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Omega-3s, Three Meals a Day

Most runners don't get enough omega-3 fats in their diet, but all it takes is some planning.

It’s tricky to balance your running schedule with a busy lifestyle – especially when you’re also trying to balance your meals. Sometimes figuring out what to prepare, much less trying to include some of the superfoods we recommend you eat, can be almost as tough as running your first marathon. But there are simple ways to get healthy fats in a hurry.

The average Canadian eats less than one gram of omega-3 fats per day. Women need a bare minimum of 1.1 g, while men require at least 1.6 g just to stave off illness. And you’ll find the greatest benefit with intakes up to 4 g per day. The larger dose will reduce inflammation, improve brain function and lower the risk of cancer and heart disease.

Stock your fridge with these omega-packed nuts and seeds: walnuts (2.6 g per 14 halves), flaxseed meal or chia seeds (1.6 g per tbsp) and hulled hemp (900 mg per tbsp). To ensure you get at least 2 g of omega-3s per day, sprinkle two or three tablespoons of any of these into your morning cereal or yogurt. Top with fruit for an extra antioxidant and flavour boost.

For most health-conscious runners, breakfast is the easiest meal of a day to keep healthy. It’s those pesky snacks that can cause trouble. Create a filling mid-day or post-run snack by mixing protein-rich plain yogurt with berries, seeds and nuts. Fill a sandwich bag with the omega-3-rich nuts or seeds and mix in some dried fruit. Stir flax oil into hummus or other bean dip and spread it on whole-grain flatbread to meet your fibre intake alongside the omega punch. For those with the acquired taste, pickled herring gives you 500 mg per ounce – enjoy the silvery fish with rye crackers. You can also top crackers with smoked oysters and absorb 400 mg omega-3 fats per ounce.

To get some extra omega-3s on the dinner table, start by filling your fridge or freezer with the highest omega-3 protein sources: salmon (1.6 g omega-3 per 100 g serving), mackerel (1.4 g), bass or rainbow trout (1.1 g) and tuna (900 mg). Sardines, featured in the recipe on the next page, have 1.5 grams per 100 g serving. For a non-fish omega source, firm tofu has 300 mg while pinto and kidney beans have about 200 mg per half cup.

Bake fish fillets, topped with a drizzle of omega-rich canola oil, some lemon and dill, or grill lightly with garlic and a bit of oil. Fish cooks quickly, finishing within 15 minutes. Make a large batch of quinoa, brown rice or sweet potatoes and safe the leftovers for the next day. Adding oregano or basil to the dish will provide another 75 mg of omega fats.

For fast sides, batch-cook vegetables and grains with spices. Make sure your vegetable crisper is full green leafy varieties. Bagged salads are exceptionally fast, especially if you’re topping them off with nuts and sprinkling with flax oil and apple cider vinegar. In as little time as it takes to grill your omega-rich main course, your carbohydrate and vegetable bases will be covered, too. You can also make a little extra and enjoy it for lunch the next day.

Planning is key to eating a balanced meal or a tasty, healthy snack. You can’t make a healthy meal if the ingredients aren’t in your cupboards. Consider the time you spend shopping for food just as important as your next pair of running shoes.

Tracking your omega-3 intake:

If you’ve only been getting the average of less than 1 g per day of omega-3s in your diet, try to triple or even quadruple that, using this chart as a guide

Walnuts: 2.6 g per 14 halves

Flaxseed meal: 1.6 g per tbsp

Salmon: 1.6 g per 100 g serving

Sardines: 1.5 g per 100 g serving

Mackerel: 1.4 g per 100 g serving

Rainbow trout: 1.1 g per 100 g serving

Tuna steak: 900 mg per 100 g serving

Hulled help: 900 mg per tbsp

Pickled herring: 500 mg per oz

Smoked oysters: 400 mg per oz

Firm tofu: 300 mg per 100 g serving

Pinto or kidney beans: 200 mg per half cup

Oregano or basil: 75 mg per tbsp

Bobbi Barbarich is a contributing editor at Canadian Running. She lives in Nelson, B.C.


“Orecchiette e Cime di Rapa” – Orecchiette with Rapini

By Giovanna Alonzi, executive chef at Osteria Ciceri e Tria in Toronto

Chef Giovanna Alonzi, 29, has run seven marathons and qualified for the Boston Marathon in October 2009 with a PB of 3:39:34, just before getting pregnant. She runs five or six times a week and ran until the seventh month of her pregnancy. Alonzi is looking forward to training for the 2011 Boston Marathon. “I love running for long periods of time and reaching a zone where I can breathe and move easily – just running without thinking about having to reach a particular distance, just for as long and as hard as I feel like,” she says.

This southern Italian recipe, one of Alonzi’s pre-marathon favourites, is a regular menu item at downtown Toronto’s Osteria Ciceri e Tria.

Serves 4


400 g orecchiette pasta (Italian handmade packaged ones are the best, but brands such as DeCecco or Barilla will work)

10 anchovy fillets

1 bunch rapini

3 tbsp breadcrumbs

6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

garlic, chili, black pepper and salt, to taste


Wash and cut the rapini, removing the stem. Blanch the rapini in salted water, saving the water in a pot and bringing it back to a boil. Cook the pasta in the rapini water according to package instructions leaving it very al dente. In the meantime, in a large pan, slowly heat the olive oil with the anchovy fillets, garlic and chili, stirring with a wooden spoon to melt the anchovy. Once the garlic has turned golden and the anchovy has melted, fry the breadcrumbs in the oil until they turn light brown. Add the rapini, fry for 3-4 minutes, and then add a quarter cup of the pasta water to the pan. Drain the pasta and add to the pan with some freshly ground black pepper, completing the pasta’s cooking time in the pan. In another small pan, lightly toast some breadcrumbs and sprinkle on the pasta. Serve hot.