Rules to Run By: Smart Eating Habits for Runners
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Rules to Run By: Smart Eating Habits for Runners

Fuel your running workout with these safe, sensible, and healthy diet principles.

Tips 1-3

If you're just kicking off a new running program, follow these five nutritional guidelines. They'll help you get the most out of your workout -- and your body.

1. Go for Lean and Green

Introducing a running regimen makes it more crucial to feed your body the heart-healthy foods routinely touted by nutritionists. Melinda Manore, the chair of the department of nutrition at Oregon State University, recommends centering your diet around whole grains, fish, lean meats, fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy. These foods will meet your basic nutritional needs and will help your body recover after exercise.

2. Timing Is Everything

When it comes to fueling up for a workout, the when is just as important as the what. If you hit the pavement in the morning, you might not have time to down a big breakfast and digest it, but Manore suggests that you still need something light before exercising -- such as a piece of toast with peanut butter and a glass of water. "Follow up your run with a healthy breakfast of fruit and whole grains," she advises.

For runners who favor midday or afternoon jogs, the optimal time to eat is two hours before exercising. That way, by the time you begin, your body will have absorbed the energy from your food. Also, munching too close to your run can cause cramps. If you must have something before you head out, a small banana will give you a boost. However, be careful about consuming too much fiber right before you run, because exercise can stimulate your digestive tract.

3. Recovery Rules

It's common to lose your appetite after exercise, but new research shows that eating within 30 minutes of your run is essential for replenishing glycogen stores -- and helping your body recover. Soon after you finish your workout, eat a snack high in both protein and carbohydrates, such as a cup of yogurt with fruit, or an energy bar.

Tips 4-5

4. Eat in Moderation

You've already made the wise choice to exercise, so don't counteract your progress by overeating. Though running is rigorous (a 130-pound woman burns roughly 100 calories per mile when jogging at 6 miles per hour), it does not merit overindulgence. Having dessert is okay, nutritionist Manore says, but try sharing a portion with a friend or allowing yourself a treat only every other night.

5. Healthy Hydration Habits

Runners should get in the habit of replacing any fluids lost while exercising. Start by making it a point to drink directly before and after you run. If your jogging session is a bit longer (say, beyond 45 minutes), Manore suggests you stash a water bottle in the bushes along your route or sip periodically from a CamelBak (a lightweight backpack that holds water like a canteen).

You can test your hydration level by monitoring the color of your urine: if it is pale yellow, you are doing fine, but a dark yellow-orange color means you're not drinking enough. You can also weigh yourself immediately before and after exercising. If your weight falls by several pounds, you need to drink more to replenish fluid levels.

On the flip side, long-distance runners should make sure not to overhydrate without replacing electrolytes (salts). Doing so may result in a potentially dangerous condition known as hyponatremia. Make sure to replenish with fluids that contain electrolytes, such as Gatorade.

Smart Snacks

Savor these healthful snacks as either a pre- or post-workout treat.

  • 1 tablespoon of peanut butter on a slice of whole-grain bread
    (240 calories, 9 grams of fat, 7 grams of protein)
  • A small apple with a small handful (about 2 tablespoons) of almonds
    (230 calories, 15 grams of fat, 6 grams of protein)
  • 1 cup of low-fat yogurt with a half cup of blueberries
    (190 calories, 4 grams of fat, 13.5 grams of protein)

Originally published on, September 2006.