Crash Course in Nutrition for Runners

runner drinking a green smoothie

As runners, our diet is important not only for maintaining good health, but also for promoting peak performance. Proper nutrition can make or break a workout or a race, and what we fuel our bodies with can significantly affect how we feel and perform.

First, let’s clear up some common nutrition misconceptions.

I RUN, SO I CAN EAT WHATEVER I WANT! Your body needs to be fueled with the right nutritional balance to achieve peak performance. If you fuel your body with junk, you’ll likely feel like junk and not perform as well.

I RUN, SO I CAN EAT AS MUCH AS I WANT! As runners, we tend to overestimate how much we burn and underestimate how much we consume, which can lead to weight gain.

CARBS ARE BAD! THEY’LL MAKE ME FAT! Carbs are essential for performance and recovery. The quality of carbs is key to maintaining a healthy weight and aiding in muscle and tissue recovery.

ALL FATS ARE BAD! Naturally occurring fats are essential for our bodies to absorb vitamins A, E, D, and K. Again, the quality of the fats you’re eating is important to consider.

SKIPPING BREAKFAST WILL HELP ME LOSE WEIGHT! Skipping meals, especially breakfast, will slow your metabolism and slow the digestion process.




Carbs are what fuel your runs. You should be getting 50-60% of your daily calorie needs from this nutrient. Pre-run and post-run snacks should primarily consist of carbs. To maintain the highest energy levels, carbs should be as minimally processed as possible. The best choices come from whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.


Protein plays a large part in our recovery process. Without proper proteins, our bodies struggle with muscle and tissue repair following a run. About 20-25% of your daily calorie needs should come from a protein source. Proteins are derived from both animal and plant sources, and both fulfill the need for essential amino acids.


Fats should also make up about 20-25% of your daily calorie intake. The best choices are unsaturated and minimally processed. Any fat that is sold at room temperature should be avoided (butter, margarine, dressings, mayonnaise). The healthiest choices are nuts, seeds, olives, certain oils, and some fruits, such as avocados.



Although everyone’s needs vary, here are some general guidelines:

Women typically need 1500-2400 calories per day depending on activity level, and men should be in the 2000-2800 range. The following formula can give you a baseline idea for your specific needs:

Body weight x 10 

+ Daily activity (300-1000, scaled to your activity level) 

+ Training (miles/week x 100/7) 

= daily caloric need 

So, for example, if you’re 150 pounds and your daily activity is minimal (i.e. desk job) at 300 calories and you run 20 miles per week, your daily calorie needs would be about 2086.


Marcia Scott is the Training Program Coordinator at Fleet Feet Sports. For more information call 901.761.0078 or visit

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