Nutrition for Runners: What Should You Be Eating?

Nutrition for Runners: What Should You Be Eating?

The Ultimate Runner's Guide to Nutrition

Whether your running habit clocks in as casual exercise or semi-competitive sport (or, you’re aiming to be the next Shalane Flanagan) your body’s ability to perform and recover begins and ends with proper nutrition.

From pre workout nutrition to recovery protocol, Joanne Tull, former Fitness America and Fitness Universe finalist turned avid runner, gives us the ultimate blueprint to runners' nutrition.

Joanne is a Co-Founder of Nutrology, the naturally based sports nutrition company that has innovated clean label nutritional products used by thousands of athletes, including elites in the NFL, MLB, NHL and Professional Boxing. Having appeared on ESPN, Fox Sports and TSN after finishing a storied athletic career, Joanne’s approach to nutrition and recovery is simple yet powerful.


Getting started

What’s your goal? The first step in identifying your nutrition needs, and how to meet those needs, is defining the primary goal you hope to achieve from running. Are you running for competition, to improve fitness levels, or to reduce body fat percentages? The ideal nutrition program depends on your answer.

We’ll explore how to determine your caloric intake based on your overall fitness goals and which nutritional program best suits those goals.


Weight Loss: Running 0-20 miles per week

To lose weight, first start by multiplying your bodyweight by 12. That should be your starting daily calorie consumption. For example, if you weigh 150 pounds, your daily caloric intake for losing weight should be 1,800 calories. We recommend a consistent and moderate or higher-intensity fitness regimen while working to comfortably lose weight. To ensure fortifying nutrition while you lose weight, supplement your daily meal plan with natural BCAA's before your run and a grass fed whey protein shake afterwards.


Fitness Running: Weight Loss Running Combined with Weight Training

If you’re looking to build lean muscle while losing weight, multiply your bodyweight by 15. That should be your starting daily calorie consumption. For the 150-pound person, that equates to 2,250 calories a day. Again, consume BCAA Natural before your workout, and a Nutrology Grass Fed Whey Protein Shake after your workout.

Avoid eating within an hour of bedtime, and, ideally, eat your last main meal of the day several hours prior to bed to optimize internal cleansing. Avoid simple carbohydrates.


Competitive Running- 35+ miles per week

To start by adding healthy weight, multiply your bodyweight by 20. That should be your starting daily calorie consumption. For the 150-pound person, that equates to 3,000 calories a day. If you find your weight dropping after a few weeks then increase calories per day to 22x bodyweight.


Keto vs High-Carb: Which nutrition program is right for you?

Typically, a competitive runner is going to prefer a high-carbohydrate diet while weight loss and fitness runners will likely yield better results from adopting a ketogenic diet (high-fat, adequate-protein, low-carbohydrate).


High-Carb, High-Fiber, Plant-based Diet

Studies have shown that a high-carb, high-fiber, plant-based diet can lower the risk of Type 2 Diabetes as well as the risk of cancers linked to the consumption of red meat. A plant-based diet emphasizes the consumption of rich sources of whole grains and either plant-derived or grass fed whey protein, while eliminating sugar, bleached flour and starchy carbohydrates (except post-workout).

Here, we break down the optimal macro ratios for a high-carb, high-fiber, plant-based diet (based on the fitness goals and caloric requirements we explored above):

  • Carbohydrates: 55% of total calories
  • Protein: 25% of total calories
  • Fat: 20% of total calories


Ketogenic or “Keto” Diet

The keto diet eliminates the stored carbohydrates from the body and, in turn, uses stored body fat and fat from food as a primary source of energy. This is primarily achieved through the elimination of carbohydrates in your diet.

Keto diets will generally focus on prioritizing healthy fats such as extra virgin olive oil, avocado, and omega 3’s with minimal carbohydrate intake.

Optimal macro ratios for a ketogenic diet:

  • Carbohydrates: 10% of total calories
  • Protein: 25% of total calories
  • Fat: 65% of total calories

Higher protein is recommended for both programs to help facilitate muscle repair and recovery after running. And, regardless of which nutrition program that best suits your goals and needs, we recommend supplementing your runners nutrition protocol with natural BCAA’s and a post workout, grass fed whey protein shake to help repair muscles and speed up recovery.


A high-carb diet stores fuel for your body… and your run

The pros of a high-carb diet? Your body can store up to 500 grams of carbohydrates in the form of glycogen which yields about 90 minutes of energy needed for a solid run. This type of fuel makes energy instantly available to the muscle so you won’t feel like your tank is empty when you set out on a run.

Additionally, a high-carb diet yields higher blood plasma volume. How does this benefit you as a runner? This means the heart doesn’t have to work as hard and you’ll experience a lower heart rate during exercise.

From a planning and social standpoint, a high-carb diet is less restrictive and there are more menu options when you need to eat out or grab a convenience meal.

But, like all things in life, there are pros and cons to each. One gram of carbohydrate stored attracts about 3 grams of water. That means you can have up to 1500 grams of extra water weight to carry around. That’s not insignificant.

We can all relate to this next ‘con.’ It’s easy to overeat on carbohydrates due to the higher insulin levels that occur. This effect can slow weight loss and wreck your fitness goals if left unchecked.

And, while Fartlek is an effective training method for runners, a high-carb, high-fiber diet might have you cursing the Fartlek as bloating and gas can be common side effects with this nutritional program.

Let’s just hope you can run faster than your fellow Fartlek-ers when the bloating hits.


Ketogenic

The average adult has more than 30,000 calories of energy stored in the form of body fat. The trick is learning how to tap into that energy source! By reducing carbohydrate intake your body begins to convert fat back into energy, producing an acid known as ketones. In healthy adults, this is a signal that your body is burning body fat. But a word of caution: for people with diabetes it can cause ketoacidosis, a dangerous build up of ketones on the blood. If you’re a diabetic, we recommend consulting your doctor before adopting a modified nutrition program.

Pros of a ketogenic diet: you’ll experience rapid body fat reduction...who doesn’t love that perk? In addition to a lowered risk of fatty liver disease, a keto diet offers increased satiety due to reduced insulin levels, leaving you less likely to overeat like you would on a high-carb diet. Less Fartleks, too.

Unlike it’s easy-go-lucky high-carb counterpart, the keto diet is restrictive, making it much harder to grab convenience items or order off a menu when you’re in a pinch or looking to be social.

And while a high-carb diet yields a lower heart rate while exercising, on a keto diet, you’ll likely experience an increased heart rate while running due to lower plasma volume in blood, resulting higher perceived exertion.

As for results, a ketogenic diet has yielded mixed reviews amongst runners, with some reporting improved performance while others report lower energy levels.

Finally, a keto diet is not recommended for people with diabetes. Please consult your physician if you have specific medical needs.


Fueling your run with natural pre workout

Beetroot has emerged as one of the all-time favorites as a pre-run supplement for athletes. Beets contain an array of health-promoting antioxidants such as resveratrol, betalain, and quercetin but what really makes it a special supplement for performance enhancement is its abundance of nitrates. 

The root of the beet transforms nitrogen gas in the soil to nitrate, which, when it’s consumed, is transformed into nitric oxide, also known as supplemental oxygen. This supplemental oxygen is then used by the body for various functions. 

Need a second opinion on the benefits of beetroot? Just ask Shalane Flanagan, an American long-distance runner, who holds a stack of track and field records and fuels her mind and body with her infamous ‘Can’t Beet Me’ Smoothie.

The main ingredient? You guessed it.

Beetroot.


Hydration and Electrolytes

We’ve all heard of the 8x8 rule (8 glasses of water, 8 times a day), but how much water does a runner really need? The reality is, it depends. It depends on the climate you’re running in (temperature, humidity), your body weight, your sweat, your pee, how active you are, and the length of your run. Calculating your true hydration needs can get pretty complicated so a good rule of thumb is to aim for a minimum of 3 liters of fluid a day if you’re a male, and a minimum of 2 liters of fluid a day if you’re a female. Increase your fluid intake on hot days and on days when you’re more active. Reaching for fresh fruits and vegetables that are packed with water will help keep your body hydrated while offering essential vitamins and minerals. To restore lost electrolytes after a run, try making your own sports drink by adding freshly squeezed lemon juice and a pinch of Himalayan pink salt to your water.


Post Workout Nutrition

"Running will usually take the body right up to, and beyond, the lactate threshold, creating recovery issues for athletes. My number one recommendation for runners is refueling with a grass fed whey protein shake within the 45 minute post workout window. The BCAA's and Glutathione sourced from grass fed whey decrease muscle damage and speed up recovery time." - Joanne Tull

Cold-processed whey protein from grass fed cows is a natural source of bonded amino acids that support the production of glutathione in the body. Glutathione is important because it is considered the body’s “master antioxidant,” infusing itself into every cell in your body, protecting them from the harmful effects of environmental toxins, free radicals and carcinogenic chemicals.

In athletic performance, maintaining a healthy level of glutathione has been shown to decrease muscle damage, enhance muscle development, and aid in speeding up recovery time.

But not all protein is created equal. Opt for cold-processed grass fed whey protein as an excellent source of post run nutrition but avoid inferior quality proteins if your goal is to promote health, improve athletic performance, and speed up recovery.

Integrate our favorite post-run recovery shake, the Banana Monkey Smoothie, into your nutrition program for a post-run treat. This recipe delivers carbs and protein in the magic 3:1 ratio that will supercharge your recovery.

Banana Monkey Smoothie (Runners Edition)

Nutrition information: Calories 310 | Fat 4.5g | Carbs: 53 | Protein 18


How much protein do I need?

An important component to any successful nutrition program is knowing how much protein you should be taking in, especially as a post run recovery method. There are different factors that can influence protein needs, such as your running and fitness goals, but it is primarily based on your body weight. Here's a super-simple formula I use whenever I start working with a new client to pinpoint the level of protein they should eat on a daily basis.

To maintain current weight: 0.65-0.7 gm/lb of body weight

To decrease body fat and/or lose weight: 0.7-0.9 gm/lb of body weight

To gain weight: 0.9 gm/lb of body weight

Example:

A 155-pound female runner who wants to lose weight should eat between 0.7 and 0.9 grams of protein per pound of her current body weight.

0.7 X 155 = 108.5

0.9 X 155 = 139.5

That means she should eat approximately 108 to 140 grams of protein each day.


Rest + Recovery: The Magic of Magnesium

Now that you’ve finished your run, you’re either enjoying your hard-earned runner’s high or you’re still cursing the Fartlek. But regardless of how you feel about your run, you’ve depleted your body of essential minerals and what you reach for next impacts your recovery.

Restoring magnesium levels is an effective method to speed up recovery after an intense workout such as running. Replacing lost magnesium is essential to reducing lactic acid buildup and balancing calcium-magnesium levels in the muscle.

Which is why Joanne Tull recommends magnesium for athletes to combat fatigue, muscle cramping, and injury.

Think of your muscles as a light switch. When calcium enters the cells, it makes muscles contract (“on” position). Then, magnesium pushes calcium out of the cell and makes muscles relax (“off” position).

If you’re deficient in magnesium, the body has a hard time switching into “off” mode, leading to poor recovery, fatigue, cramping, and increased risk for injury.

Make sure you’re equipping your body to flip the switch by fueling it with proper nutrition and rest, and watch your body respond in kind.


The Good Stuff: Recipes 

Now that we’ve covered all of the fun body processes (hello, gas and bloating), let’s get to the good stuff: food.

We’ve put together a sample template for what one day of runners nutrition can look like for you. Whether high-carb or keto is the right nutrition program for you, these recipes can be modified to suit your tastes and nutritional needs.

Happy eating! 


Shalane Flanagan’s ‘Can’t Beet Me’ Smoothie (Breakfast)

Ingredients:

  • 1 cooked beet, peeled and quartered
  • 1 cup frozen blueberries
  • 1 small frozen banana
  • 1 cup unsweetened almond milk (or other milk of choice)
  • 1 cup coconut water
  • 1-inch knob fresh ginger, peeled
  • 1 tablespoon almond butter
  • Optional: 2 tablespoons chia powder

Directions:

In a blender, place the beet, blueberries, banana, milk, coconut water, ginger, and almond butter. *Include chia powder, if so desired. Blend on high speed for several minutes until smooth.

This smoothie can be made the night before. Simply store in the fridge and sip as you dash out the door.


*Keto Blueberry Muffins (Pre-run fuel)

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 cups almond flour
  • 1 scoop Nutrology Grass Fed Whey Protein- Vanilla
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 cup Stevia (or any granulated sweetener)
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt (optional, but recommended)
  • 1/3 cup grass fed butter (can be substituted for coconut oil -measured solid, then melted)
  • 2/3 cup Unsweetened Almond Milk or Water
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup fresh blueberries
  • Optional add-in: 1/2 cup chopped nuts (pecans, almonds)

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a muffin pan with 12 silicone or parchment paper muffin liners.

In a large bowl, stir together the almond flour, Stevia, baking powder and sea salt.

Mix in the grass fed butter or melted coconut oil, almond milk, eggs, and vanilla extract. Fold in the blueberries.

Distribute the batter evenly among the muffin cups. Bake for about 20 minutes, until the top is golden and an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

Nutrition Information Per Muffin: 

Calories 230 | Fat: 19g | Carbs: 5g | Fiber: 3g | Protein: 9g


Lunch

NOTE: 1 ounce of turkey, chicken, lean red meat or pork contains about 7 grams of protein. A 5 ounce portion contains about 35 grams of protein. When you are eyeballing portions, remember that 3 ounces is about the size of a deck of cards.

4-6 Ounces Grilled Chicken Breast, 1/2 Cup Brown Rice*, 2 Cups Fresh Vegetables

Keto Tuna Salad: 4-6 Ounces Tuna on 3 Cups Baby Organic Spinach with 1 Sliced Avocado and 1 hard boiled egg. Use Balsamic Vinegar or Fresh Lemon as a Dressing.

Small Whole Wheat Tortilla, ¾ Cup black Beans, ½ Cup Shredded Cheese (if desired), Light Sour Cream and Salsa to taste.

2 Ounces Sliced Buffalo Mozzarella, 2 Whole Tomatoes, Sliced, Balsamic Vinegar, 2 tsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil, 1 Cup Melon.


Dinner

4-6 Ounces Grilled Salmon, 1/2 Cup Brown Rice*, 1 Cup Carrots

4-6 Ounces Lean, Ground, Grass-Fed Beef, ¾ Cup Whole Wheat Spaghetti* with ½ Cup Marinara Sauce, 3 Cups Organic Baby Spinach Salad with Cherry Tomatoes, Carrots and Balsamic Dressing

4-6 Ounces Grilled Chicken, ½ Cup Cooked Wild Rice*, Asparagus

1 Cup Ready-to-Eat Lentils with 1 Ounce Feta Cheese, 1 Tsp Fresh Mint, 2 Tsp Red Wine Vinegar, 1 Tsp Lemon Juice

*Keto friendly. Can be substituted with mashed cauliflower, steamed broccoli.


Banana Monkey Smoothie (Post Workout Nutrition)

Nutrition information: Calories 310 | Fat 4.5g | Carbs: 53 | Protein 18

*To make your post-workout shake keto-friendly use unsweetened almond milk and replace the banana with 1 tbs. of coconut oil. Coconut oil provides MCT’s...a medium chain fat that provides your body with energy while restricting carbs.


Shalane Flanagan’s Ginger Molasses Granola: Afternoon Snack

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats (gluten-free if sensitive)
  • 1 cup finely shredded unsweetened dried coconut
  • 1/2 cup shelled pumpkin seeds
  • 1/2 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1/2 cup raisins or chopped dried fruit
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/3 cup virgin coconut oil
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup blackstrap molasses (darkest variety, which has a stronger flavor and more minerals than regular molasses)

Directions:

Position a rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 275°F and line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large mixing bowl, stir together the oats, coconut, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, raisins or dried fruit, ginger, cinnamon, and salt.

In a small microwaveable bowl, stir together the coconut oil, honey, and molasses and microwave on low until slightly melted. Or melt in a small saucepan over low heat. Pour over the dry ingredients and stir until evenly combined.

Spread out in a thick layer on the baking sheet. Bake, gently stirring every 15 minutes, until lightly browned, 45 minutes. Granola will still be moist at the end of baking, but will morph into crunchy goodness once it cools completely.

Store in a glass jar with a lid at room temperature. Granola will stay fresh for several weeks.


Dessert: Keto Cheesecake* 

Ingredients:

  • 2 - 8 oz. blocks of cream cheese
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 c. stevia or any granulated sweetener
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 scoop Nutrology Grass Fed Whey Protein- Vanilla

Topping:

  • 1- 16 oz. container sour cream
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 5 Tbsp. Stevia

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 Degrees F. Mix the cream cheese, eggs, Stevia and vanilla. Spray/grease 8-9 inch pie plate. Spoon cream cheese mixture into pie plate and bake at 350 degrees for 25 min.

While pie is baking, combine sour cream, vanilla and Stevia for the topping.

When the pie is done baking, let stand for 5 min. Spoon sour cream mixture over top of pie and bake for another 5 min. Remove from oven and cool before placing in refrigerator. Allow to set overnight.

Optional mix-ins:

Add 1/4 lemon juice to cream cheese mixture. 

Fresh blueberries or sliced strawberries can be added before sour cream topping. 

Nutrology Co-Founder Joanne Tull


Joanne Tull, former Fitness America, Fitness Canada and Fitness Universe finalist. Joanne is a Co-Founder of Nutrology, the naturally based sports nutrition company that has innovated clean label nutritional products used by thousands of athletes, including elites in the NFL, MLB, NHL and Professional Boxing. Having appeared on ESPN, Fox Sports and TSN after finishing a storied athletic career as a state champion, collegiate and national level gymnast. Joanne’s common sense approach to nutrition will educate and motivate people on how to live a healthy lifestyle while balancing career, kids and fitness goals.