by Davy Kestens in Health + Nutrition

Eating habits of professional runners

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Good food is one of the sublime pleasures of life – that’s what we work & earn for. Since our childhood, we all are brought up with a very common proverb – “You are what you eat”. For a normal human, this proverb may be casual – but for a runner, good-eating translates into an efficient way of running faster and longer.

If you are a runner, or if you have done enough research on a runner’s ideal diet, you might know that diet of a runner needs to be comprising carbohydrates to pump in energy required by body for the workouts. But do you know that not all runners share a similar diet?

Your diet must match the degree of your running

For instance – while reading more about Michael Phelps, I was surprised to know that he eats staggering 6 times more calories a day than a normal human being. But the fact which needs to be analysed before reaching any conclusion is – he trains for 6 hours a day, 6 days a week without exceptions. Now that explains his diet. Similarly, the professional runners have their own diet requirement which is in proportion to their daily workout routine. On a general note, a healthy diet for a professional long-distance runner is the one which consists of approximately 60% carbohydrates, 25% fats and 15% proteins.

Blaine Moore, a professional runner, mentions on his blog that:

  • Carbohydrates should be the backbone of any runner’s diet, with 6-13 servings a day, mostly coming from grains and fibre-rich food.
  • An average professional athlete can go with 90 to 120 oz water per day.
  • Proteins should be between 12 to 15% only. Otherwise the excess protein will either get excreted through urine, or get stored in body as fat.

Ann Gaffigan, a professional runner and 5th in USA Champion 2005 who works out averagely 20hrs per week, mentioned in an interview – the myth that professional women runners don’t eat or don’t eat much is not true. She mentioned that she used to plan her meals with an attitude of what meal is required for body to recover. She also stressed on the aspects that there is a thin fine line between healthy and unhealthy food for a professional runner and there is no single magic formula for this.

A good nutrition plan is necessary, when running long distances

When we look at the marathon runners, we notice an aspect that they need to maintain running long continuous hours – thus requiring them to have a diet that increases body endurance. To increase efficiency for marathon runners, they need to develop a comprehensive nutrition plan covering the aspects like before, during and after running; quality and quantity of meal; and basic meal vs. optimum meal.

A good nutrition plan shall be developed for individual needs and shall be based on the intensity and frequency of trainings and training volumes. A marathon runner must also avoid the synthetic food and supplements because most of these products will simply give you extra pounds rather than required minerals. Instead, try to replace the synthetic supplements with fruits and vegetables that provide carbohydrates and proteins.

An example of running meals For Professional / Marathon Runners


A runner requires food that gives optimum calories and carbs to burn while running, otherwise a runner may experience dizziness and lack of energy.

  • Have loads and loads of carbohydrates during dinner, the evening before the event. Good meal sources for carbohydrates include – whole grain breads, potatoes, pastas, rice, vegetables, cereals, fruits and oats
  • Approximately 2 hours before running, have a good amount of fruits and vegetables. Bananas are a good choice
  • Have wholegrain cereals as main breakfast meal.
  • Approximately30 minutes prior to running, a runner can have
    • A cup of cooked beans or lentils which is worth 230 calories and 40gms carb and about 16 gms proteins
    • A 6 oz non-fat yoghurt which contains approximately 100 calories, 19 gms carbs and 5 gms proteins
  • Have a lot of water


A lot of body fluids are lost due to more-than-usual sweating & breathing. Make sure you hydrate well.
Avoid dairy products like cow milk, otherwise you will most likely get cramps, and feel sick in your stomach while running.


It is important to fuel up the proteins and fluids in the body. Some experts also suggest to take 1.5gms Carbs per Kg within 30 minutes after completing the run.
Proteins which help in rebuilding and repairing the muscle tissues must be taken as a meal within 1-2 hours of the run. Also ensure that your post-run meal contains some degree of fats that will provide joint-lubrication, absorbing fat soluble vitamins and energy production. Good meal sources for protein & fats include nuts, beans, avocados, fish, skinless chicken, eggs, lean meat, tofu and other soya products, and various cooking oils (like sunflower oil and olive oil).

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