8 Simple Rules for a Healthy Running Diet [You Can Actually Stick To]

8 Simple Rules for a Healthy Running Diet [You Can Actually Stick To]

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Yes, you can actually stick to a healthy running diet without gagging at the thought of your next meal.

You don’t have to live on boring salads and bland celery sticks to be healthy…

Sure, some people think running diets must be terrible (especially if you want to lose weight), but that’s FAR from the truth!

With a little knowledge and some planning, you can eat delicious food while also sticking to a healthy running diet.

Yes, really.

Want to know how?

Keep reading for all the juicy details!

A Healthy Running Diet & Nutrition for Runners

Healthy Running Diet - Nutrition for Runners

Check out Runners Food 101: The Ultimate Guide to Nutrition for Runners to learn the ins and outs of what a runner’s body requires for fuel.

In a nutshell, runners need the right amounts of carbohydrates, protein and (good) fats.

Plus, plenty of water.

We should avoid processed foods, and overly-salted foods (though salt in moderation is perfectly fine).

But to go beyond the basics, you need to understand your goals first.

1.) Know Your Goals

Running Diet - Know Your Goals

Someone looking to lose 10lbs in 2 months as a casual jogger will need to eat differently than a competitive marathoner in training.

The reason I use those two fairly extreme examples is this: your running diet will differ depending on your goal, both from a running perspective and from a body perspective.

So step 1 in picking the right healthy running diet for you, is to decide on your current goal.

Do you want to lose weight? Gain muscle? Run a specific race? Try for a new distance? Get a PR?

So, noodle on that while you move on to the Rule #2.

2.) Make a S.M.A.R.T. Goal

I love S.M.A.R.T. goals.

I un-apologetically nerd out on them.

So what are they, and why should you care? Great question!

S.M.A.R.T. stands for:

Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely.

So by choosing a goal that is all of those things, you have a WAY better chance of achieving it!

Let’s break this down quickly so you know how to make a good S.M.A.R.T. goal, so that you can craft yourself a healthy running diet to help you achieve it.

Specific:

Narrow your goal down. Don’t pick something vague.

For example, saying “I want to be healthier” or “I want to lose weight” is WAY too vague. And quite frankly, that’s going to get you nowhere.

Instead, pick a specific goal, like “Lose 10lbs” or “Cook 5 healthy meals each week” or “Run my first half marathon”.

Even better if you can set MORE specifics, like “by X date”.

Once you make it specific, it then becomes measurable.

Measurable:

Make the goal something that can be measured, or tracked.

So in the Specific section above, let’s take “Lose 10lbs” as an example.

Can you measure that?

You betcha.

You get yourself a scale, and weigh your starting weight, so you know what end weight you’re aiming for.

Is “I want to lose weight” measurable?

Nope, most definitely not.

There is nothing specific about it – no hard number to track. Which makes it impossible to know when you’ve “achieved” the goal.

Attainable:

Select a goal, and a time frame to achieve it, that is realistic.

Sure, we hear “dream big” and “the sky’s the limit” often when thinking about goals…and I’m not saying you shouldn’t dream big…but you also have to be realistic and take big goals one (attainable) step at a time.

For example, say someone wants to lose 50lbs in 2 months.

Is that truly attainable? (No) Is it realistic? (No) Will it put their body in harm’s way just attempting it, and likely result in failure? (Yes)

However, an attainable goal may be to lose 50lbs in 6 months.

Nowwww we’re talking.

Much more attainable!

Relevant:

This one is simple: pick a goal that supports what you’re trying to do.

In this case, if you want to start a running diet in order to lose 10lbs in 2 months…then don’t pick a S.M.A.R.T. goal of “PR in my next 5k”, because honestly, that is irrelevant to what you’re trying to achieve with the weight loss (maybe it ends up happening anyway, but speed is an irrelevant main focus when trying to lose weight).

Timely:

As mentioned before, put an end date against your goal.

So “I want to lose 10lbs” becomes even more measurable when you say “I want to lose 10lbs in the next 60 days”.

Ok, now that you understand S.M.A.R.T. goals, go ahead and pick one as it relates to your running diet.

3.) Ease Into It

Healthy Running Diet - Ease Into The Diet Change

If you decide to try a running diet that is different than your current food habits, ease into the change.

One surefire way to makes things harder on yourself is to jump into a major change without a sufficient on-ramp.

Changing habits, and making them stick, is best achieved in small doses.

So don’t expect to go from Point A to Point B in one day.

Instead, plan in small changes over the course of days or even weeks or months (depending on your goal).

4.) Drink Like a Fish

WATER.

Of course I meant water…what did you think I meant? 🙂

This rule is so important.

Runners sweat. A lot. And keeping your body hydrated is a major part of any healthy running diet, regardless of your goal.

How much water should runners drink each day?

It depends.

I know, I know, I hate that answer too. Different studies cite different amounts, and it’s also very unique for each body.

But, the Mayo Clinic reports that, on average men need 15.5 cups of fluid each day and women need 11.5 cups.

I’ve also heard a rule of thumb that says to take your weight (in lbs), cut it in half, and that’s the number of ounces of water to drink each day. So a 160lb woman would aim to drink 80oz of fluids per day (which is 10 cups).

Basically, keep yourself hydrated before, during and after running, to the best of your ability.

5.) Fat is Your Friend

Running Diet - Healthy Fat is Good

Our culture unfortunately had (and still has) a weird fear of fat.

I believe it’s because fat is misunderstood.

Some people don’t realize the difference between good fats and “bad” fats.

Harvard Medical School published an article on this topic, which explains that trans fats are the devil (I’m paraphrasing, of course), saturated fats are sometimes ok, and monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are not only good for us but ALSO essential to our health.

Humans, and athletes especially, need healthy fats for energy and to properly absorb nutrients.

Good fats include olive oil, avocado’s, cheeses, chia seeds, etc.

So make sure your running diet includes the right amount of healthy fat (and trust me, your meals will taste so much better when you allow yourself to enjoy healthy fats!).

6.) Find Recipes You Actually Like

This should have been the #1 rule of a healthy running diet, to be honest 🙂

Story time: I grew up in a household that perceived anything “healthy” as “boring and gross”.

Even saying the word “salad” to my Dad to this day evokes a look of disgust.

So, by default, I grew up thinking the same thing.

Until I started running. And training for my first half marathon. Then, I was forced to learn the ins and outs of runners nutrition.

And it changed my whole world in the most glorious way possible.

I learned that “healthy” can also mean “yummy” and “satisfying”!

The book that got me started on this lovely path was Shalane Flanagan’s Run Fast, Eat Slow cookbook!

It’s jam-packed with recipes you’ll FALL IN LOVE WITH, like Superhero Muffins, Fartlek Chili, and so much more.

So, do yourself a huge favor, and find running diet recipes you love!

7.) Meal Prep Like a Pro

Healthy Running Diet - Meal Prep Like a Pro

Now that you’ve found recipes you love, it’s time to make sure the meals are available to you when you need them.

And that means meal prepping like a pro.

Now, there are obviously different ways to go about it.

Some people go crazy on Sunday, and cook almost everything for the week then.

The freezer is your friend! Especially for weekday lunches and dinners!

While for others, simply buying the ingredients ahead of time is enough prep work to make it work.

So do whatever works best for you. Just make sure your healthy running diet food is available when it’s time to eat.

Because a main reason runners skip out on their meal plan is because they get busy, and don’t plan properly.

8.) Keep a Food & Running Journal

Healthy Running Diet - Keep a Journal

And last, but not least, Rule #8 – keep a food & running journal.

Documenting what you eat helps track it. And as we know, what we can track, we can measure.

Plus, keeping track of your running workouts at the same time can help you identify patterns.

For example, if you go out to eat every Friday for nachos and beer, and then always feel sluggish on your long run the next morning…that’s a pattern. And it’s a pattern you can likely easily change by adjusting your food intake (or changing your long run day to Sunday).

A Note on Running for Weight Loss

While the phrase “healthy running diet” does not have to be synonymous with “losing weight”, as discussed earlier in the Goals section, many people do want to lose weight with running and dieting.

If that’s you, check out Running for Weight Loss, The Essential Beginner’s Guide.

You’re Ready to Craft Your Perfect Running Diet!

Ok, you picked a S.M.A.R.T. Goal (hopefully!) and you read the other rules. It’s time to create a meal plan for yourself!

Grab a free Meal Planner template and get started today!

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