So, you’re running all those miles, but are you fueling yourself properly to support this? That’s right; you could easily undermine the training you’re doing if you aren’t giving your body what it needs. But exactly how many calories should a runner eat each day? And how can you calculate and track this? Here’s everything you need to know.
Let’s start with the fifth episode of How to Start Running video series, where Polar Running Coach Maria covers best practice and advice on how to fuel yourself before running – and what to eat to kickstart the recovery process.
How many calories does a runner need?
A calorie is a unit of energy. Nutritionally, this means that all types of food — whether they are fats, proteins, carbohydrates, or sugars — are fuel, which we need to keep going every day. So, if you’re going to do something that requires more than the average level of exertion, you’re going to require more fuel. After all, you wouldn’t head off on a road trip into the desert with only half a tank of gas.
This is why it’s good to know how many calories should a runner eat so you can fuel correctly. Here’s how to calculate your nutritional intake based on how long you are training for each day:
- 60-90 minutes of running requires 19 to 21 calories per pound of body weight.
- 90 minutes to 2 hours of running requires 22 to 24 calories per pound of body weight.
- 2 to 3 hours of running requires at least 25 to 30 calories per pound of body weight.
So, for example, a runner who weighs 132 pounds and is doing a 90-minute run today should ensure they also consume at least 2,904 calories to fuel this session properly.
If your calculation surprises you, then remember that the energy needs per pound of body weight for runners are among the highest of any endurance sport because it expends an extraordinary amount of energy. Some marathon runners require over 4,500 calories in a day for their training, so make sure you’re giving your body the fuel it needs to meet the challenges you set.
What’s a good way to monitor your calorie intake?
The easiest way to track your calorie intake is with the popular food journal on MyFitnessPal. The nutrition database on this app is very extensive, with over five million different types of food. It also has a barcode scanner for packaged food and saves your favorite meals for convenient logging, so you can easily track your daily intake.
What makes MyFitnessPal even more efficient is that it connects easily to Polar Flow, which means you can sync the data between calories consumed and burned. It’s the simplest way to see if you’re eating enough to fuel your runs.
What should runners eat?
So, you’ve now calculated how much you should be eating – but how much of what exactly? Here are the three critical types of fuel you should be looking for in your meals and snacks.
Think eggs, Greek yogurt, shrimp, chicken breast, and lean red meat.
What’s most important about your protein intake is when you eat it. For example, consuming protein straight after your workout can enhance how rapidly your muscles repair. Or, having a protein-rich snack just before bed can boost muscle recovery and growth.
Pairing your high glycemic index (GI) foods – such as potatoes, white bread, and rice – with something protein-rich is also essential. This will help prevent the usual drop in energy levels and cravings that occur after such starchy foods have given you a quick blast of energy.
Think pulses like beans, lentils or chickpeas, wholewheat/grain cereals, and bread, plus fruit and vegetables.
Fiber is an essential part of any training diet, but few of us are eating enough. It is an indigestible complex carbohydrate that enables the body to receive a steady supply of nutrients by slowing down the digestive process.
However, as these types of food take at least two hours to leave your stomach, it’s a good idea to avoid them before you run as they can cause some severe digestive discomfort. If you have a race at 8am, skip anything high in fiber both the night before and that morning to ensure you don’t experience cramping.
Think sweet potatoes, brown rice, quinoa, rolled oats, and fruit.
Carbohydrates are our bodies’ primary source of energy, especially when it comes to our muscles. While fat and protein are also good sources, they take more time and energy to process. So loading up on healthy carbs as a runner means more stamina and drive because you’ll have readily available power.
How often should you eat? When are the best times?
Start with breakfast. It truly is the most important meal of the day because it kick starts your metabolism. It means your body begins to utilize fuel more efficiently, so skipping your morning meal makes no sense, especially if you’re a runner.
After breakfast, you should consistently consume nutritionally balanced food every two to four hours throughout the day. This eating plan will keep your ‘engine running’, so to speak, ensuring your metabolic efficiency and enhancing your ability to power through your run.
So, don’t let yourself go hungry. Instead, supplement your three main meals with nutritional snacks throughout the day. Alternatively, you can split your three main meals into five smaller portions. This approach to eating will help your body maintain stable blood sugar levels and prevent you from feeling hungry.
What happens if you don’t eat enough?
If you’ve taken up running to lose weight, then you could be tempted to reduce what you eat as well simultaneously. However, this can be very counterproductive.
Fuelling less at a time when your body requires more can create a calorie deficit. Your body will respond to this by making you slower, weaker, and sluggish – hardly ideal for getting the most out of your runs.
In addition to how you feel, you could also end up increasing the likelihood of your getting ill, fainting, or experiencing a stress fracture. So, you must make sure you’re matching what you eat with how you exercise.
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Please note that the information provided in the Polar Blog articles cannot replace individual advice from health professionals. Please consult your physician before starting a new fitness program.