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The runner’s guide to meal planning

How runners can get the most out of their meals, even when they're on the road

Runners lead busy lives and demand a lot of their bodies, which is why preparation is paramount for training success. With lots of confusing information about nutrition available from one quick Google search, Canadian Running and Under Armour wanted to take the guesswork out of meal prep. Whether you’re just getting into running, or a longtime athlete looking to perfect your craft, here are some nutrition guidelines. 

The ideal runner’s dinner plate

Under Armour Director of Human Performance Michael Watts says nutrition doesn’t need to be complicated, but it’s one of the most important aspects of training. He feels the ideal runner’s dinner plate includes green, leafy vegetables and a protein (like salmon, grass-fed beef or chicken). “A quarter of the plate should be carbs – sweet potato or rice, for example,” says Watts. “The rest of the plate should be vegetables and protein. Be sure to consider the balance of the plate.”

Look for colour

When possible, shop for foods that are in season and place a big emphasis on fresh produce. Watts reminds runners that the minerals in their diet are coming from those green, leafy vegetables.

Colour that comes from sugary foods, oils and highly processed foods are to be avoided most of the time and consumed only occasionally, and in moderation. Watts’s biggest recommendation is that runners read labels and eat whole foods. If you can’t pronounce it, avoid eating it. 

Aisha Praught-Leer is an Olympian and UA runner who says her only nutrition rule is that she shops the outside aisles of the grocery store, where fresh foods are displayed, most of the time. “My only real rule of thumb is that I try not to eat things out of a box, and I shop the outside of the grocery store. But I’m a professional athlete, so I have the luxury of time. I can make my own salad dressings, and I can make everything from scratch, so I know what’s in my food.”

Praught-Leer recognizes that she’s in a unique position to be able to focus on her nutrition so much, but she, as well as Watts, wants to remind runners that nutrition doesn’t need to be complicated. “Aim to eat fresh foods and keep lots of variety in your diet,” she says.

Planning for meals when travelling

The meals you eat before a race are some of the most important for performance (as an upset stomach can seriously derail any race plan). However, travelling to races can present challenges. 

Watts says runners should do their best to replicate whatever they would be eating at home. “You’re looking to follow your usual routine as closely as possible while you’re on the road,” he says. “Airbnb has been great for this [since it allows runners to cook their own meals]. Try your best to grocery shop and cook wherever possible. Also, consider when you’ll be competing, your eating schedule and your sleeping schedule. Your body is anticipating eating at your normal hour, so if that’ll be different on race day, practise beforehand. Forward planning is crucial for performance.”

Georgia Ellenwood is a Canadian heptathlete, Under Armour athlete, former University of Wisconsin Badger and NCAA champion. Ellenwood trains for nearly eight hours a day, so she needs to be fueling properly through the day. She says her breakfast and dinner are quite consistent, but through the day she’s always snacking. “Everyday I eat toast with an egg, turkey bacon and coffee for breakfast. When it comes to lunch, at the University of Wisconsin there’s a nutrition centre where I’m always grabbing vegetables and dip, almonds and beef jerky or a smoothie. I drink lots of smoothies. I want to make sure I’m never going too long without eating. I meal prep for dinner too, to save time at the end of a long day.”

Ellenwood’s routine is an example that all runners can draw from. When you’re on the road, plan ahead for every day from travel to competition, try your best to not go too long without eating and keep your diet as consistent as possible. 

If runners are interested in tracking their nutrition, they can search up to 11 million foods with UA MyFitnessPal™. From there, runners can log their nutrition and have an understanding of calories, macronutrients and their overall daily nutrition intake.

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