If you recall Usain Bolt’s $125,000 celebratory bottle of Champagne in London, you’re well aware that there are many occasions on which to celebrate successes in the world of professional running. Other than popping bottles, though, it’s safe to assume that professional runners must have a fairly regimented diet. Without proper nutrition, how can one compete on a national or global scale?
We did a little poking and prodding around various fitness outlets to find information about the diets of distance runners and sprinters as well as a little fun dietary advice from one mid-distance runner. The result? Clean food leads to the best results. If you want your body to operate like a highly efficient machine, you have to give it the best fuel in order to do so.
Whether you’re already a runner, considering a 5K or a half marathon, or just looking for tips to lose weight for summer, anyone can take away some great healthy eating tips from the following advice from runners. Don’t run out of energy the next time you head out to the track; follow this nutrition guide for runners instead.
“During the taper (marathoner speak for the few weeks leading up to the race), it is easy to get restless and excited,” Kate Weiler, four-time Boston Marathon and Triathlon competitor, warns. “As your running decreases, it is best to decrease your caffeine consumption too to make sure that it isn't interfering with falling asleep and resting up for the big day.”
Click here for 26 Morning Pick-Me-Ups That Aren't Coffee, and if you're looking for ways to get better sleep, check out Drink These 5 Unusual Beverages for a Good Night's Sleep.
Just as your running may vary, you can look forward to a rotating dinner schedule the way that Alysia Montaño, a seven-time United States 800-meter champion with a personal record of 1:57:34, does. Here’s the weekly rotation Montaño gave in an interview with Runner’s World:
Monday: No Meat Monday
Tuesday: Taco Tuesday
Wednesday: Winged Wednesday (poultry)
Thursday: Terrain Thursday (beef or bison)
Friday: Fish Friday (salmon, tilapia, or halibut)
She always keeps her portions in check, with 50 percent vegetables, 25 percent protein, and 25 percent muscle-building, energy-supplying healthy carbohydrates. If you decide to adopt a similar plan, consider focusing Fish Friday’s dish around fish from one of these sustainable, organic seafood companies.
“Stay hydrated, but also don't forget electrolytes. My favorite hydration leading up to big races is DRINKmaple maple water,” marathoner Kate Weiler says. “The low sugar combined with the hydrating properties makes it a great natural [source of] hydration leading up to the race. At the Boston Marathon, in particular, a lot of people tend to get dehydrated from [a] lack of electrolytes. Time and time again, when marathon day is warmer than usual, the runners that have been training in cold climates during the winter months consume as they normally would on race day. If this does not include some electrolytes, runners find themselves cramping and dehydrated. I like to advocate to not try anything new on race day, but… having something like Base Electrolyte Salt or SaltStick on hand is good [in case] you start to cramp.”
For more daily hydration tips, advice that any athlete could benefit from reading, check out Stay Fit, Happy, and Hydrated With These 14 Warm Weather Hacks.
Four-time Boston Marathon and Triathlon competitor Kate Weiler says yes to carbs, but no to carb-loading during the week before a marathon:
“During the week leading up to the marathon, eat as you normally would,” says Weiler. “It is best not to try any new foods and stick to what you know works well for your body. Start to incorporate and increase your carbohydrate intake with foods like white rice, potatoes, and sweet potatoes several days before the big day. Don't go crazy with the huge pasta dinners the night before the race. It is best to eat an early and normal-sized dinner.”
Matt Llano, a distance runner with respective marathon and half marathon bests of 2:12:28 and 61:47, swears by “first breakfast.” This simple meal is one Llano only eats prior to long runs or workouts, and it consists of carbs and a little healthy fat. Have you ever cooked with teff? This high-protein, nutty-flavored grain is popular in Ethiopia for its hardiness (you know how good their runners are), and Llano loves to make pancakes out of it. If he doesn’t eat pancakes, he’ll enjoy sourdough bread — both options are paired with nut butter and a banana, as well as a giant portion of green tea and some beet juice, an incredibly powerful pre-workout energy source available from brands like Beet Performer and Red Ace.
As you just saw, carbohydrates before a distance run are key. The same goes for your first meal post-run. After a long morning run, look to slow-digesting carbohydrates to replenish your energy stores. Oatmeal seems to be an easy-to-make, popular option, but any of these 14 clean, nutritious complex carbs will do the trick. Additionally, if you’re like distance runner Matt Llano, you’ll pair your carbs with a healthy smoothie. Consider trying our Beet & Banana Smoothie or one of these 15 Smoothie Recipes That Will Mask the Taste of Kale.
Assuming that you do your long run in the morning, you’ll want to keep evening meals focused more on greens, heart-healthy sources of quality fats, and protein. Your body doesn’t need to tap into large stores of carbohydrates while it is at rest, so making a generously portioned salad with ingredients like salmon, avocado, walnuts, chicken, and tofu will provide your muscles with the protein they need to recover and your joints with fats they need to stay lubricated. If you’re tired of kale and spinach, look to our guide about every single healthy salad green ever to mix it up.
Men’s Fitness discusses the diet of Olympic sprinters, listing lean protein as their main source of calories. At 60 percent of total daily caloric intake, proteins like chicken breasts, tuna, salmon, tilapia (although you’ll certainly want to avoid tilapia from an untrustworthy source), and flank steak should be a sprinter’s go-to dishes. Compared to carb-loading and -loving distance runners, sprinters often don’t focus on complex carb intake. Instead, fruits and vegetables like raspberries, blueberries, spinach, pineapple, and seaweed, one of the newest superfoods, make up the next 30 percent of their diet (you’ll obviously need heavier carbs at some point, and Men’s Fitness lists sweet potatoes as a great source of quality complex carbohydrates for sprinters). The last 10 percent of daily calories can come from fats like incredibly nutritious and calorie-dense nut butters.