Eating the right foods is important if you want to fuel your body, recover and get the best out of your running and training. We’ve outlined the best foods for runners that you should be eating pre and post run.
Fruits are a great source of nutrition for runners and can be a god send when it comes to getting a much needed energy boost. They are high GI foods, meaning they provoke a fast increase in blood sugar after consumption.
The Best Fruits to Consume for Running
- Bananas – also known as a runner’s favourite fruit! A medium banana contains around 105 calories with 27g of carbs and 14g of sugar – making them a great pre and post run nutrition. They also are easy for the body to digest as they have no peel or skin.
- Dried Fruits are another high sugar source that can provide quick energy and glucose. A handful of dried fruits, like sultanas can be super convenient when you’re on the go!
- Melon & Oranges: are mainly composed of water and vitamin C. They offer a great form of vitamins and hydration post run.
- Blueberries are high in polyphenols and antioxidants – perfect for reducing inflammation aiding recovery.
What to Avoid
Eating too much at once: make sure to eat al fruits in moderation.
High Fibre Fruits: Be sure to avoid eating too many dried fruits and other high fibre fruits such as apples and pears.
Fruit Juices: many fruit juices are concentrated and so are packed full of preservatives and refined sugar.
2. Cereals & Oats
Healthy cereals and oats are a good source of complex carbohydrates. Complex carbs are great for a slower and sustained energy release. Not only that, but many people choose to run in the morning and so they make a great pre run breakfast!
The Best Cereals for Runners
The general considerations when picking a good cereal include the calorie, fibre, protein and sugar content. We suggest limiting cereals to around 200-250 calories per serving, making sure they are 100% whole grain and contain less than 10g of sugar. Sugar can be effective pre run but high sugar cereals are often highly processed and lack overall nutrition. Fibre and protein are important in a cereal as they help maintain blood sugar levels, so you don’t get any drastic energy dips.
- Oatmeal, porridge, rolled or quick oats: this whole grain is a slow releasing carbohydrate which contains a great source of beta glucans and fibre.
- Granola: Granola can also be a great pre run snack or meal. We suggest choosing a natural brand with no added sugar.
- Muesli: most muesli contains oats, bran, dried fruits, nuts and seeds. By choosing a brand with no added sugar you can get a great combo to support your running.
What to Avoid
- High sugar processed cereals: a bowl of chocolate crispies or fruit loops is fine in moderation. But if you’re looking to support your running goals its best to avoid processed cereals. These cereals are often fortified with vitamins but can pack in heaps of refined sugar. This along with a lack of fibre may lead to a spike in blood sugar followed by an energy crash.
- High fibre cereals pre run: Bran flakes and other high fibre cereals can be good for us and great for the gut. Getting enough fibre is super important in the diet. But if you are looking for some pre run fuel it might be best to avoid cereals which are very high in fibre (10-20g per serving).
3. Complex & Starchy Carbs – Potatoes, Beets, Rice etc.
Starchy carbs are a great form of complex carbohydrates that can support your running nutrition. Carbohydrates are essential for energy and complex starchy carbs can help restore or increase glycogen stores.
The Best Starchy Carbs for Runners
When choosing the best complex or starchy carbs we suggest looking for foods which can provide the most nutritional value. If consuming prior to a run or training, we suggest consuming complex carbs around 3 hours before to allow time for proper digestion.
- Potatoes & sweet potatoes: Potatoes are a great source of complex, starchy carbohydrates which are full of vitamins and minerals. Potatoes can be used in tons of different meals and are jam packed full of vitamin C and E.
- Beetroot: Beetroot is a great food for runners! There are several studies that suggest beetroot can provide additional endurance benefits and can increase performance by increasing oxygen and blood flow. Not only that but beetroot is a great vitamin C and magnesium source.
- Carrots, Parsnip, Swede, Turnip, Squash: Other starchy vegetables that can offer a great source of vitamins and minerals are root vegetables like parsnip, carrots and butternut squash.
- Beans & Legumes: beans and legumes are jam packed of vitamins and minerals and a great source of carbs and protein! We suggest consuming lentils, chickpeas and other beans like black beans, butter beans and pinto beans. However! Remember beans are high in fibre so if you are not used to eating them, we suggest taking it easy.
- Rice: although many nutritionists may suggest brown rice over white rice, both are a good source of complex carbohydrates. Because rice is processed its best to consume in moderation.
- Pasta: Like rice, pasta is a complex carb to consume in moderation. Although it offers a poor vitamin and mineral content it does provide a good form of carbs. If you enjoy pasta – good news! But be sure not to consume pasta in excess. You may face some digestive discomfort and feelings of lethargy and bloating.
What to Avoid
We suggest avoiding highly processed foods if possible. These forms of carbs are often refined and so provide a lack of nutritional value. HOWEVER, everything is fine in moderation and something as simple as peanut butter on toast and a banana can be a perfect pre run meal!
4. Whole Grains
Whole grains are another good source of carbohydrates which contain fibre, vitamins and minerals.
The Best Whole Grains for Runners
Quinoa: is a good source of carbs, high in minerals and a great source of protein. Pre run adding quinoa to meals can help stabilise blood sugar levels and boost protein in your diet!
Oats: are a great source of slow releasing energy, fibre and beta glucans!
Freekah & Farro: are also a great addition to your diet for added nutrition. You can even use flours to get creative with baking.
What to Avoid
Consuming excess portions: being high in fibre, excess portions may cause issues with your gut and digestion. Consume wholegrains in moderate portions and 2.5-3 hours before running to avoid digestive discomfort.
5. Lean Meat
Lean meat and fish are one of the best foods to have in your diet to make sure you are getting enough protein. Protein is extremely important for runners. Carbs offer the best source of fuel and energy, but we need to combine them with protein for the best recovery.
The Best Meat to Consume
- Chicken & Turkey breast: are the leanest meats you can consume and can pack in around 20g of protein per 100g. Being low in saturated fat makes them a good protein to add to your diet. Turkey can also be a source of the amino acid tryptophan which can help promote sleep and serotonin.
- Tuna and white fish: are another great low-fat source of lean protein. Even a tin of tuna can be inexpensive and provide 27-30g per tin!
- Lean Beef: in moderation red meat is a great source of vitamin B and minerals such as iron. We suggest consuming red meat 1-2 times a week in smaller portions of around 100g.
- Venison: is a great lean red meat which is delicious!
- Kangaroo & ostrich: kangaroo and ostrich are also great red lean meats.
What to Avoid
Processed Meats: processed meats that are used in sandwiches aren’t always good for our running diet. They are generally high in salt and saturated fats. Be sure to limit the amount you consume to 50-90g.
Excess red meat: red meat is great in moderation to get vitamin B, iron, magnesium etc. However, it’s also high in saturated fat and can be harder to digest. We suggest enjoying your steak or roast dinner but in moderation within the week.
Too Much Tuna: Tuna is great for a lean source of protein but it’s also high in mercury. In a varied diet this is okay - but be sure to consume in moderation.
6. Oily Fish
Oily fish is a great source of healthy omega 3 fats which is essential for overall health and heart health. For runners, omega 3 also offers recovery benefits, helping to reduce inflammation and promote recovery.
The Best Oily Fish for Runners
- Salmon: is one of the best oily fish sources to consume. It’s packed full of healthy unsaturated mono and poly unsaturated fats. We suggest consuming oily fish like salmon at least once a week.
- Mackerel: another oily fish that is high in omega 3 with a strong delicious taste.
7. Nuts & Seeds
Nuts and seeds are great for snacking and adding to your diet in and around running. They contain heaps of vitamins and minerals, healthy mono and poly unsaturated fats, protein, fibre and omega 3..
The Best Nuts & Seeds for Runners
Almonds: are one of the best nuts for snacking. A 28g handful of 12-15 almonds contains around 160 calories. They have an equal protein to carb ratio and around 14g of fat in 28g. You’ll also get s good source of magnesium and vitamin E.
Hazelnuts: offer a great combo of protein, fats and carbs and in 28-30g you can get around 37% of your daily recommended vitamin E and 20% of recommended magnesium.
Brazil Nuts: are another way to pack in for magnesium and in 28-30g you can get 26% of your daily recommended amount. Not only that, but brazil nuts are a great source of selenium.
Cashews: are another great source of magnesium and carbs, making them a great snack to keep you going in the day.
Flaxseeds: are a great source of omega 3 and alpha-linolenic acid. A 30g tablespoon alone contains 28% recommended magnesium, 31% of daily vitamin B1 and 35% of recommended manganese. They also provide a great 4:1 ratio of omega 3 to omega 6.
Chia Seeds: are jam packed full of manganese and magnesium and a great source of protein ad omega 3. In fact, every 30g serving packs in around 4.5g of protein!
Hemp seeds: are another great source of protein with around 9g per tablespoon (30g). You'll also get more than 45% of your daily suggested magnesium and 21% of recommended zinc!
What to Avoid
Salted Nuts & Seeds: snacking heavily on salted nuts can lead to higher intakes of sodium. Apart from water retention, excess salt can be bad for our health and promote dehydration.
Big portions: its super easy to get carried away with eating nuts and seeds – they’re delicious! But nuts and seeds are calorie dense. Its important to control your portion sizes to avoid eating too many calories and digestive discomfort.
8. Milk & Dairy Products
Dairy is a great source of protein and calcium to aid post running recovery. Many people avoid dairy, but unless you struggle with an intolerance, dairy can be a staple part of your diet.
The Best Dairy Products for Running
Greek or natural yogurt: Greek yogurt is high in protein and a great food to consume post run or before bed. Each 100g serving packs in 10g of protein!
Low fat cottage cheese: low fat cottage cheese is also high in protein, offering 11g per 100g.
Milk: Good old milk! Something a simple as a cup of milk can make a great post running recovery drink. As well as a good source of protein, a glass of milk also offers a source of carbs and fat to aid muscle recovery.
What to Avoid
Milkshakes: sometimes after a long run a milk shake is great! They often contain a lot of sugar so can actually effectively replenish your glycogen stores and provide protein. However, by containing refined sugar, milkshakes are simple but not very nutritious post running drink. A healthier alternative would be a scoop of whey protein – you’ll get a similar taste without the added refined sugars.
Ice Cream: YUM! We all scream for ice cream but consume this dairy source in moderation.
High Sugar Yogurts: Watch out for yogurts and flavoured yogurts with a high refined sugar content. Choose a brand which contains less than 10g of sugar per serving.