What should I eat before and after the run?
In general, our diet should be 99.9% unprocessed. Because pure, unprocessed food is a potent source of life force. Whole or unprocessed food is a natural secret recipe for a healthier leaner body and mind, regardless if an athlete or not.
So, what should a new runner eat before and after the run?
When you read about food for runners, you will find a lot of misleading information about a specific amount of carbs-loading needed to increase energy, different kind of processed food required, the amount of proteins you need, and so on. However, an ideal food to eat before and after the run is a variety of meals prepared from real non-processed whole food sources such as vegetables, fish, fruits, nuts, healthy carbohydrates, whole grains, and berries. How much of each you need, it will depend on a few factors.
So, before listing the foods for new runners, why and when you should or should not load on carbs or minerals, there are a few things to be aware of which many ignore, yet it is essential to keep in mind.
– How old are you?
– How physically active or fit are you on a daily basis?
– Do you have diabetes or other health problems?
How old are you?
At different age, our body will require different amount and different types of food. When younger, we were naturally spending more energy, we were more active, our body and mind were still developing to some degree, our metabolism was working faster, our stressors and worries were to its minimum or non-existing, and the quantity and the variety of food we had were somewhat different than what we have later in age.
Older we get, our metabolism tends to change. This is nothing to be worried about, but in most cases, the metabolism slows down. Our daily habits and activities are changing, we move less, where we are no longer able to eat just whatever. I’d also say, older we get, less food we’d need. However, we do need a right nutritious diet, especially when exercising or when running.
When younger, we might have easily had 6 scrambled eggs for breakfast with a toast+butter, big salad and a glass of orange juice. But later in age, we can undoubtedly go with only 2 eggs and a small avocado salad, no toast, and no orange juice. Orange juice could be served a bit later, as a snack. 🙂
Today, as of this writing, I am 45 years old. The fact is that my fully developed body does not need anything else but a nutritious food and enough water, to maintain the excellent health, keep my mind and hormones balanced, and to help my muscles happily recover (repair) from a run, regardless if it is a short or a long race.
Your diet plan might be a bit different from an 18-year-old young lad, a 30-year-old young girl or, a 55-year-old gentleman. Not only that, but…
How physically active are you on a daily basis?
A simple equation. More we are physically active more we spend energy.
My job includes seating in the office from 9-5 (at least), going to work and coming back from work by car, and walking very little during the day (my walks are mainly based on doing groceries shopping, house cleaning, and cooking). This is why my food choices might be slightly different from yours, the quantity might be different, but the food you and I eat, all the proteins we get, minerals, energy…., it should come from the same, fresh wholefoods natural produces.
The type of food my body needs is not ‘body based,’ instead, it is ‘brain-based.’ Meaning, I need food which will help my mind think and stay awake. I do not need donuts (personally, I do not think anyone does), big sandwiches, lavish lunch meals, and so on.
How active you are during the day will also dictate the food you will be planning on a daily basis. It is not going to be the same, and it should not. We are not robots, we do not do the same things every day, we just need first to evaluate what we do every day and how much we move, get to know a bit better more about the food, decide on the running plan and then adjust our eating plans accordingly. But if you suffer from the following…, things might change a bit more for you.
Do you have diabetes or other health problems?
If you have diabetes or any other health issue, it is still possible to run, but, it is absolutely essential to listen to your body and give the body exactly what it needs. If not sure, consult your doctor, always.
I believe, eating a balanced diet, and exercising on a regular basis, is a key to a medicine-less life and a road to decrease insulin levels slowly. And the foods you choose should not be too different from anyone else.
I do not have diabetes, but my friend has/d. She wanted to get fit again and decided to start the walk-run program. She knew very little about running as well as what kind of food is right for her. She did not know where to start from. As she wanted to be sure she is going to do it right already from the beginning, she asked for a ‘buddy in crime’ partner to help her figure out what kind of food to eat. Again, I am not a doctor, and I have no diabetes. But, as I have been running for some time now, plus I have been vegetarian for over two decades (and off and on vegan), she thought, perhaps together, we could figure out what kind of food diet would be good for her. I agreed to join her.
After just two weeks, she stopped giving herself insulin shots. She was doing 30 min long walks, every day. After one month, she was doing 30 min walk-runs. After two months, she was running almost all the time (with a few walking breaks here and there). She lost weight. Plus, her energy levels went super high, and she enjoyed the food. She actually started eating food she did not even know she liked and some she did not taste before.
To avoid hypoglycemia or low blood sugar, and to make sure her sugar levels are safe, she always made sure she checked her sugar before, during and after a run.
How I nourish my body?
Let me start by saying that I am a recreational runner. For me, running means meditation and a way of relaxation. It is my personal ‘ME’ time when I recharge not only my body but also my mind and soul. I feel after a run as if my body is greatly energized in all possible ways and it feels so alive, like being reborn every time after a run. So is the food for me. 🙂
My job, being office based, it’s often till late at night. If I did not run regularly, my activity level would have dropped to desk-potato level. I have a system, which has been working for me for years now. For example, I know that I do not need a lavish breakfast let alone big lunch during my workday, especially if I am confident that I will not run in the evening or the next day. I might (and trust me I do), feel exhausted and tired at the end of the day (more mentally than anything else), hungry for sure, but the fact is that I have not spent many calories during my usual workday. Besides, I realized in time that most of the time I am actually thirsty, not hungry, it is just that sometimes I interpret my needs the wrong way. So, why to load my belly with extra calories I cannot possibly burn in one day?
I run three to four times a week. Most of my runs are between 30-40 min., and once a week I run for one hour. Once a year, when I prepare for a half-marathon race, my runs get longer. As you can tell, I am not an elite runner.
I am 100% healthy, and my weight has remains the same for the past 20 years. Therefore, the food I eat is not so carbo-loaded. Instead it is balanced, non-complex, straightforward nourishing simple food, rich in good fats antioxidants and vitamins (I find cooking relaxing and fun, so I often invent new recipes 🙂 ). I enjoy eating.
I Don’t Count Calories
I do not count calories. I never did. And I do not believe in diets. I think diets are the biggest scam ever invented. Also, I think that diets can easily lead to imbalanced eating. They exist to confuse and distract people from enjoying their true self.
When our mind and our body is in balance, there is no need for a diet or thinking about how much we should eat, what and when. If we gain or lose weight (without intention), it means we are out of balance. Diets will not help, but fixing the root cause problem, which is 99% internal, it will help us get back on track and eat the right food, at the right time and the right amount. We all are different, and there is no one diet fits all. But that is for another article.
By eating whole foods we love and not obsessing over calorie counts, we’re able to eat in tune with what our body desires.
Counting every calorie I eat or burn a day is impossible and it would be torture and a nightmare for me. It is like saying this year I will paint my nails every day in different colors. It sounds lovely in theory, but it is nearly impossible to manage in practice (especially if a mom, a wife + working, among many other things).
To count every calorie we spend, every calorie we consume, and at what time, it is unnecessary. Besides, not all proteins and carbohydrates are created equal. Non processed food is a beautiful gift from God, it’s healthy, and we should learn how to enjoy it rather than counting the amount we consume. But, you do need to understand the food you eat, establish a healthy relationship with the food to know which diet will help you remain content throughout the day and satisfy your energy needs for your daily physical activity, without having to deprive yourself.
Nourishment & Whole Foods In My Pantry
We need proteins, fats and carbohydrates, that is a fact. But more than anything, we need minerals, antioxidants, vitamins to fulfill our nutritious runner’s needs and to stay healthy.
By now you might wonder what whole foods are? Whole foods are plant foods that are as close to their natural form as possible, they are little or completely unprocessed, they are free from additives or any other artificial substances. These are fruits and vegetables, nuts, grains, legumes, seeds, beans…
At home, we try to have always a well-stocked pantry with whole foods. The reason is simple, we rarely eat outside, if we do, it is going to be a fish restaurant. Also, we love everything about whole foods. When possible we try to stick to organic locally produced food, which we buy once a week from trusted local farmers. The food we buy includes chicken (for my son, my husband and I eat only fish), veggies, fruit, legumes, nuts, seeds, cultured dairy, whole grains, and more.
Realistically, it can be difficult to avoid processed foods entirely, and incorporating whole foods into your everyday diet can be a challenge, but cutting them down can be a great place to start. After a long working day it is a lot easier to go into the supermarket and grab something quick for dinner, but with a little bit of practice, it gets actually pretty easy to change the habits, from processed to whole foods diet.
Here is a list of the food I have been using in my cooking, for myself and my family (my son is a runner as well), for the past 20 years:
Fresh Vegetables & Fruits
Tomato, cucumber, onion, garlic, kale, spinach, cabbage, , sweet potato, sometimes in winter we like baked purple potato, zucchini, apples, bananas, avocado, peaches, apricots, grapes, figs, plums, eggplant, coconut milk, coconut butter, coconut water, sour cabbage, watermelon, fresh berries, such as strawberries, blueberries, loganberries…, pumpkins of any edible kind…, and other seasonal food we can find.
Nuts & Seeds
Nuts are used in our family to make desserts, we eat them as snacks or to make dips and nut butter or nut milk (almond milk is fantastic for milkshakes). We use, walnuts, hazelnuts, cashew, peanuts, pumpkin seeds are my favorites, sunflower seeds. Being rich in fats, iron, Calcium, Potassium, Magnesium, minerals, amino acids…, nuts and seeds are excellent recovery snack food for runner and great for muscles. Also, unsaturated fats are found in fish oils, avocado, and nuts, which is all good for runners.
Dairy & Animal Products
Eggs from the free range chicken, fish of any kind (wild salmon is our favorite), butter, full-fat cottage cheese, whole fat plain yogurt. We do not touch products with 0% fat or low fat. In my opinion, and roughly speaking, they have gone through a process which actually removes all good stuff and lives only chemicals. They high in sugar, refined carbohydrates, and artificial ingredients. We opt in for pure butter and full-fat food.
We all love pasta. When we have time, we make our own pasta. Otherwise, our favorite is durum pasta. I eat a bit more often pasta when getting ready for a half marathon. Otherwise, we have pasta once a week as a salad or with a nice veggie or tomato and pesto sauce.
Dry foods + food for baking
- Quinoa, millet, brown rice, beans (in all possible colors and shapes), lentils, almond flour, oats, chickpea flour.
- Homemade granola mix
- Cocoa powder, dry coconut flakes, dark chocolate (with 70% cocoa), vanilla, baking soda, baking powder, chia seeds.
- Dry fruits. We buy lots of dried fruits such as apricots, dates, figs, raisins. We eat these as a snack combined with nuts. When buying dry fruits, the only ingredient should be the fruit.
- Oats are an excellent source of unrefined carbohydrate, they have a low glycaemic index, which means that the carbohydrate is released into your bloodstream slowly, so you get that extra energy for your next run. Porridge oats are also the most accessible source of energy, they are cheap, and they contain protein, B vitamins, vitamin E, fiber, and minerals, including iron and calcium. Excellent breakfast food for runners.
You noticed that on my food list I do not have bread, muffins and other food made from flour. That is because we try to avoid eating processed food as much as we can, as well as refined sugar. If we do, it will be homemade, such as berry muffins, rhubarb pie, vegetable pie, or homemade bread. We also do not buy convenience food such as energy drinks, energy protein bars. Why? Well, they not only lack real nutrition but they have added sugar and are filled with artificial, unhealthy ingredients and different kinds of chemical additives. Who’d ever want to put that inside their body (if they really knew how are these processed foods made), and who need refined food with no nourishment?
For a runner, nutrient-dense foods are required for faster recovery time and to perform better. It will also allow the body to function optimally without weight gain. This can be only obtained from the whole foods.
Fat for Fuel
Fat is a primary source of viable energy that can fuel your body for your running. Fats are especially essential for female runners to keep their hormones in balance.
Low-fat of anything is scratched out from our shopping food list. We buy products in their natural states, such as full-fat cheese and plain yogurt (we do not buy flavored yogurts with added sugar or additives). We cook at home with butter, sometimes sunflower oil, we use coconut oil (it helps us better absorb nutrients and boosts immunity), we use olive oil for salads.
Please note, fats found in readily packaged foods are not healthy, they are hydrogenated inflammatory fats made in labs. These type of fats body does not burn as a fuel. Instead it stores in the body which can lead to weight gain.
We use pure water and coconut water for an electrolyte boost. We are a family of three and thankfully, all three of us (our son is 18 years old now) consume 2-3 l of water a day. Occasionally (if we find a good product), after a run, we all enjoy coconut water.
Beginners Runner’s Diet
When I run in the evening after my work, I will make sure I have a banana or two for breakfast, a small pasta salad for lunch, a handful of mixed nuts with dry fruits (this is something I always keep in my office on my work desk), as a snack, and in between, I drink lots of water. As I run at around 8-9 pm, I try not to eat anything after lunch except for the snack part (nuts and dry fruits are an excellent source of energy food), to fuel the evening run. This way, I do not feel full in my stomach, yet I have enough energy to go through a scheduled run. And yes, I drink plenty of water throughout the day.
Therefore, when I know I will be running, I’ll make sure the following two things are in order. One, I stay hydrated, meaning I drink 2-3 l of water during the day. I will also have a cup or two of coffee or tea (in the morning only). No sodas.
Two, I’ll make sure I do not starve myself, so I have enough energy in the evening for a run.
I prepare slightly different for morning runs. When I run in the morning, I’ll skip breakfast. For some reason, a meal in the morning before the race, no matter how small, does not fit me (I’ll feel sick in my stomach, and I might even throw up). However, I do make a smoothie with berries, cucumber, spinach, kale, spirulina, maca root…., which I take with me to work or, I have an avocado sandwich topped with chopped tomato and some green salad leaves.
Next, I’ll skip lunch, but I’ll have a nice generous dinner at home, which is, for example, a big mixed fresh or pickled salad, a nice slice of grilled or oven-baked salmon and roasted veggies, or baked sweet potatoes, eggplant and or pumpkins.
Also, I’d often prepare something with whole grains as they are an excellent sustainable energy source as they are high in complex carbohydrates and are slow to digest. For example, I’d cook quinoa and turn it into a delightful evening salad by adding tomato, red onion, parsley, cucumber, paprika.
The quantity and the type of food we as runners eat will not only depend only on our age, it is also connected to how much and how often we move our body and what type of food we eat in general. Are you a whole foods lover or you prefer to eat out or buy ready-made meals, burgers, drink cokes and so on.
A…my friend with diabetics
Last year I was going to spend an entire summer at my summer cottage. Two months, just me, a lake, surrounded by Tuscany type of fields and me running. However, as my friend who has diabetes wanted to introduce a few changes into her life (exercise + food) I invited her to join me so we could discuss running, eating. But I did warn her, this will be a sugar-free, processed-food free, coffee-free, and alcohol-free holiday. She agreed to join me.
My friend was into sugar, pastries, and candies (I know she has diabetes and she should not eat some foods, well….). I did not want to take away everything she enjoyed but suggested we replace the food she should definitely avoid with the good ones. We wanted to see if her sugar levels will get balanced and if she will eventually reduce taking here medications and if she will slowly get back energy so she can start running. Luckily, we were located in a land where veggies and fruits are abundant so we could apply this idea.
Here task was to enjoy and mine to cook.
For lunch or dinner we’d have cornbread (no wheat flour whatsoever, just corn), instead of potatoes, we’d have sweet potatoes, pumpkins, eggplants… in the oven. We had every day fresh salads, and lots of it, such as greens, onion, garlic, tomato, cucumber, cabbage (both sweet and sour), paprika.
As a dessert, we had chia seed pudding, fresh fruits, avocado cocoa mousse, frozen banana ice-cream (peel and freeze bananas, once frozen blend them in a blender, divide the mixture into two parts. In one part ad cocoa powder and in other vanilla. Blend. Now you have delicious chocolate and vanilla ice cream :)). We did this kind of food for two months.
When it comes to exercising, we started very slow. First, we had long walks, on a daily basis. Next, we did walk + run. By the second month, she was a bit jogging and a big running for 30 minutes.
One of the biggest joy for her was that she did not have to starve, she did not have cravings for junk food (as she used to have) and she gained lots of energy. She also lost a significant amount of weight (she did not plan to). The best part for both of us? It turned out that the food she had, it was not different at all from the food I had on my plate. She only did not eat processed food, refined sugar, and pastries.
Please note. My friend was running no more than 30 minutes, she was and is to this day a casual runner. She also made sure she has a good diabetic control and that her blood sugars are not too high, to begin with. If you have diabetes, it is essential to work closely with your doctor to adjust insulin dosage and to carry glucose tablets, diabetic identification, and a meter.
And if you are a new runner, it’s best not to run alone. Have a running partner it is more fun.
New Runner’s Food
For the peak athletic performance and good health, organic ‘real’ foods are the best. No doubt about it. Unfortunately, in most cases, especially in today modern lifestyle, not everyone is into ‘real’ foods, and not everyone is aware that the ‘convenient’ food they consume is processed, nutrient enhanced, rich in sugars, artificial colors, chemicals and all possible unhealthy substances, which more harm than it helps their athletic body. Not only that, but when it comes to new runners, and marathon enthusiasts, food and their way of eating becomes an expensive and way too complicated science fiction process. Reason? Way too many products, claiming to be ‘the best’ for athletes. There are not only expensive, but they are also unhealthy. Good to remember.
1. Hydrate your body, drink water and coconut water. Avoid sugary drinks with additives and artificial colors. Find out: Do you like to drink water only before a run, or, you enjoy drinking water during your run. Adjust your drinking habits accordingly.
2. Welcome fruits, nuts and seeds as healthy snacks and desserts
3. Get to Know Fermented Products
4. Forget All About White Sugar
5. Run Away from Skimmed and 0% fat Products
6. Welcome Natural Fats Only
7. Refuel muscles after the run
8. Simplify your food choices. Focus on foods that really matter, whole foods. Do not run on empty refined foods
9. Have patience, everything is complicated in the beginning.
10. Replenish glycogen stores 30 min after your run.
11. Practice eating new foods before your training and learn what your stomach like best. Don’t try new foods just before the race.
It’s important to remember that different foods affect everyone differently. You should always listen to your own body and eat what makes you feel good. Never starve yourself to save calories. Eat whole foods and enjoy eating good food. Never stop what you have been doing for years suddenly unless it is junk sugary or salty food, run away from it.
Think fruit and not fruit loops. 🙂
Think potatoes and not potato chips. 🙂