Nothing beats the euphoric feeling you get halfway through your long run, the one that carries you till the end. But if you're feeling less than energetic during your run, you may want to take a look at your diet. The perfect distance runner's diet is one that helps you perform your best -- adequate in calories and high in carbs, with just the right amount of fat and protein. Consult your doctor before making any changes to your diet.
Eat Enough Calories
As a distance runner, you need a lot of calories -- how many depends on your age, gender, training schedule, additional daily activities and body composition. The goal during training is to eat enough calories to maintain weight, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. In general, an active adult male needs 2,400 to 3,000 calories a day to maintain weight, while an active female needs 2,000 to 2,400 calories a day. However, calorie needs can range from as low as 1,600 calories to as high as 5,000 calories, says AND. Your doctor or dietitian can help you determine your individual calorie needs.
Load Up on Carbs
To maximize energy potential for long runs, you need to eat a high-carbohydrate diet. Carbs are the perfect source of energy for endurance runners because they digest quickly and are easily utilized by your hard-working muscles. How much you need depends on how hard you're training and ranges from 2.3 grams per pound during light to moderate training to 5.5 grams per pound when training more than four to five hours a day. For example, if you weigh 120 pounds, your daily carb needs range from 276 grams to 660 grams per day. A diet for a healthy endurance runner should derive most of its carbs from nutrient-rich sources such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy.
Getting Enough Protein and Fat
In addition to carbs, a distance runner's diet should also include enough protein and fat. Protein is necessary for muscle growth and repair, while fat acts as another source of energy for your long run. Protein needs also vary depending on training, ranging from 0.55 gram per pound of body weight to 0.9 gram, or 66 grams to 108 grams of protein a day for a 120-pound person. Poultry, seafood, lean red meat, beans, soy foods and low-fat dairy are all good sources of protein. Fat intake should not fall below 15 percent of daily calories, says Colorado State University Extension. Eating too little fat each day may impair performance. Low-fat dairy, fatty fish such as tuna, oil, nuts and seeds make healthy fat choices for runners.
The Eating Plan
Your meal plan should include three carb-focused meals and at least one snack. To make sure you're getting all the nutrients your muscles need, include a source of protein and a fruit or vegetable at each meal and snack. For energy and performance, eat a meal one to two hours before you exercise. Additionally, to promote muscle recovery and replenish energy stores, eat a carb and protein snack -- such as a bowl of whole-grain cereal and low-fat milk with a banana -- soon after you finish your run.
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Eat Right for Endurance
- U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010
- McKinley Health Center: Macronutrients: The Importance of Carbohydrates, Protein and Fat
- Colorado State University Extension: Nutrition for the Athlete
- ExRx.net: Dietary Guidelines