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The best food for runners

Runners need to eat the right balance of foods to build endurance and repair muscles. If you are prepping for a long-distance run, consider incorporating the following foods into your diet:   

1. Carbohydrates. “Carbohydrates are a preferred source of fuel for runners,” says Lena Beal, M.S., RD, LD, a therapeutic dietitian Piedmont’s Fuqua Heart Center. “Most endurance runners want 60 percent of their daily calories to come from carbohydrates.  They will carb-load before a run, so they will have glycogen stored in their muscles to replace the energy they use.”

Glycogen is the body’s backup source of energy.  It plays an important role in keeping the muscles fueled during exercise.

Before a long-distance run, chow down on these healthy-carbs:

  • Starches: Whole grain bread, whole grain cereals, whole grain crackers, whole grain pasta, lentils or refried beans
  • Fruit: Berries, oranges or bananas
  • Dairy: Smoothies or yogurt

2. Fats. It may sound counterintuitive, but fat is an essential part of a runner’s diet. Endurance runners should get between 20 to 30 percent of their daily calories from fat, but it’s important to choose the healthier varieties.

Healthy fats include:

  • Avocado
  • Fatty fish, like salmon, tuna or mackerel
  • Plant seed oils
  • Peanut butter
  • Olives

3. Protein. “You need protein to build and maintain your muscle,” Beal says. “It also aids your muscle in recovery. Runners should get about 17 percent of their daily calories from protein.”

Great sources of protein include:

  • Lean meat
  • Eggs
  • Almond butter or peanut butter
  • Fish
  • Quinoa
  • Protein bars

“Running can put a strain on the fibers in your muscles,” Beal says. “So, it’s important to get adequate protein before and after your run to help repair sore or damaged muscles.”

4. Fluid. “Fluid's main function is to rehydrate the body, because you're going to sweat,” Beal says. “You need to replenish that water to prevent heat exhaustion, heat stroke and cramps.”

When running, drink a half cup of water every 10 to 15 minutes.  If you sweat a lot when you run, you may want to drink a sports drink, like Gatorade, to replace electrolytes.

“This will help your body maintain its water balance,” Beal says. “It needs those electrolytes and water to help you recover.”

For more fitness and nutrition tips, click here.

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