Healthy Eating Tips for Runners

Picture detail of running-shoes and fruits set on a wooden floor.

Mention to a friend or family member that you run, and you will likely be greeted with some form of “oh, you are so lucky you can eat whatever you want”. After a while, most runners get tired of trying to convince their loved ones otherwise; after all, it has been drilled in our brains for years that if you run enough, it is almost impossible to put on weight. Except for one thing: it’s not true. Most of us are very aware of this. Not only can we not eat whatever we want, but we gain weight very easily, especially when we make some bad food choices. So, what can a runner do to feel good in our running and lives, while making sure we do not pile on the pounds when temptations are all around? Ever heard the phrase, “abs are made in the kitchen”? Unfortunately, this is true. We all know those runner friends who have the perfectly chiseled body. The ones who look like they belong in a magazine, debuting the latest running clothing.

Young woman getting having her green smoothie after training

Well, there are two reasons they look like that (and no, neither of the reasons are because they do 500 sit-ups a day!) :

1. They eat nutritious food and fuel their bodies correctly.
2. They are the lucky ones with good genetics.

We may con ourselves into thinking that doing extra ab exercises will help us develop that six pack, but at the end of the day, there is only one way to truly reach a healthy weight to look and feel good: eating the right foods. How can this be done?

Friends sitting on a table together and have breakfast.

Here are 5 tips to eating healthier:

1. Eat breakfast

If you have ever researched losing weight before, you probably know this one already, but that is because it is so important. We think that by skipping breakfast, at a time when we are not hungry anyway, that that leaves us with fewer hours in the day to binge and eat calories.
There is one problem though: Once you eat something, the hunger returns with a vengeance, and your willpower is tested the rest of the day to resist eating all day long. Sound familiar? If only it worked that way. Breakfast gets your metabolism started, so your body can function the way it was meant to. Even if you are following a marathon training schedule that requires early starts, it is better to rev your metabolism up with something small. If you can have a big breakfast, even better. Studies have shown that those who eat big breakfasts tend to eat less later in the day, and especially snack less at night….which is when most of us get into trouble.

My tip:

Shop on the weekend for the whole week and do meal prep for the following days.

2. Shop on the weekends for your week’s groceries

When we are busy, it can be tempting to skip going to the supermarket in favor of just picking up a ready-made meal in the evening on your way home from work. Not only are you adding time to your day by going to that location, which could be spent getting in an extra few minutes of foam rolling so you feel better on your run tomorrow, or spending time resting after a long day, but you are more likely to make bad choices if you are starving and fed up. By doing all your food shopping for the week on the weekend, you will have a fridge stocked with foods that you do not want to waste. This will encourage you to use it up and eat those vegetables before they go bad.

Shot of a young man walking in a grocery store with a basket full of fresh produce

3. Meal prep

Along the same lines, when we get home from work, we are tired, and cooking a meal is the last thing we want to do. By spending just a few hours preparing food on the weekend, you will have an army of food waiting for you to eat, which will save you a lot more time during the week (when you need it most). The best way to meal prep is to find a few simple recipes that get the food ready to eat, and then all you need to do is put a few different types in a container to take with you for lunch, or throw in a salad in the evening (just keep in mind that not every salad is good for your health). Wash, peel, and chop your vegetables and fruits into bite-sized pieces, and either put them straight into a tub, ready for use when you need them, or roast the vegetables in some coconut oil with a seasoning of your choice until tender. That way you can either reheat to enjoy or just eat them cold. You can place a few chicken breasts in a slow cooker with some spices during your Sunday, which will leave you with juicy, tender chicken to enjoy all week long.

4. When eating out, know which words to avoid

We love to go out to eat. Whether it is with friends, family, or just to get a break from cleaning up the kitchen, eating out becomes as much an experience as it is a source of fuel. However, most of us will end up leaving the restaurant feeling guilty and frustrated if we know we have eaten far too many calories for our body to digest. Restaurants have twisted some words that sound healthy, but are in fact bad for us. If you can avoid any options with these words, your meal will stay healthier, and you will leave feeling confident and full of energy:

  • Battered
  • Bisque
  • Carbonara
  • Crispy
  • En croute
  • Fritters
  • Golden
  • Refried
  • Smothered

Don’t forget:

It is better to have one square of chocolate every night than eat an entire container of ice cream at once.

5. Stop “banning” foods

This one can be tough to get our heads around. We all know the feeling of avoiding something we love so much. We do so well all week (or even all day), but then one taste of it, and it is no holds barred. We cannot stop eating it, and then end up feeling awful. How can you avoid this situation? By not having any food (you love) that is banned. Have you ever noticed, the more you can’t have something, the more you want it….yes, that works for relationships too 😉 It works the same with food. It is better to allow yourself to have a small amount of your favorite foods regularly. That way you are not making it more desirable as you know you can’t have it. It is better to have one square of chocolate every night than not have any chocolate for a week and then eat an entire container of ice cream in one sitting on a Saturday night when your willpower is low.

We love to run, but we are also human beings who deserve a life, so if you do go overboard while on holiday or eat one too many slices of pie at dinner, do not beat yourself up. Your diet is like a marathon not a sprint, so if you have one bad mile here or there, it doesn’t mean all is lost!

You need more eating tips? Find out more about the best foods before running.


Tina Muir As a former elite runner, Tina knows what athletes need to focus on in their training. "I'm an expert at improving your running." View all posts by Tina Muir