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Nutrition for Runners – Just in Time for the Vancouver Sun Run

female runner

Nutrition for athletes has been researched and explored since the origin of the Olympics. Athletes of this generation benefit from years of scientific explorations and the wisdom and experience of athletes and trainers who have worked hard for their own (and now our) benefit.

Healthy Foods for Runners

There isn’t really a specific diet for runners to follow. The key is to enjoy a balanced diet that includes three meals a day with snacks in between meals if you need them. In this case, ‘balanced’ means having three out of the four food groups present at each meal.

Examples of Balanced Meals

  • Salmon with Roasted Vegetables on Brown Rice
  • Lentil and Vegetable Stew with Whole Grain Roll & Skim Milk
  • Asian Beef and Vegetable Stir-fry over Japanese Noodles
  • Classic Tomato Meat Sauce Whole Wheat Spaghetti with Green Beans

asian-stirfry Nutrition for Runners - Just in Time for the Vancouver Sun Run

Whole grains, lots of vegetables and fruit, and lean protein are preferred to keep the cardiovascular system and gastrointestinal system healthy. Lean protein provides the amino acid building blocks required to build and repair muscle tissues, especially since running involves the largest muscle groups in the body – leg muscles. Healthy fats such as vegetable oil, soft margarine and those from nuts, seeds, and avocado are required as part of a healthy diet.

However, keeping the total amount of fat (from animal and plant sources) to less than thirty percent of your daily calories is best. Runners benefit from maintaining a healthy weight because it improves their efficiency and overall performance. When meal planning, keep in mind that eating foods high in fiber and fat before runs can cause digestive issues or lethargy because they take longer to digest.

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Nutrition for Runners Marathon

For those who have or are thinking about signing up for a marathon, half-marathon, 10K or 5K walk or run, you need to be a bit more specific about your food intake than the recreational runner who isn’t training for a planned event.  The following guidelines will help you schedule meals so you minimize undesirable side effects during your runs such as dehydration, cramping, and nausea.

 If Eating Two Hours or More before Running

Balanced meal with grains, vegetables and protein. This can be a lighter meal if you find two hours isn’t long enough for you to digest everything prior to your run.

If Eating One Hour before Running

Liquid meals such as a meal replacement drink or fruit and yogurt smoothie will be best because fluids digest quicker. This will reduce your risks of cramping, and nausea during your run. If you have what I like to call an “iron stomach,” you may tolerate a regular meal of solid food, but don’t leave it until race day to try something new.

If You Run First Thing in the Morning

Have a balanced meal the night before with grains, vegetables and protein. This is very important to help you build some glycogen stores. In the morning, drink either diluted sports drink or fruit juice (or if you prefer, water and an energy gel or shot bloc gummy). This will prevent low blood sugars (even if you’re not diabetic) and keep you from feeling lightheaded during a 30 to 45 minute run.

Hydration for Runners

 water-fountain-1024x768 Nutrition for Runners - Just in Time for the Vancouver Sun Run

The general guideline for fluid intake:

Timing Amount of Fluid
2 hours before running 2 cups
10-15 min before running 1 to 2 cups
Every 15-20 min during run 1/3 – ½ cup
Immediately after training 1 – 3 cups


However, you may require less or more depending on your sweat losses, tolerance for fluid intake and body size. The key is to drink enough, but not too much or too little. Over hydration can cause a condition called hyponatremia, where the salt level in your blood becomes too low, causing symptoms of nausea, fatigue, and muscle cramps. Dehydration increases your body temperature and your overall risk of heat stroke and heart related illness. Rehydration will improve post-exercise recovery so it’s important to drink plenty of fluids after your run, especially after long runs or when running in hot weather.

Vitamins for Runners

If you’re eating balanced meals and snacks and don’t have pre-existing health conditions that require isolated supplements for treatment, you should be fine with just a one-a-day multivitamin/mineral.

Vitamin D supplementation may be useful for runners who live in climates that don’t get much sun exposure or if they wear sunscreen or clothing that covers most skin surfaces when outdoors. Adults generally require 600 IU per day, unless additional therapeutic doses are required to treat a deficiency or osteoporosis.

Calcium will be important if your diet doesn’t provide enough. One convenient way to check whether you need to eat more calcium containing foods or take a supplement is to use the BC Dairy Association’s Interactive Calcium Calculator (see “references”).






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