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Best Foods for Running Stamina

You want to go further and faster—and feel good doing it. Of course, diligent training will increase your running fitness. Putting in that hard work pays off in the end. But is there a way to even further boost your performance? Today’s post highlights the best foods for running stamina so you can the most out of your training.

sprinters on a track before a race

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What does stamina include, and what can impact it? Can nutrition and the foods you eat affect your running stamina?

Yes! This post will break down food for running stamina, what impacts it, what helps vs. harms it and more. As a sports dietitian who works primarily with runners, this is our bread and butter.

After all, training is all about building stamina, improving speed, going longer distances, and the satisfaction that comes along with all of it.

Whether you are a casual runner that jogs recreationally, or you’re training for an ultra-marathon, better stamina makes the act of running much more enjoyable.

What is Running Stamina?

As a runner, good stamina is essential. Stamina is the ability to keep going—physically and mentally.

Stamina is what helps you get through those difficult miles of a marathon or ultramarathon, especially if you fuel your ultra marathon properly.

If you’re out of running shape, your workout will feel hard. Commit to it for a few weeks, and that same workout becomes easier.

That’s because you’ve improved your stamina. Consistent training is key. But nutrition plays a role as well.

It’s not just being able to go the distance. If you’re running shorter-distance races, like sprinting in a track meet, or running a cross country race or 10K, you dig deep for speed for those shorter events.

But stamina helps those miles and races feel easier with less adverse symptoms, and may also help your recovery, too!

volunteer holding water bottle out during race

Of course, what you eat before a 10k or what to eat before a track meet does matter and can impact your speed, endurance and stamina.

When you start your training plan, you can expect each mile to feel difficult. Especially if you’ve taken some time off.

But over time, you’ll build stamina and while each training run may not be easy, you’ll be able to go more miles at a faster pace.

And the foods for running stamina can impact this too.

What is Running Economy?

If you look for research on stamina, you may not find that exact term.

What you will find, however, is the related terms, “running economy” and “endurance”.

Running economy is the efficiency with which your body runs. It’s the amount of oxygen your body uses to run.

participants running a 10k

As you become a more efficient runner, your body can produce “more work” at an easier pace for you. Things may feel easier.

Oxygen is used to generate energy from glucose to fuel your run. The better your running economy, the further and faster you’ll be able to go at a certain effort.

Think of a big old truck vs. a small hybrid car. The hybrid is going to burn fuel more efficiently, going further on the same amount of gas.

Elite athletes, as a result of their training and attention to diet, have excellent running economy.

What is Endurance?

Endurance is the ability to run consistently over a certain period. Endurance running, by definition, is covering a distance of 1.9 miles or more.

Say you set out to run 3 miles. It’s hard the first time but gets easier as you build stamina.

And with consistent training, you’ll be able to go that same 3 miles a whole lot faster.

ultra runner with backpack and mountains in distance

Building stamina is a process. If you’ve been a runner long enough, you know that this is not just physical.

Running is just as much mental as it is physical. Research even shows that mindfulness interventions like meditation and awareness can improve endurance in athletes.

Food and nutrition also play a key role.

runner holding huma plus gel in hand

Knowing what to eat before a long run, and properly fueling those long runs with the best running gels or best running chews for your nutrition needs, and finally, knowing what to eat for recovery after a half marathon or longer race, are all important.

Let’s talk more about foods for running stamina.

Nutrition for Running Stamina

Good sports nutrition is essential for many reasons. The fuel your body uses to run (or do any other type of movement) is glucose, which is the breakdown of carbohydrates.

Of course, pre-run nutrition is important, but if you’re running long distances, you’ll need carbs during your run as well—between 30-60, and sometimes even up to 90, grams of carbs per hour.

Nutrition contributes to your capacity to use fuel efficiently throughout your run.

Glucose

To have adequate stamina during your run, what you eat before and during matters. You will need to tap into stored glucose, or glycogen, to power through every mile.

This is why including carbs for runners is so essential, because they will affect your running output and stamina.

Gluten-free carbs for runners have the same impact, so if you follow a gluten-free diet, you still need those carbohydrates!

The best carbs for runners to eat while running are quick-acting and easily digested, like energy gels or chews.

Your diet plan for running should be mostly carbohydrates – these performance runners plates for runners can help you structure your daily eating.

fruits, pulses, vegetables on wooden table

This is why running on a low carb diet may not be ideal for improving performance, speed and stamina. For sufficient fuel and energy, you’ll want to top off your glycogen stores.

Whether it’s the night before your long run, or you are carb loading for a marathon, nutrition takes center stage when you want to perform your best.

Best Foods for Running Stamina

When choosing foods for running stamina, you’ll want to eat a variety of foods that replenish what you’ve used during training.

Optimized recovery means you can face your next training session at full capacity.

Here are some of the foods for running stamina that will aid in recovery and may boost running performance.

Carbohydrates

We’ve already mentioned that carbohydrates are important for fuel before, during, and after a run. They provide the energy to do the work needed to build stamina.

Here are some sources of carbohydrates to include in your diet:

  • Bananas: Fruits for running are great carbohydrates since they are rich in carbs, vitamins, and minerals. Bananas are one of those that are accessible year-round almost anywhere. Bananas are perfect for pre-run and post-run. Full of potassium, soluble fiber, and antioxidants, you can’t go wrong with one of nature’s most portable snacks.
  • Whole grains: Foods like whole wheat bread, brown rice, whole wheat pasta, and oatmeal before a run are excellent ways for runners to boost their glycogen stores and reap the benefits of whole grains. Whole grains contain minerals like calcium (calcium for runners is important!), selenium, and zinc, and are good for your heart and digestion.
  • Berries: Running puts a bit of stress on your body and the anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory properties of colorful berries, like blueberries, strawberries, blackberries and raspberries, can help protect your cells from damage.
  • Citrus: Fruits like oranges and grapefruit are packed with vitamin C, which aids in immune health and can increase iron absorption in runners. Vitamin C is also involved in collagen production, which helps to strengthen ligaments and tendons that are stressed during running. Furthermore, citrus is full of antioxidants to promote cell health.
  • Sweet potatoes: Like other colorful fruits and veggies, sweet potatoes are a root veggie that is loaded with anti-oxidative compounds. Help your body recover from training with this nutrient-rich, high-fiber food. They are versatile and can be prepared in a variety of dishes, including these easy blender sweet potato oat bars.
oatmeal with fruit

Protein for Stamina

Running further and faster during a training session causes microtears in your muscles. They are healed and built back stronger with the help of protein.

Protein contains amino acids, the building blocks of our muscles and other tissues. Therefore, protein for stamina can help promote healthier, stronger and more efficient muscles.

Some great sources of protein include:

  • Peanut butter: Looking for an affordable, plant-based protein? Peanut butter is a good source of protein, fat, vitamin E, and magnesium. Magnesium for runners is essential for almost all of the body’s systems, including energy metabolism, muscle function, and bone maintenance.
  • Dairy: Of course, dairy foods are a great source of calcium—important in bone structure and strength, but they also contain potassium, an electrolyte that aids in hydration.
  • Fish: Inflammation is a normal part of training. The omega-3 fatty acids in fish help reduce inflammation and speed up your recovery.
  • Beef, pork, and chicken: Not only is meat a source of protein, but it also provides a very absorbable kind of iron, which helps move oxygen in the blood. Oxygen transport is an important part of running capacity and carbohydrate metabolism.
  • Soy: On a vegan diet? Soy is a vegetarian source of protein. Genistein, a plant compound found in soy products like tofu and edamame, is a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory that can preserve bone strength.
  • Eggs: An excellent source of protein, eggs for running are a superb nutrition source! Eggs contain several B-Vitamins, antioxidants and choline, a mineral that is depleted while running. Adequate choline may contribute to less muscle fatigue.
cutting board with raw cuts of meats, next to nuts, eggs and other protein sources

Supplements and Others Things to Aid Stamina

  • Caffeine: Not only does caffeine improve running performance when taken 45-60 minutes before activity, but it also benefits mental performance and clarity. Caffeine may be just the thing to give you a bit more motivation to push further and improve stamina.
  • Tart cherry juice: There are so many benefits to incorporating tart cherry juice for runners. The flavonoid compounds in tart cherry juice speed up recovery and promote good sleep—essential for stamina building!
  • Seeds: Seeds like pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and chia seeds have benefits for runners. They are a great source of healthy fat, magnesium, and antioxidants that aid in recovery.
  • Nitrates: Dietary sources of nitrates, such as beetroot juice, may improve oxygen delivery to the muscles, thereby improving running economy and stamina. Spinach is another source of nitrates.
coffee beans and spices in bowls on background

Nutrition plays an important role in training, stamina and recovery.

The right foods replenish glycogen stores and can help muscles repair and reduce inflammation, which helps promote stamina and endurance for future workouts.

Key takeaways

  • Stamina is the energy to maintain activity over a period of time, like a training run or race.
  • Stamina is both a physical and mental process.
  • You build running stamina by adequate training and proper sports nutrition.
  • Prioritizing carbohydrates for running fuel will help your running performance.
  • Optimize your recovery post-run by eating foods rich in carbohydrates, protein, and antioxidants.
  • Other aids like caffeine and nitrates can boost performance and help you build running stamina.

References:

  • Nien JT, Wu CH, Yang KT, et al. Mindfulness Training Enhances Endurance Performance and Executive Functions in Athletes: An Event-Related Potential Study. Neural Plast. 2020;2020:8213710. Published 2020 Aug 28. doi:10.1155/2020/8213710
  • Naderi A, Gobbi N, Ali A, Berjisian E, Hamidvand A, Forbes SC, Koozehchian MS, Karayigit R, Saunders B. Carbohydrates and Endurance Exercise: A Narrative Review of a Food First Approach. Nutrients. 2023 Mar 11;15(6):1367. doi: 10.3390/nu15061367. PMID: 36986096; PMCID: PMC10054587.
  • Rittenhouse M, Deuster PA. Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Benefits for Performance and Recovery. J Spec Oper Med. 2022;22(4):97-101. doi:10.55460/6I33-5IPR
  • Sharifi-Rad J, Quispe C, Imran M, et al. Genistein: An Integrative Overview of Its Mode of Action, Pharmacological Properties, and Health Benefits. Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2021;2021:3268136. Published 2021 Jul 19. doi:10.1155/2021/3268136
  • Gage M, Phillips K, Noh B, Yoon T. Choline-Based Multi-Ingredient Supplementation Can Improve Explosive Strength during a Fatiguing Task. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021;18(21):11400. Published 2021 Oct 29. doi:10.3390/ijerph182111400
  • Guest, N.S., VanDusseldorp, T.A., Nelson, M.T. et al. International society of sports nutrition position stand: caffeine and exercise performance. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 18, 1 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-020-00383-4
  • Kennedy DO, Wightman EL. Mental Performance and Sport: Caffeine and Co-consumed Bioactive Ingredients. Sports Med. 2022;52(Suppl 1):69-90. doi:10.1007/s40279-022-01796-8
  • Zamani H, de Joode MEJR, Hossein IJ, et al. The benefits and risks of beetroot juice consumption: a systematic review. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2021;61(5):788-804. doi:10.1080/10408398.2020.1746629
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