Beginner Runner’s Diet: Tips From a Registered Dietitian
This post is part of the Running Tips for Beginners series.
Sam is a Registered Dietitian and also a triathlete! Today she has agreed to answer some important questions that many runners have when they first take up the sport.
Many of these tips are specific to beginning runners and would not apply to endurance athletes. Any experienced runners out there should check out Sam’s blog for awesome tips!
Let’s dive right into the questions!
1. Should I eat breakfast before or after I go running in the morning?
There is a bit of conflicting information about this. It used to be thought that you should always eat prior to a workout to fuel you body for the energy you’re about to expend. However, a few newer studies have actually found that eating breakfast after your workout can be beneficial for athletic performance and increased weight loss.
If you are just getting started in running and sticking with shorter distances, then whether you eat breakfast before or after your workout will likely just be a personal preference.
Some people may feel like they need to eat before getting physical activity. I am one of those people! I have to have something on my stomach before a workout or else I just don’t feel right.
I prefer to split my breakfast. I like to have something smaller prior to a morning workout, like a piece of peanut butter toast or a greek yogurt, and then I eat something more substantial after the workout.
2. What are some healthy pre-run snacks for afternoon or evening runs?
Some examples of healthy snack ideas before a run are apple slices with peanut butter, a piece of toast with hummus and a banana with 1/4 C almonds. All of these snacks are a great mix of healthy fats, carbohydrates and fiber. I consider this to be the perfect recipe for satiety.
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If you are eating *right* before a run then it may be better to limit the amount of fiber and fat in your snack. They may be more likely to upset your stomach.
I would recommend some trial and error to find out what types of snacks make you feel best during your run.
My go-to pre-exercise snack is peanut butter toast on whole wheat bread (fiber + fat) and it doesn’t really bother my stomach. I guess that just shows you how nutrition is not one-size-fits-all 🙂
Another thing to note is that if you are just running for a few miles (like less than 45 minutes) then don’t feel like you have to have a snack if you’ve recently eaten a meal.
3. What are your favorite post-run snacks?
I try to stick with the recommended carb to protein ratio of 3:1.
My top go-to snacks are a cup of chocolate milk or dates with peanut butter. If you have never tried dates with peanut butter then I highly recommend them! They were my guilty pleasure during my most recent triathlon training.
Another common post-run snack in my house is cottage cheese or yogurt with fruit just because I always have those items in my fridge.
4. Are smoothies healthy to drink before or after a run or run/walk?
I’m so glad you asked about smoothies because this question comes up often. Smoothies can definitely be a healthy snack before or after exercise as long as you’re mindful of what you put in them. I find the perfect [smoothie] snack to be between 150-200 kcal and have at least 5 grams of fiber and/or protein.
A common smoothie mistake is making them with way too many calories and turning the smoothie into one big sugar bomb.
For example, the idea of using honey or agave nectar to sweeten your smoothie might sound healthy, but these are still considered added sugars that will increase the sugar content and calories of your drink.
Try getting most of your sweetness from fruit instead. You can freeze fruit or use unsweetened frozen fruit so that you don’t have to use ice cubes in your smoothie.
Another thing I commonly see is using protein powders with all sorts of funky ingredients and added sugar. If you are just getting started out with running and are not really to the endurance level yet (running for an hour or more) then your body doesn’t really require an increase in protein.
So making a smoothie with 20+ grams of protein from a protein powder may not really be necessary if you have a balanced diet. Also, milk and yogurt are great natural sources of protein.
Another important point to make about smoothies is that a few studies have shown that for whatever reason, smoothies do not satisfy us in the same way that physically eating those same items would do.
So if you are thinking about making a smoothie with greek yogurt and berries, you may feel more satisfied if you actually poured the berries over yogurt and ate it with a spoon.
5. Any general tips for overall meal plan improvement for a beginner runner looking to lose weight?
I like to encourage clients to go back to the fundamentals of healthy eating if they are hoping to lose weight.
It sounds very basic, but make sure you are drinking 6-8 cups of water, eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, and choose whole grains over refined grains. You’d be surprised how many people are dehydrated. You body can sometimes feel hunger when really you’re thirsty, which can cause you to eat more than what you really need.
As far as servings go, a good way to picture your dinner plate is to have 1/4 plate starches (whole grains, potatoes, corn, peas, etc.), 1/4 plate lean protein and 1/2 your plate non-starchy vegetables.
The recommendation for women ages 19-50 is to consume 2.5-3 cups of vegetables each day. Most women do not eat enough veggies!
I would also recommend looking at your beverage intake. Sodas and sweet tea are sources of excess calories and provide little nutritional value. So basically they are giving you a bunch of sugar and calories with not a lot of benefit to your body.
Sports drinks are not needed unless you are training for an endurance sport. Even fruit juice should be decreased to 1/2 C per day, since it lacks the fiber of whole fruit that makes you feel full. Imagine how many oranges you would have to squeeze to get a tall glass of OJ. If you are consuming high amounts of any of those 4 beverages then I would strongly encourage you to start trying to decrease them.
Thank you so much to Sam for sharing her wisdom with us today!
Do you have any questions for Sam? If so please tweet her @ggnutrition or leave a comment below!