The Runners Diet: Seven Common Nutrition Mistakes Runners Make


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A runners diet, at times, can be less than perfect. In this post, I want to talk about seven common nutritional mistakes made by runners.shutterstock_235349668

1. Not recognizing that nutrition is important
Too many runners discount the role nutrition plays in their performance (not you, you’re here, right). I challenge you to ask your running club buddies to rank the impact diet has on their race times. I’d be willing to bet most would rank it extremely low, barely moving the needle. Nothing could be further from the truth!

And this is fine if you just want to finish or you are running for the social and health benefits. But if your aim is to get faster, set PRs, qualify for Boston, etc…then nutrition is probably the missing ingredient.

The truth is that most mere mortals can’t run 60-80 miles per week, at least not for months on end. For 75% of runners, proper nutrition not running more is the key to peak performance.

2. Skipping breakfast
Missing out on breakfast is probably the MOST common nutrition mistake runners make. This often leaves you hungrier later in the day and can make losing those last 10 pounds a struggle. It also fails to provide energy for morning workout sessions. Runners who have not eaten for 8-12 hours could face low blood sugar (glucose) levels which impairs performance.

For breakfast, something is better than nothing.  A runners diet should consist of eating one small pre-workout snack and a real breakfast when the session is complete. This is especially true with workouts that are particularly intense or longer in duration.


3. Thinking that exercise means you can eat whatever you want
It is clear that running increases daily energy expenditure and metabolic rate can be elevated for a few minutes to several hours post-workout. Running does not allow you to overeat high calorie or high fat foods. This compromises recovery and impairs future training sessions. Athletes who are training heavily need to routinely eat healthy foods and nutrients to support their performance, recovery, immunity, and the stress that running places on the body.

Too often, runners use running as an excuse to justify poor eating patterns (you know who you are) :).


4. Not eating before a workout
A runners diet should include fueling prior to long runs. It is beneficial to top off muscle glycogen stores, allowing runners to train harder, reduce fatigue, and not to feel hungry during a workout. The timing of the snack or meal will depend on the intensity and duration of the training session. Remember, meal size and timing are interrelated so allow more time for digestion before your key sessions.

5. Waiting too long after exercise to eat
Athletes should consume some carbohydrate and protein 30-45 minutes after a workout to help refuel energy stores, and prepare your muscles for the next training session. This becomes an even bigger problem if the next major meal is delayed.  If you are running twice a day or have a hard session within the next 24-36 hours getting nutrients on board is imperative. To prevent being under fueled in your next workout a runners diet should have planned meals/snack to consume post workout.

After longer or more intense sessions some runners lose their appetite making eating a challenge. Sports drinks and liquid meals such as milk based smoothies or soups are good options if you find yourself in this situation.


6. Replacing meals with energy bars and drinks
Energy bars are considered “supplements” and should be used as a last resort when refueling and repairing muscle. They are not meal replacements, rather a convenient snack to be consumed ‘in a pinch.” Energy bars are not necessary for people who are performing very light training or very limited activity. Eat real food instead.

7. Jumping on the latest diet craze in search of the elusive ‘edge’
Athletes are understandably interested in using the latest scientific information to gain a performance advantage. However, there are no magic diets or formulas that will dramatically boost performance. Some eating practices may actually lead to a decrease in performance or have undesirable side effects.

The best advice is to follow sound and tested sports nutrition practices and seek professional guidance for individual fine tuning. Athletes should never try anything new during a competition or event.

Bottom Line
Strive for consistency over the long haul and realize we all make nutritional mistakes from time to time.  I bet there are plenty more mistakes you could add to this list.

Leave a comment and tell me the biggest nutritional mistake you’ve made recently.

Train hard and eat smart!

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1 Comment
  1. Jodi Ake says:

    Great advice. Most of it things I knew or have been told, but I don’t follow. It’s good to have this to look back on as a daily reminder. I try to eat healthy, but I fall into easy convenience foods and I love my carbs. Thank you for your informative blog. You are a big help to many.

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Learn the exact steps I used to become a 9x Ironman finisher, ultramarathoner, and Boston Qualifier. Take the guesswork out of race-day nutrition.

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