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Meal Plan for Distance Runners

author image Sarah Collins
Sarah Collins has a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Penn State-University Park and formal education in fitness and nutrition. Collins is an experienced blogger, editor and designer, who specializes in nutrition, fitness, weddings, food and parenting topics. She has been published in Arizona Weddings, Virginia Bride and on Gin & Pork and Bashelorette.com.
Meal Plan for Distance Runners
Woman jogging on a road. Photo Credit Comstock Images/Stockbyte/Getty Images

As a distance runner, you carefully plot a training plan to improve your time, speed and endurance. Plot a nutritious meal plan in the same way to keep your body healthy, as well as fuel your training throughout the week. The last thing you want to feel on one of your distance runs is the impact of ''hitting a wall,'' the phrase used when you can’t go any further because of a lack of muscle glycogen.

Overall Calorie Needs

Before getting down to the nitty gritty of what meals to eat and when, think about the bigger picture of what you need calorically. Consult a registered dietitian for a specific nutrition plan, but as a general guideline, base the number of calories you eat per day on how much running you do. If you run 30 to 60 minutes a day, aim to eat 16 to 18 calories per pound of body weight, says registered dietitian Brooke Schantz for Loyola Medicine. If you do one to 1.5 hours of activity a day, bump that up to 19 to 21 calories per pound. Up to two hours of running needs 22 to 24 calories per pound, while two to three hours requires 25 to 30 calories per pound, or more.

Meal Plans While Training

Although runners typically think more about what they eat before a long run or race, the same amount of focus should be given to your daily meals. Registered dietitian Kathleen Porter told “Fitness” magazine that runners should break down their daily meals into 60 to 70 percent of calories from carbohydrates, 20 to 30 percent from fats and 10 to 15 percent from protein. Rather than supplement with protein powders, energy bars and fish oil, create a daily meal plan from nutrient-rich whole foods. Breakfast options include oatmeal made with low-fat milk and topped with berries and walnuts or whole-wheat toast with natural peanut butter and a side of fruit. For lunch, enjoy chili made with beans or lentils, and lean ground beef and a side salad topped with olive oil. Your dinner plan could involve fish or chicken breast with a side of roasted sweet potatoes or brown rice and plenty of steamed vegetables.

Meals Before a Race or Long Run

Part of your meal plan means figuring out what to eat before a race or long run. The Competitor website recommends carbo-loading three days before the race, such as a marathon, aiming to get 70 percent of your total calories from carbs. In “Shape” magazine, nutritional consultant Mike Roussell, PhD, suggests eating a quinoa salad made with parsley, walnuts, raisins and grilled chicken for dinner the night before the race, as it provides fat, fiber and protein. The morning of the race, drink a smoothie made from fruit, nuts and protein powder. However, don’t add any unfamiliar foods to your meal plan at this point, as it can cause stomach problems during the race.

Meals for Recovery

Don’t forget to include a meal on your plan for after the race. Running coach Jeff Galloway tells Fitbie that you should eat a 100- to 300-calorie snack within 30 minutes of finishing a long run or race; one option is chocolate milk, which is a blend of protein and carbs. Around an hour to 90 minutes after the race, eat another small meal of Greek yogurt with granola and berries.

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