Food For Long Distance Runners

Food For Long Distance Runners


Long distance running requires a great deal of physical exertion and stamina. In order to perform at their best, long distance runners need to fuel their bodies with the right nutrition. The food they consume before, during, and after runs plays a crucial role in providing energy, aiding in recovery, and helping to prevent injuries. In this article, we will discuss the key food requirements for long distance runners and provide some helpful tips on nutrition.

The Role of Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are the primary source of fuel for the body during exercise. They provide the necessary energy to keep muscles working efficiently. For long distance runners, consuming adequate amounts of carbohydrates is crucial. Carbohydrates are stored in the muscles and liver in the form of glycogen. During a long run, the body taps into these glycogen stores for fuel.

It is recommended that long distance runners consume around 55-65% of their total caloric intake from carbohydrates. This can help ensure that glycogen stores are adequately replenished. Good sources of carbohydrates include whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes.

The Importance of Protein

Protein is essential for muscle repair and recovery. Long distance runners put a lot of stress on their muscles, so consuming enough protein is crucial for repairing damaged tissues and promoting muscle growth. Including sources of lean proteins such as poultry, fish, beans, and low-fat dairy products in their diet can help long distance runners meet their protein needs.

It is recommended that long distance runners consume around 15-20% of their total caloric intake from protein. However, it is important to note that excessive protein consumption is not beneficial and can put strain on the kidneys.

Fats for Endurance

While carbohydrates are the primary source of fuel for long distance runners, fats also play an important role in providing energy. Fats are a concentrated energy source and can be used as a fuel source when glycogen stores become depleted. Including sources of healthy fats such as avocados, nuts, seeds, and olive oil in their diet can benefit long distance runners.

It is recommended that long distance runners consume around 20-25% of their total caloric intake from fats. However, it is important to focus on consuming healthy unsaturated fats rather than saturated and trans fats, which can increase the risk of heart disease.

Hydration is Key

Proper hydration is essential for long distance runners. Dehydration can lead to decreased performance, muscle cramps, and other health issues. Long distance runners should aim to drink enough fluids to stay properly hydrated before, during, and after their runs.

Water is the best choice for hydration, but sports drinks can also be beneficial during longer runs as they provide electrolytes and carbohydrates to fuel the body. It is important to listen to one’s body and drink when thirsty.

Timing is Everything

When it comes to fueling for long distance runs, timing is crucial. It is important to consume a balanced meal or snack containing carbohydrates, protein, and fats about 2-3 hours before a long run. This allows enough time for digestion and ensures that the body has adequate energy stores.

During a long run, it is important to consume carbohydrates to replenish glycogen stores. This can be done through consuming energy gels, sports drinks, or easily digestible foods such as bananas or dates. It is recommended to consume around 30-60 grams of carbohydrates per hour of exercise.

After a long run, it is important to refuel the body to aid in recovery. Consuming a snack or meal containing carbohydrates and protein within 30 minutes of finishing a run can help replenish glycogen stores and promote muscle repair.

Sample Meal Plan for Long Distance Runners

To provide a better understanding, here is a sample meal plan for a long distance runner:


  • Whole grain toast with avocado and scrambled eggs
  • Orange juice

Pre-run Snack:

  • Banana
  • Handful of nuts

During Run:

  • Energy gel
  • Sports drink

Post-run Snack:

  • Protein shake with banana and almond milk
  • Granola bar


  • Grilled chicken breast
  • Quinoa salad with vegetables

Afternoon Snack:

  • Greek yogurt with berries
  • Handful of trail mix


  • Salmon fillet with steamed vegetables
  • Brown rice

Evening Snack:

  • Cottage cheese with pineapple
  • Rice cakes


Q: Can I skip carbohydrates altogether as a long distance runner?

No, carbohydrates are essential for providing energy during long runs. Skipping carbohydrates can lead to decreased performance and fatigue.

Q: How much water should I drink before a long run?

It is recommended to drink around 16-20 ounces of water about 2 hours before a long run. This ensures that the body is well-hydrated.

Q: Can I eat a heavy meal before a long run?

No, it is not recommended to eat a heavy meal before a long run as it can cause discomfort and sluggishness. Opt for a light, balanced meal or snack instead.

Q: Should I consume caffeine before a long run?

Caffeine can provide a temporary energy boost and may enhance performance. However, it is important to test it during training runs to see how your body reacts, as it can also cause digestive issues for some runners.

Q: Can I rely solely on sports drinks for hydration during long runs?

While sports drinks can provide hydration and electrolytes, it is important to also consume water for optimal hydration. Sports drinks should be used in conjunction with water.

Q: Can I eat a large meal immediately after a long run?

It is best to consume a snack containing both carbohydrates and protein within 30 minutes of finishing a long run. This aids in recovery and replenishes glycogen stores. It is also recommended to wait a couple of hours before consuming a larger meal.

Q: Can I consume fast food as a long distance runner?

Fast food is typically high in unhealthy fats and low in nutrients. It is best to opt for whole, nutritious foods to fuel your body adequately.

Q: Should I take supplements as a long distance runner?

While a balanced diet should provide all the necessary nutrients, some long distance runners may benefit from certain supplements such as iron or vitamin D, especially if deficiencies are present. It is best to consult with a healthcare professional before taking any supplements.

Q: Can I eat dessert as a long distance runner?

Indulging in occasional desserts is fine, but it is important to prioritize nutrient-dense foods for optimal performance. Moderation is key.

Q: Can I drink alcohol as a long distance runner?

Alcohol can impair recovery and negatively affect performance. It is best to limit alcohol consumption, especially before and after a long run.


Proper nutrition is vital for long distance runners to achieve their best performance and maintain overall health. Consuming adequate carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats, along with staying hydrated, can help support the energy needs, muscle recovery, and injury prevention of long distance runners.

By following a well-balanced meal plan and incorporating the recommended foods and tips mentioned in this article, long distance runners can optimize their training and achieve their goals.

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