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Meal Plan for Distance Runners

by
author image Henry Halse
Henry Halse is a Philadelphia-based personal trainer, speaker, and writer. He's trained a wide variety of people, from couch potatoes to professional athletes, and helped them realize their own strength, determination and self-confidence. Henry has also written for various fitness and lifestyle publications, including Women’s Health, AskMen and Prevention.
Meal Plan for Distance Runners
The right meal plan should make you feel better during training. Photo Credit oneinchpunch/iStock/Getty Images

The appetite that you work up from doing a long run can either help you or hurt you, depending on your diet. Running is half of the training process, the other half is refueling.

Avoid making the mistakes of many other runners by tweaking your diet to supply enough calories in the form of carbs, protein and fat. The best meal plan will cater to your needs and set you up for training success.

Calories

Depending on how big you are and how intense your training is, your calorie intake could range from 2,000 per day to 5,000, according to an article from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. That's a huge range, and it's really important to know how many calories to eat in a day in order to properly refuel. If you're not eating enough it can affect your ability to recover from each run.

Bones and muscles need energy to keep growing and restoring. They take a beating every time that you go for a long run, so recovery is very important. Females are especially vulnerable to bone damage from a lack of calories.

To figure out how many calories you should be eating in a day according to your physicality, use the Livestrong.com MyPlate Calorie Tracker. Once you figure out how many calories you should be eating in a day you can figure out where those calories should come from.

Read More: Examples of a Runner's Diet

Macronutrients

Protein, fat, and carbohydrates are all macronutrients that are important in your diet. While they're equally important to your health, they shouldn't be eaten in equal amounts.

Carbs

Carbohydrates provide fuel for running. They also fuel your vital organs and are important for brain function. You burn a lot of carbs during a run, which means that you have to take care to refuel afterwards.

According to an article from the NCAA, a runner should have at least 5 to 7 grams of carbs per kilogram of body weight every day, or about 55 percent of their calories for the day. If you know your body weight in pounds, just divide that number by 2.2 to get your weight in kilograms. If your training gets more intense, you can increase the number of carbs you eat in a day to over 10 grams per kilogram of body weight.

These carbs can come from pasta, bread, grains, vegetables and fruits. If you have a caloried sports drink after your run, it counts towards your carb total.

Carbs will fuel your run and make up the bulk of your diet.
Carbs will fuel your run and make up the bulk of your diet. Photo Credit artisteer/iStock/Getty Images

Protein

Protein helps you repair the muscle tissue that you damage from your runs. It's very important for recovery but you don't need nearly as much protein as carbohydrates. You can get away with 1.2 to 1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, meaning about 15 percent of your daily calories should be from protein.

That's much less than the number of carbohydrates that you need every day. You can hit your protein requirements through solid food sources. Lean sources of protein are best, since fat can be tough to digest. Eggs, chicken and fish are excellent sources of lean protein.

Read More: Marathon Runner Diet Plan

Fat

Fat intake for a distance runner should be around 30 percent of your total caloric intake for the day, according to a 2010 research review in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. Fat is different from protein and carbohydrates because it's very energy dense, providing 9 calories per gram, whereas protein and carbs are only 4.

Use different forms of fat that you can use to meet your fat requirements. Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are considered more healthy and can have anti-inflammatory effects on your body.

Saturated fat is more unhealthy because it can cause inflammation, which hurts performance. Trans fat is the worst type of fat, which is commonly found in processed foods. It's been linked to many health problems, like heart disease, and should be avoided.

Nuts, fatty fish and avocados are excellent sources of healthy fats. Half of a fillet of salmon provides 27 grams of fat and one cup of mixed nuts gives you 72 grams.

Pre-Run Nutrition

Before your run, fuel up about two hours early with a light snack consisting of easy-to-digest carbohydrates. Avoid eating anything that can upset your stomach before your run, such as dairy and fatty or fibrous foods. Instead, stick to carb sources that are easy to digest and provide energy. This is a good time to have some fruit, like a banana.

Nutrition During the Run

During your run, try not to ingest anything that you don't normally have or that might upset your stomach. Instead, test out new products after your run or on an off day to see how they affect your stomach.

If your run only lasts an hour you can get away with just ingesting water. If you go beyond an hour, start supplementing with carbohydrates from a sports drink or energy gel. Try to get between 30 and 60 grams of carbs per hour.

Post-Run Nutrition

After your run, your body is ready to recover and looking for nutrients. Your priority is going to be carbohydrates, once again, because your stores need to be refilled. Aim for about 60 grams of carbohydrates or one gram for every kilogram of body weight to be more exact. You can eat some solid food now that you've stopped running. A serving and a half of pasta, which is about three ounces, equals about sixty grams of carbs.

Sample Meal Plan

This sample meal plan is based on a 3,000-calorie-per-day diet. The meal plan also provides 412 grams of carbohydrates, 99 grams of fat and 119 grams of protein. This is close to the recommended 55 percent of total energy from carbs, 30 percent from fat, and fifteen from protein.

Meal One - Breakfast

  • One cup of oatmeal
  • Three eggs

Meal Two - Lunch

  • One avocado
  • Two slices of bread
  • One and a half cups of rice
  • Two ounces of grilled boneless, skinless, chicken breast
  • Half a tablespoon of olive oil
  • Half a cup of almonds

Meal Three - Pre-Workout

  • One banana

Meal Four - Mid-Run

  • Twenty ounces of a sports drink like Gatorade

Meal Five - Post-Run

  • Two ounces of pasta
  • Half a cup of tomato and basil sauce

Meal Six - Dinner

  • Two cups of sweet potatoes
  • Four ounces of salmon
  • One cup of asparagus
  • One cup of gnocchi
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