You’ve been putting in the hours and you’ve been sprinting hills. You’re doing everything you can think of to be the best runner you can be.
What you might not realize is that your diet may be standing in the way of you reaching your goals. What should runners eat to give their bodies all the nutrients they need to best fuel their runs?
1. Be Nuts
Nuts have a lot of fat and calories, but in sensible serving sizes, they are a great choice for runners. Some nuts are better than others when it comes to the nutrients runners need -- go with almonds, walnuts, pistachios, pecans, hazelnuts and peanuts.
Despite their fat content, nuts are great at lowering bad cholesterol levels and increasing good cholesterol. Plus, they have anti-inflammatory properties that are important for runners.
2. Oranges Are Served After Races for a Reason
Oranges carry a lot of nutrition, which is particularly great when you are running marathons or half marathons. When we run, we damage our muscles, and when we run a lot, we need to be extra careful about our food selections so they can help our bodies repair themselves.
That’s where citrus fruits like oranges come in. They are loaded with vitamin C, which repairs muscle damage.
3. Make Like a Monkey and Eat a Banana
Bananas and running go hand in hand. Runners need extra potassium and magnesium because we lose them when we sweat while we run.
The potassium in bananas can help prevent the killer muscle cramps runners can get when they are training really hard and sweating more than usual. The next time you feel your legs cramping, eat a banana.
4. The Superpower of Tart Cherries
If you’ve never had tart cherries or tart cherry juice, add it to your grocery list. After a week of drinking tart cherry juice, your tired runner’s legs will feel brand new.
This is one of the single best foods runners can have to help with recovery, especially if they tend to suffer from sore muscles. Tart cherries are an anti-inflammatory powerhouse.
5. Fish is More Than Brain Food
Unless it’s deep fried, fish is a low-calorie and high-protein option for runners. With loads of hearty-healthy omega-3 fatty acid, fish is great for your heart.
Fish also is another anti-inflammatory food that runners can use in their arsenal.
Since fish is so low in calories, it also has another benefit for runners. It helps keep their weight in check and, if they need to drop a few pounds, eating fish can help them reach their weight goals.
As runners, extra weight hurts more than just our vanity -- it slows our running times. That’s the main reason many runners watch their scales so closely because just a few pounds can prevent us from hitting a PR.
6. Got Milk?
Calcium leads to strong bones, which is something every runner wants to have. Dairy products like milk and cheese offer plenty of calcium and should be part of a runner’s daily diet.
If you are trying to lose weight, add skim milk into your diet. If you’re trying to gain or maintain your weight, choose a milk with a little more fat in it.
And if you’re crossing the line at a race that offers chocolate milk, grab a container and feel free to drink it without any guilt. Chocolate milk is a delicious post-run snack that can help your body with the recovery process.
7. Awesome Avocados
If you’re looking for more ways to incorporate healthy fats into your diet, grab a bag of avocados during your next stop at the supermarket. Full of nutrients like vitamin E, folic acid and potassium, avocados will keep you feeling full and help repair your body after a run.
8. Pass the Sweet Potatoes
Their bright color gives them away -- these are no ordinary potatoes. In a world full of potatoes, sweet potatoes are the superstar.
These orange vegetables have tons of beta-carotene, which helps keep your skin safe from sun damage. And since runners spend so much time in the sun, we can use all the help we can get in that department.
But sweet potatoes offer more than just sun protection, they also contain vitamin A and vitamin C, which can help runners keep their immune systems in tip-top shape.
9. Get Some Beans in Your Belly
They’re cheap and they’re versatile. Beans also keep you feeling full for a long time, which you know is important if you’ve ever faced the severe hunger running can cause.
Filled with carbs and protein, beans offer a good nutritional mix for runners. But don’t eat them right before your run -- your legs aren’t the only thing that may start moving, if you catch our drift.
10. Whole-grain Bread Better than White
Runners and carbs are made for each other. We need them, and we love them.
While others are counting carbs, we eat them with abandon. But all carbs are not created equal, and wise runners will look for the most nutritional bang for their buck while eating them.
If you’re going to eat before a longer race, choose whole-grain breads over white breads because the added fiber they contain will allow for a longer, steadier release of energy than the fiberless white bread will.
11. Dark Chocolate to the Rescue
Every day can feel like Halloween when you’re a runner because we’re encouraging you to eat some candy. Dark chocolate is a great nutritional choice for runners because of its powerful antioxidants.
The flavonols in dark chocolate are good for your heart, but keep in mind that milk chocolate won’t do -- it has to be dark, and the darker the better. If you’re watching your weight, you don’t need to eat a whole bar of it every day, just opt for a square or two.
Have Fun While Planning Your Menu
If you see something you love to eat that didn’t make this list, you don’t need to abandon it. There’s room for everything in moderation in a healthy diet.
But if you want to know what should runners eat to break through to the next level, focus on plant-based foods and low-calorie sources of protein like fish.
Remember to mix it up a bit while planning your menu. You don’t want to eat the same thing every day -- variety is good for you.