essential fatty acids, and helps absorb fat-soluble vitamins. Plus who doesn’t love chips and guac?
- This is our personal favorite fruit to eat before a run! It’s easy on the stomach and gives you the fuel you need. Bananas are a great source of potassium. We personally find that eating bananas helps our muscles and prevents us from cramping. Shelby even ate a banana during her last few miles during the Baltimore marathon!
- Oranges are high in Vitamin C (an antioxidant) and also electrolytes. Alex likes to eat them after her long runs to replenish her electrolytes that she lost through sweat.
Runners need Whole Grains
Running and other aerobic exercises burn energy quickly. So, runners need to replenish these lost energy stores, as well as build up a surplus to use for energy for their daily activities. Runners also may consider something called carbohydrate loading before longer runs to prevent “hitting the wall”. Carbohydrate loading is when a runner consumes most of their daily calories from carbohydrate in order to build a large reserve of stored energy, so they can run for longer than normal distances. Interested in learning how carbohydrate loading can help with your performance? Scheduled an appointment with an RD!
- Well, this one should be pretty self-explanatory… Carbs, carbs, carbs! Carbohydrates are the fuel that keeps runners going, so make sure you are fueling yourself with a good amount…about 60% of your daily intake should come from carbohydrates. If you keep the carbs you’re eating whole grain, you’ll also get the benefits of fiber!
- This grain is packed with fiber and protein. It’s also a pretty good source of iron. And, you can put quinoa in almost anything! Some people eat quinoa in the morning instead of oatmeal, you can put it in your salads, or in a stir fry instead of rice!
- This is Stephanie’s favorite breakfast, whether she is running that morning or not. Oatmeal is a great source of carbohydrates to keep you going throughout your day and during a run. Studies have also shown that oatmeal could help lower your cholesterol. Oatmeal is also great because you can prepare it anyway you want!
Powered by Protein
Remember when we talked about muscle damage? Runners need protein in their diet to help repair muscle. Having adequate protein to support building new muscle is ideal! Talk to your RD to find out how much protein you need to support your running.
- These are a great source of protein, vitamin A and and B vitamins. They are great to include in a hearty breakfast after a morning meal. Shelby hard boils in advance and makes a quick egg sandwich on whole grain toast for busy mornings she is running to class or work.
- For vegetarian or vegan runners, this is a great source of protein and also calcium and iron. Make it in a stir fry or add it to pasta! Or, try this Coconut Crushed Tofu recipe.
- These fatty fish are high in omega-3, which is a polyunsaturated, essential fat. Omega-3’s have many health benefits, including lowering the risk of heart disease by increasing HDL (the “good” cholesterol). They can also reduce inflammation. These fatty fish are great sources of iron and B12 for pescatarian runners. Try maple baked salmon.
- These three (Especially red meat!!) are great sources of iron for runners! Iron is essential to help deliver oxygen to muscles and organs. Female athletes especially need to make sure they are getting enough iron because they tend to not consume enough. If you do not get enough iron, you could be at risk for developing anemia.
- Nuts are loaded with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants! Most of the fats in nuts are “healthy fats” like monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, so nuts have been seen to help lower LDL or “bad” cholesterol. These kinds of fats are also important for runners because they help reduce inflammation in the body too!
- Hummus is a great source of protein and fiber and so easy to incorporate in your diet. Try eating with pretzels, carrots, or as a spread on your sandwich instead of mayo or dressing!
Don’t Forget about Snacks!
- Contrary to popular belief popcorn is a healthy whole grain snack. Trader joes sells a lot of fun flavored popcorn such as olive oil and rosemary and thyme. Or you can buy a plan bag and make your own flavors!
- Its yummy!! And it also contains flavanols, which have antioxidant effects and may play a part in reducing heart disease. Have some chocolate as a sweet dessert!
- These are a great snack to have with you on hand to eat with hummus or peanut butter. Also, they are great to fuel with during a long run if you have a high sweat rate to replenish the sodium you are using. Shelby tried fueling with pretzels during our long run last week because she often struggles with hydration!
- Greek yogurt is a great source of calcium and protein. It also comes in so many flavors that there’s something that everyone will like. And, if you get the plain flavor you can use it in a parfait, and Greek yogurt can act as a substitute for things like butter or sour cream.
- Coconut water can replenish the electrolyte losses. Gatorade is also another option, but we like coconut water because the sugars and electrolytes are naturally there. For Alex and Shelby, Gatorade is hard on their stomachs, but they have noticed that coconut water does not give them any issues. The taste is a little different, so it may take some time getting use to!
- A good source of omega 3, an important nutrient for your heart (obviously an important organ for runners). Flax seeds can be added to a smoothie! Shelby likes to mix flax or chia seeds into yogurt.
If you need help grocery shopping, contact us and we can help!
Contributions by Alex Raymond, RD, LD
Blog updated November 2019