Create an Easy Runners Meal Plan With These 8 Stellar Recipes

Proper nutrition within a runner’s meal plan can be the difference between a successful running career and one riddled with injuries. Sports dietitians share their favorite meal prep for runners to promote healthy meals that include the macronutrients runners need to both train and recover hard.

Erica Hopper is an elite marathoner, mom and chef. She tells the secrets of keeping a kitchen ready for healthy meals at any time.
Elite runners and registered sports dietitians share their favorite healthy meals for runners.

I have a secret to tell you—something that happens to me on the regular. I get completely blocked and lose all creativity when it comes to meal ideas. My family can be pretty picky and tricky to feed. In trying to please them, I have little left for myself and then am desperate for ideas. So, this article is to help me and (yes!) YOU come up with healthy meals for runners, and maybe even create a sustainable runners meal plan.

Related: The Scientific Benefits of the Long Run

And by runners meal plan, I mean something SIMPLE. Something that doesn’t require tons of ingredients and lots of time you don’t have. These meal ideas for runners are some of my favorite staples and come from fellow mother runners, food bloggers and nutritionists I know and trust who specializes in feeding athletes. They’ll help you recover faster and fill the tank quickly.

To meal prep, plan out your pre-run snacks, mid-run snacks, and recovery foods so that your nutrition game is on point. Prepare ingredients or dish components in bulk so that it is easy to throw together quickly — or better yet, make multiple grab-and-go servings.

Chicken black bean and corn dish
These healthy meal ideas for runners are nutritious and delicious!

Related: 3 Proven Ways to Refuel from a Long Run + 2 Yummy Recipes

The importance of eating for running performance

A runner’s diet is critical for being a healthy and successful runner. I remember when I began training with a running coach and running more competitively, I didn’t realize the importance of fueling—especially refueling after training runs.

I found that I wasn’t recovering well after my workouts and wasn’t ready for the next ones. My coach asked me what I was doing after my run. I told him I would usually come home and go immediately back into mom mode. I wouldn’t eat anything. An alarm went off.

That was the problem, he pointed out. And he was right.

Related: Marathon Fueling 101: What Runners Should Eat

As soon as I began eating or drinking smoothies within an hour of my run, I started recovering faster and performing better. It was remarkable how quickly it all changed by making one easy fix. I began first by drinking chocolate milk and eating a banana. Then, I began making protein smoothies and now I meal plan for after long runs and hard workouts to help my muscles begin building back stronger.

Related: The Best Foods to Eat Postpartum

With a tiny bit of forethought, you’ll learn what to eat after running, plus some meal ideas for runners that can help you, too.

The rules for a runners meal plan

What should runners eat for dinner? Np matter the meal, runners should eat a balanced plate with protein, carbs, and healthy fats. In general, a runner’s plate should include:

  • meat, fish, cheese, and/or beans
  • carbs such as pasta, rice, quinoa, potatoes, or couscous,
  • veggies such as zucchini, spinach, broccoli, brussels sprouts, and green beans
  • healthy fats from oils such as avocado or olive oil.

My go-to recipes for runners

Okay, now let’s get to the good part. Here are eight of my favorite recipes for runners. These recipes for runners can easily be healthy easy dinner recipes for the family, too.

I chose these recipes for their nutritional content, ease, taste, and simplicity. No fancy ingredients, multiple grocery store visits, or cooking contraptions required!

1. Veggie and Black Bean Burrito

This recipe comes from Betsy Johnson, a nutritionist, endurance athlete and runner. It’s got all you need: protein, carbs, and healthy fats. And is ready in a snap—just cook up the veggies, put some cheese in a tortilla, and then fold the veggies into the wrap. Yum!

2. Vegan Harvest Bowl

I love “bowls.” You basically layer any yummy grain like quinoa or rice with veggies, beans, and a dressing and voila! You have a nutritious, delicious, and satisfying meal! This bowl from Betsy features cauliflower rice.

If you are running a lot, I recommend subbing in a grain such as rice or quinoa instead. To make it extra fast, buy the microwaveable grains in a pouch.

3. Quinoa Vegetarian Bowl

This vegetarian bowl from Betsy features protein-rich quinoa. If you eat meat, feel free to throw in your favorite protein such as chicken.

Also, Flanagan’s book has a whole section on “power bowls” to equip you to make your own with whatever you have in the pantry.

4. Veggie Hummus Pita Sandwich

I love pita pockets! Slather some hummus inside the pita, throw in some lettuce, chopped tomatoes, onions and cucumbers, feta cheese, and avocado, and you have yourself a refreshingly delightful meal. This recipe takes the hummus pita sandwich up a notch.

5. Macaroni Tuna Salad Recipe

I’m huge on pasta salad in the summer. I love to dice up fresh veggies, throw in some dill, cheese, and white beans plus my own vinaigrette (oil and vinegar with lemon, salt, pepper, and mustard) and YUM. Chelsea of Mae’s Menu has a delicious, comforting, and healthy tuna macaroni pasta salad that is sure to please!

6. Spicy Southwest Salad

Salads can be FILLING when you load them up with veggies and protein. This southwest salad is full of nutrient-rich veggies and a taste that your family will love. Don’t be afraid to add tortilla chips or a tortilla shell to make it even more delicious.

7. Autumn Cobb Salad

chicken stir fry
All these recipes are quick, easy, and nutritious.

When the air cools, you’ll love this fall salad from my mother runner friend and kitchen genius, Erica Hopper. It’s a cobb salad complete with butternut squash and pecans. 

Her vegan penne alla vodka recipe and crispy peanut tofu and chickpeas recipe are divine but require more hands-on time or a piece of equipment (blender). If you have some extra time built into your runners meal plan, then I suggest trying these out!

8. Ground Turkey Sweet Potato Skillet

I love it when you can throw everything into one pan and come out with a delicious and filling meal. That’s what this recipe from Chelsea is.

It’s Mexican-inspired and full of protein and carbs. If you’re vegetarian (like my husband), throw in some Beyond Beef sausage crumbles instead. And if you don’t like sweet potatoes, fingerling potatoes or baby potatoes are a delicious substitution.

The basics for a running diet

What foods are good for runners?

Foods that are whole foods and include simple carbs are good choices runners. So, what should you eat before a run? Try:

  • potatoes
  • oatmeal
  • quinoa
  • rice
  • toast
  • pancakes
  • bagels
  • nuts and nut butters
  • whole fruit, including an apple before running
  • sweet potatoes
  • granola
  • whole grains like brown rice
  • whole-grain bread, cereal, and pasta
meal ideas for runners pin, plus tips for crafting a runners meal plan
Pin these meal ideas for runners for later!

What not to eat before running

On the flip side, what foods should runners avoid? To perform their best and avoid stomach issues, runners should avoid sugary, greasy, and heavily processed foods. The foods runners should avoid include:

  • Sodas
  • Energy drinks
  • Frozen meals
  • Dairy products like greek yogurt (before a run)
  • Greasy and fatty foods
  • Spicy foods (before a run)
  • Alcohol
  • Foods high in fiber (before a run)

Related: Train Your Gut to Stop Runner’s Trots

What foods give you instant energy for running?

Foods that give you energy for running have simple carbohydrates that your body can break down into fuel. Add these handy snacks to your runners meal plan.

Quick energy snacks for runners

  • Bagels or an English muffin with peanut butter and jelly
  • Oatmeal with raisins
  • Cereal
  • Fruit like bananas, berries, oranges, or apples
  • Eggs with toast
  • Dried dates
  • Hard-boiled eggs
  • Avocados
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Peanut butter and jelly
  • Apple sauce
  • Yogurt with granola
  • Rice cakes with peanut, almond, or cashew butter (this is my favorite!)
  • Previnex protein shakes (after a run or as a snack)

Are eggs good for runners?

Yes, eggs are a great food for runners because it is a healthy protein source. One egg has about 6 grams of protein, important for muscle building. Eggs also have leucine which is an essential amino acid for making protein—aiding in muscle and bone growth.

Eggs are a great food to eat after running to aid in recovery.

Related: Cook from Pantry Staples 

Are omelets good for runners?

If you have five minutes after a run, an omelet with cheese and vegetables is a great food for runners. An omelet is rich in protein and antioxidants, add some toast or an English muffin for extra carbohydrates, and you are giving your body what it needs to recover faster and become stronger.  

Related: How to Poop Before Your Race

meal ideas for runners plus tips on a runners meal plan pin 2
Pin these simple meal ideas for runners for later!

Is pasta good for runners?

Pasta is a great food for runners because it contains simple carbohydrates for runners to break down for energy when running. These carbohydrates also can help restock glycogen stores that have been depleted when running long distances (especially more than two hours).

Related: How to Carb Load for a Marathon

Are sweet potatoes good for runners?

Sweet potatoes are an excellent food source for runners because they contain carbs for energy along with Vitamin A (important for cell growth and immunity), fiber (important for gut health), and potassium (important for maintaining fluid levels in our cells).

Is rice good for runners?

Rice is an excellent source of fuel for runners due to its carbohydrate contents. In fact, rice is often used in energy gels to help fuel endurance performance. Brown rice, in particular, is rich in nutrients such as manganese, selenium, magnesium, B vitamins, and fiber.

Related: 4 Yummy Fall Recipes for Runners

What should a distance runner’s diet look like?

Distance runners need more carbs than the average person. The keto diet and the intermittent fasting diet (especially if you are a morning runner) are definitely not for you!

Related: Why You Shouldn’t Intermittent Fast & Exercise

As a distance runner, eat 2.7 to 4.5 grams of carbohydrates per pound of body weight per day. So, if you weigh 135 pounds, you should eat between 365 to 607 grams of carbs a day.

Do this by including carbs in all your meals and snacks. Cereal, oatmeal, granola, rice, pasta, bagels, crackers, rice cakes, toast, bananas, fruit, and starchy vegetables are great ways to fuel your runs.

Remember, if you don’t have enough carbs, then you don’t have sufficient energy to run your best.

Related: How to Become a Morning Runner

Healthy dinner ideas for runners

a hearty salad with chicken should be on every runners' meal plan
Easy meals like hearty salads and baked fish or meat with veggies will help keep you healthy and strong. Here are 16 healthy dinner meal ideas for 
  1. Spaghetti and ground turkey meatballs and a side salad or vegetables
  2. Chicken stir fry with veggies and rice
  3. Make your own pizza with toppings such as cheese, pepperoni, onion, peppers, sausage, spinach, etc.
  4. Sushi rolls including teriyaki chicken, salmon, or veggies with rice
  5. Turkey burger (or black bean or Beyond Beef burger) with a baked potato and broccoli
  6. Chicken kabobs over brown rice
  7. Salmon (or any fish or meat) with French fries and roasted vegetables
  8. Potato skins with toppings such as cheese, tomatoes, spinach, and sour cream
  9. Avocado toast with pesto or hummus spread and a side salad
  10. Salad with cooked tuna steak slathered with soy sauce and sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, almond slices, berries, feta cheese, and DIY dressing (oil and vinegar, mustard, lemon juice, salt and pepper)
  11. Couscous salad with roasted veggies and feta cheese
  12. Cucumbers with lime and grilled chicken
  13. Chicken, roasted broccoli, and sweet potatoes
  14. Salmon, sweet potatoes, and green beans with butter and garlic
  15. Hearty pasta salad with veggies, beans, cheese, and vinaigrette
  16. Breakfast burritos

Get more meal ideas for runners from Nick Hancock, a running coach, dad, and former manager for 20 years of Jamie Oliver’s flagship restaurant in Bath, UK. Nick has a cookbook with delicious, easy-to-make ideas for the whole family including protein-rich breakfasts to recovery meals.

Example runner meal plan

When trying to come up with healthy recipes for your marathon diet — or for any race training — it can be helpful to think of themes. For instance:

  • Monday: Soup night
  • Tuesday: Taco night
  • Wednesday: Pasta night
  • Thursday: Fish night
  • Friday: Vegetarian bowl night
  • Saturday: Pizza night
  • Sunday: Hearty salad night

What does a professional runner eat in a day?

Professional runners and elite athletes follow these simple guidelines to create the ideal diet for runners: eat whole foods that include all the food groups. Avoid foods high in saturated fats, and grease, and are heavily processed.

In general, professional runners eat foods high in carbohydrates for energy, moderate protein for muscle-building, and some fat for recovery and energy.

You can get a great idea of what professional runners eat by purchasing former pro runner Shalane Flanagan’s books. My favorite recipe for runners’ book is her Cook Fast. Run Fast. Eat Slow. Book.

Big point here: what pros eat, we should eat too. It’s nothing special. Just simple, healthy food!

A coach can help design a runners meal plan

If you want guidance with your marathon and other running goals, check out my run coaching services. Also, be sure to check out my free training plans:

 

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