Running-Friendly Foods

Side stitch. Stom­achache. Diar­rhea. Failed PR attempt. When run­ners have a poor diet, the effects come fast and furi­ous. Run­ning nutri­tion doesn’t end when you kick off your sweaty shoes; you’ll ben­e­fit most from spe­cif­ic types of food before, dur­ing, and after your runs.

But don’t take our word for it — here are some nuggets of wis­dom about run­ning-friend­ly foods from Seat­tle dieti­cian, for­mer Uni­ver­si­ty of Wash­ing­ton steeple chas­er, and Oiselle run­ner Lau­ra Hunter

Before Runs
Pri­or to a run, Hunter says to aim for a meal high in car­bo­hy­drates and low in fiber with some pro­tein, such as a break­fast bur­ri­to and a side of fruit. If you aren’t keen on eat­ing that much before a run, at least take in a snack with some pro­tein, like a banana with peanut but­ter or half of a turkey sand­wich or peanut but­ter and jel­ly sand­wich. Some peo­ple try to get away with skip­ping break­fast or sim­ply eat­ing a banana, but if you’re going more than a cou­ple miles at an easy pace, you’ll get fatigued with­out the added pro­tein and car­bo­hy­drates. Set your­self up for suc­cess and nev­er skip break­fast on a run day – or any day, really.

Dur­ing Runs
If you’re run­ning more than an hour, it’s vital to include a source of nutri­tion dur­ing your run. Hunter rec­om­mends foods or drinks high in car­bo­hy­drates and low in fat in order to max­i­mize your body’s uptake of car­bo­hy­drates. Some of Hunter’s go-to run­ning snacks include fruit and gra­ham crack­ers, and gels and sports drinks.

“This depends on inten­si­ty,” Hunter said, “Hik­ing, you could eas­i­ly have a sand­wich, [but on a] tem­po run, most peo­ple can tol­er­ate drinks only.”

After Runs
The key is to replen­ish your body with­in half an hour of com­plet­ing a run, because your cells are most ready to absorb pro­tein and car­bo­hy­drates dur­ing that small win­dow. For many peo­ple, food is unap­peal­ing fol­low­ing an intense work­out, but the good news is that you don’t need to eat an entire meal. One of the most rec­om­mend­ed nutri­tion­al sources for recov­ery is a sim­ple glass of choco­late milk. Hunter explains that the ide­al recov­ery ratio is 3–4 grams of car­bo­hy­drates to 1 gram of protein.

“I’m also big fan of drink­able yogurt [such as Keifer] mixed with juice if choco­late milk isn’t avail­able,” Hunter said. Plus, “Since so many peo­ple are lac­tose intol­er­ant, the keifer is a great alter­na­tive, as most peo­ple can han­dle yogurt.”

Hunter named some of her oth­er favorites: pas­ta or quinoa with sauce, yogurt, cere­al, or a que­sadil­la. Have your food already pre­pared before you run, or at least have the ingre­di­ents primed and ready to go so you can ensure you’ll be eat­ing soon enough after your run.

Hunter added, “I’m a huge fan of whole foods rather than sports prod­ucts when­ev­er pos­si­ble, because they car­ry more nutri­ents and antiox­i­dants than syn­thet­ic prod­ucts. Luck­i­ly, there are some great com­pa­nies out there mak­ing sports nutri­tion prod­ucts with real food like, Picky Bars, Zing Bars and Clif prod­ucts.”

By using real food, run­ners also have more of an oppor­tu­ni­ty to mix and match, cre­at­ing a broad­er fla­vor pro­file and fend­ing off bore­dom with their meals. There are a lot of roads and trails to con­quer out there, but remem­ber that an impor­tant part of the bat­tle is fought by the foods you put in your body–give it the atten­tion and nutri­tion it deserves.

By Audra Run­dle