The food and drink we consume on a daily basis affects performance, health, energy levels, and recovery. Properly fueling before a run is essential in order to enhance one’s activity, but what one eats or drinks after a workout is just as important to optimize recovery. In addition, the daily food routine is absolutely fundamental to generally increase energy, strength, and stamina, maintain good habits, and promote the intake of valuable vitamins, minerals, and nutrients, which are also key to boosting health and wellness. A proper daily diet for runners focuses on a healthy, well-balanced, nutritious routine as the bedrock of one’s performance.
Breakfast of Champions
Research suggests that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. (1) Skipping breakfast may impair exercise performance and potentially increase hunger levels later on during the day. (2) An ideal breakfast should include food high in fiber and protein. Fiber fills us up, slows digestion, allows the body to absorb important nutrients, helps regulate bowel movements, and assists with better control of blood sugars. Foods high in fiber include fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. Protein provides satiety and helps with the uptake of carbohydrates. Protein food sources include yogurt, cheese, milk, eggs, meats, nuts, and seeds.
Here are some examples of an ideal breakfast for runners:
- Whole grain toast (fiber) topped with avocado (fiber) and an egg (protein) with fruit on the side (fiber)
- Greek yogurt (protein) topped with granola containing whole grains, nuts, and seeds, (fiber and protein) with fruit (fiber)
Frequent Meals and Snacks
Eating every three to four hours will optimize energy and performance while also controlling hunger levels. Runners who eat consistently throughout the day are able to make better food choices at meals and snacks. Set up a schedule to eat the main meals and snacks at specific times throughout the day. Choose healthy food options for the snacks and plan them out so they are readily available and easy to access.
Examples of healthy snacks include:
- Apple with almond butter
- Hard-boiled egg with a banana and walnuts
High Fiber Foods
Fiber fills us up, keeps us full, and helps us maintain a healthy gut. Foods high in fiber also provide many essential vitamins, minerals, and nutrients, which runners need to maintain strength and stamina and to optimize recovery.
A simple way to include a source of fiber at each meal and snack is to incorporate a fruit and/or vegetable.
Examples of including fiber foods into meals:
- Add a fruit at breakfast
- Fill up half of your plate with vegetables at lunch and dinner
Protein in Every Meal
Protein is important for maintaining muscle and bone mass, building and repairing tissues, and supporting the immune system. Protein is also essential for recovery after a workout. Consuming more protein than needed in one sitting does not increase the benefits. The recommended protein intake at each major meal, such as breakfast, lunch, and dinner, is 25-35 grams of protein or 4-6 ounces (the size of one’s palm). Pick lean protein sources.
Examples of lean protein sources include:
- Poultry (chicken, turkey)
Drink water throughout the day. Hydration is important! Sometimes, people may feel hungry, but they are really thirsty. Staying hydrated can decrease portion sizes and assist with making healthier food choices.
Examples to stay hydrated:
- Keep a water bottle on hand so it is readily available
- Drink electrolytes as needed. Check out this post on electrolytes for more on how to stay properly hydrated!
Remember: consistency is important. Health is a continual game — a one-shot day or meal won’t do you any good. Choose daily healthy, high-fiber, colorful meals to ensure you are maintaining a well-balanced lifestyle. Consistency with your food routine will result in enhanced performance and recovery!
- Clayton, DJ, Barutcu, A, Machin, C, Stensel, DJ, James, LJ. Effect of Breakfast Omission on Energy Intake and Evening Exercise Performance. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 47 (12), December 2015; 2645-52. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25970668.
- Gibson, SA, Gunn, P. What’s for breakfast? Nutritional implications of breakfast habits: insights from the NDNS dietary records. Nutrition Bulletin, 36 (1), March 2011; 78-86. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1467-3010.2010.01873.x.