Finding the ‘Perfect’ Runner’s Diet

Now that I am training for a half marathon, I have begun to think more about the ideal diet for a runner. Although I studied nutrition in school, very little focus was given to sports nutrition. A lot of what I have learned about sports nutrition has been from applying my education to experiments with my own regimens and occasionally my clients (although most of my clients were middle-aged and not highly active individuals, except for their twice a week training sessions.)

I am also currently researching the secrets of professional runners and recreational athletes. My research has surfaced some interesting revelations and, I was happy to discover that the “perfect” runner’s diet is a very unique formulation – “unique” and “perfect” in the fact that it is tailored to the needs of the individual.

I cannot run with food in my stomach. Anything more than an apple (and sometimes even that is too much) and I can literally feel the food bouncing around in my stomach. My husband, on the other hand, can eat the equivalent of a Thanksgiving feast and head out for a run and hour later. If I have a big meal, you can’t count me out for several hours.

As it turns out, this is true for many runners. And, short runs on mostly empty stomach are fine, but when you are looking to conquer something much longer, like a half marathon, more fuel is absolutely essential. So, what’s a runner to do?

Well, during the training process, you can stick with a healthy balanced diet and add a few more carbs, such as fruit or whole wheat grains to restore your body’s fuel. A lot of runners recommend fruit shakes with peanut butter and milk or a glob peanut butter and fruit on a slice of whole wheat toast – before or after your workout. Some runners swear by chocolate milk for recovery.

Runners that train for marathons and half-marathons recommend carbo-loading the night before – if you’re like me and can’t load up before a run. The day of the race, you should wake-up early to eat something to fuel the run: protein, fiber and fruit.

When you are training, stick with whole foods and break meals up throughout the day. Make sure you are getting a variety of foods to improve nutrient intake and absorption. Don’t eliminate food groups – even if you’re trying to lose weight – carbs are the favored fuel of the body. Fueling your runs will do more for your weight management than skipping out on valuable food groups. If you find you are skipping your workouts, curb your calorie intake. When training, you’re either all in or all out.

For resources on finding the your “perfect” runner’s diet, check out the Runner’s Nutrition page on RunnersWorld.com – one of my favorite sources for running tips and training.

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