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The Best Diet for Running Cross-Country

author image Kent Ninomiya
Kent Ninomiya is a veteran journalist with over 23 years experience as a television news anchor, reporter and managing editor. He traveled to more than 100 countries on all seven continents, including Antarctica. Ninomiya holds a Bachelor of Arts in social sciences with emphasis in history, political science and mass communications from the University of California at Berkeley.

Whether running a 5K, a 10K or another distance, cross-country runners need fuel to keep their legs moving. These long-distance runs require a different diet than that of sprinters, or even other athletes. In addition to proper hydration, a cross-country runner needs a specific ratio of protein, fats and carbohydrates, plus regular consumption of foods containing iron.


First and foremost, cross-country runners must remain hydrated, as they should consume a great deal more water than non-athletes. When you run, energy is released as heat. Your body uses water to sweat and cool itself to prevent overheating. Water also helps prevent muscle fatigue and cramping.

To find out how much water you need to drink, weigh yourself before and after training. For every pound you lose while training, drink 16 ounces of water.

Protein Power

Protein is essential in the diet of cross-country runners. While the primary energy comes from carbohydrates, protein is also essential for muscle repair and recovery. Endurance athletes should eat about 2.5 grams of protein per day for every pound of body weight.

Runners require more protein than sedentary people because of the intense demands they place on their bodies. At least 15 percent of your calories should come from protein sources such as meat, eggs, tofu and low-fat dairy products.

Don't Fear Fat

If you run for more than one hour, your body will run low on glycogen in your muscles, which is created by carbohydrates. Therefore, your body will turn to fat for energy. Cross-country runners must train their bodies to efficiently utilize fat for energy.

Consume healthy fats like omega-3 fatty acids, polyunsaturated fat and monounsaturated fat, which are found in olive oil, fish and vegetable oil. Avoid unhealthy fats like trans fats and fatty red meat, as it won't do much for your performance.

Carbohydrates are Critical

Load up on carbohydrates if you're a cross-country runner. According to Colorado State University, carbohydrates produce more energy than the same amount of protein. Cross-country runners have more endurance with ample amounts of carbohydrates stored in their bodies.

Complex carbohydrates last longer than simple carbohydrates derived from sugar. Cross-country runners should get 70 percent of their energy from complex carbohydrates. A diet that includes whole grain spaghetti, potatoes and whole-grain bread eaten two to three days before a race will fill up your glycogen storage spaces.

Iron Up

A cross-country runner's diet should include iron-rich foods. This mineral helps produce red blood cells and carry oxygen throughout the body, which is essential for maintaining athletic endurance.

Iron-rich foods include meat, poultry, fish, leafy green vegetables, beans and whole wheat bread. Do not take iron supplements unless your doctor recommends them. Too much iron can lead to constipation.

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