Sample Long Distance Runners Diet Plan

Do you feel overwhelmed with your marathon meal plan, and want to make sure you’re getting the necessary nutrients? Or, is your half marathon nutrition suffering? This post will break down a sample long distance runners diet plan to help give you ideas and knowledge for meeting your nutritional needs.

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As always, remember these are general recommendations, and for individualized recommendations, please work 1-1 with a dietitian who can cater to your needs.

What do distance runners eat? This post will review examples of a diet plan for a long distance runner, that can be used as inspiration to cater to your personal needs.

Fueling for Long Distance Running/Exercise

Carbohydrates give your body energy. They are the primary fuel source for moderate to hard exercise, especially for endurance (aerobic) exercise.

As exercise intensity increases, the percentage of carbs used for energy increases and the percentage from fat decreases.

Studies have found that during endurance events such as the Ironman triathlon and marathon, faster finish times were correlated with high carbohydrate intake rates(1).

Despite this, many athletes are not consuming adequate carbohydrates to satisfy the demands of their exercise regimens.

This is why we are so passionate about having a proper marathon fueling strategy before the race, and making sure to plan appropriately for what to eat during a marathon.

thrive market

Carbohydrates in Your Diet

Many runners fear carbohydrates, largely due to diet culture around us. Many also fear gluten.

However, gluten and carbohydrates are not the same thing (gluten is often found in carbohydrate foods), and regardless of whether you eat gluten free carbs or all types of carbs, carbohydrates are essential for performance.

While low carb running may seem trendy, the research shows that it’s not helping performance at all. Plus, there can be side effects. 

One study found that 74% of participants (NCAA Division I female collegiate athletes) failed to meet the minimum carbohydrate recommendation(2).

bins of gluten free carbs

Consuming carbohydrate-rich foods and drinks in the 2-4 hours before exercise helps to:

(1) Restore liver glycogen

(2) Increase muscle glycogen stores

(3) Prevent hunger, which may impair performance

(4) Provide a psychological boost, which can help avoid bonking in a marathon  

plate of spaghetti with sauce and cheese

Fueling Leading Up to The Race or Long Run 

The goal for fueling leading up to the race is high carbohydrate, moderate protein, and low fat and fiber.

The aim is to fill up your muscle fuel stores with carbohydrates and to not consume anything that sits too heavy in the stomach or takes a long time to digest, such as fats and fiber.

Here are some ideas of what to eat before running in the morning

bins of gluten free carbs

The same principles go for ultra distances, and to some extent, the diet for sprinters. Sprinters rely on mostly carbohydrates before their events.

A vegan ultramarathon runner may want to focus on simpler carbs with less fiber, like some of these carb loading meals for runners

Here are some of the best foods and snacks for ultra running

Several days before the race or long run, you may want to eat less fat, such as nuts, seeds, avocados, butter, cheese, etc. and less fiber such as certain fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, beans, etc.

Instead, focus more on simple carbs such as less-fiberful fruits and veggies, applesauce, fruit juice, non-whole grain foods such as white pasta, etc.

If you’re wondering is pasta good for runners, yes, it is a great runner’s food that is rich in carbohydrates, which are necessary before a race. 

bag of pretzels

You’ll still want to include some lean protein such as chicken, turkey, fish, eggs, and/or dairy products.

Collagen for runners is a source of protein, however, it’s mostly found in animal products and does not contain all of the essential amino acids.

The night before the race or long run, you may want to eat a meal such as grilled chicken breast, some light veggies, pasta with marinara sauce, and bread.

You’ll want to test out your night before meal and find what works best for you.

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Fill out this form to be matched with one of our sports dietitians.

Pre-Workout Breakfast Ideas

On the morning of a race or long run you’ll want to consume something easy to digest and high in carbohydrates such as bread, bagel, low-fiber fruits or fruit juice, dairy products (if that sits well with you), cereal, etc. 

The best breakfasts for runners will take these factors into account, as well as your personal preferences.

Whether you need something to eat before a 5k or figuring out what to eat before a 10k, these principles stand.

And by pre workout, we’re referring to food, not a pre workout supplement.

For more information on whether that may help you, we wrote a post all about coffee vs pre workout.

bowl of yogurt with fruit, nuts and seeds as toppings

You may want to include a little bit of lean protein or a little bit of fat to keep you full and satisfied longer, but nothing that sits too heavy or causes you any GI issues.

Examples of pre-workout breakfast ideas:

  • Wheat or white bagel or bread + peanut butter + banana + low-fat milk
  • Oatmeal with some nuts or nut butter + berries + cinnamon
  • Fruit smoothies such as strawberry, banana, pineapple + Greek yogurt + almond milk
  • Sweet potato + almond butter + low-fat milk
  • Yogurt parfait with fruit & granola

Don’t forget about hydration! Here are some examples of our favorite runner hydration packs to help you absorb those carbs.

Again, you’ll want to experiment with this pre-workout meal or snack during training to find what works best for you and doesn’t cause any GI issues.

If you feel unable to eat breakfast prior to early morning exercise, consuming ~30 grams of easily digested carbohydrate (e.g., banana, carbohydrate gel, or sport drink) 30 minutes before exercise may improve performance and energy.

 General Pre-Workout Fueling Guidelines(3) include:

Timing Before Exercise (Hours)Carbohydrate (g/kg body weight)

For example, a 150-lb. athlete is about 68kg (150/2.2). So 4 hours before exercise, they would aim to consume up to 272g of carbohydrates.

But if they were eating closer to exercise, such as 1 hour before, they would aim to consume less, such as up to 68g of carbohydrates.

Post-Workout Snack/Recovery Ideas

Post workout, we need to look at nutrition for recovery. So, what should you eat after a run?

Your post-run meal is ideally going to include carbohydrates, protein, and fluids. The goal is to refuel, rebuild, and rehydrate post-workout.

There are more examples in this post about recovering from a half marathon

The sooner you have a post-workout snack or meal, the quicker your body will recover. This means less soreness, less fatigue, quicker recovery time so you’re ready to go for the next training session.

Carbohydrates are, again, our body’s main fuel source. So post-workout we need to refuel the muscles with carbohydrates. The longer or harder the workout is, the more carbohydrates you will need to refuel and recover. See the table below for specific amounts.

Protein is necessary for muscle recovery and rebuilding.

Protein for runners is very important to consistently space throughout the day.

yogurt parfait with granola and fruit in glass jar

Protein requirements post-workout are determined by your body weight. See the table below for specific amounts.

Creatine and BCAAs may not be necessary supplements if one is getting enough protein in the diet.

See more in this post on BCAAs vs creatine

Fluids are necessary to rehydrate the body. This is going to be individualized based on body weight, muscle mass, gender, age, sweat rate, environmental factors, location of workout, etc.

A general guideline is to drink 16-24 ounces of fluid for each pound lost during training.

Recovery Nutrition Guidelines Post-Workout

Body Weight (lbs.)Carbohydrates (g)Protein (g)

Want your running nutrition questions answered?
Fill out this form to be matched with one of our sports dietitians.

Recovery Nutrition Ideas & Examples:

  • Greek yogurt with fruit and granola
  • Chocolate milk
  • Oatmeal with milk, fruit, nuts
  • Sandwiches (PBJ, Turkey, etc.)
  • Smoothies made with frozen fruit and Greek yogurt
  • Eggs, toast, 100% fruit juice

Lunch and Dinner Ideas for Recovery

Ultimately, using the Athletes’ Plates(4) from The United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOC) are a great starting point for fueling your body with adequate energy and nutrients at regular meals during training.

Depending on your overall/weekly activity level, you will want to modify your intake accordingly.

Essentially, the more active you are, the more carbohydrates you will need to fuel your body.

sample plate of foods for easy training day
example plate for moderate training day
breakdown of plate on hard training day

Additional Snack Ideas

Similar to meals, when snacking between meals, we want to aim for a combination of foods groups. General rule of thumb is to try and get at least 2 food groups at each snack.

Examples of carb + protein snacks:

  • Berries & Greek Yogurt
  • Pineapple & Cottage Cheese
  • Toast & Eggs
  • Granola/Protein bar
  • Fruit Smoothie (with Greek Yogurt or other protein source)
  • Crackers & Tuna

Examples of carb + fat snacks:

  • Apple & Peanut Butter
  • Chocolate Milk & Almonds
  • Popcorn & String Cheese
  • Trail Mix with nuts, seeds, and dried fruit
  • Crackers & Hummus
  • Toast with Avocado

Having a protein and/or fat with your snacks will help you feel full and satisfied for longer.

However, if your snack is close to a workout, you may want to skip the protein or fat and simple go for a carbohydrate-based snack to fuel your muscles without the potential for GI distress.

Again, this is very individualized.

The bottom line when fueling for long distance running or other aerobic exercise is to consume adequate energy and food groups.

Ideally, you’ll be consuming 3 meals + 2-3 snacks per day, depending on your training level and mileage, individual energy needs, and your hunger and fullness levels.

Working with a Registered Sports Dietitian can be very helpful to help you figure out how much your body needs, look at timing of nutrition around workouts, and to fuel your body properly for energy, recovery, performance, and health.

Example ~2100 calorie day for a 55-year-old male runner






1 cup Greek yogurt

2 slices wheat bread

1 cup berries

1 Tbsp. peanut butter




1 apple

10-20 almonds






½ – 1 cup cooked veggies

4-8 oz. grilled chicken

1/3 cup brown rice

¼ – ½ avocado




2 pieces string cheese

1 cup pineapple






½ cup – 1 cup cooked veggies

3-6 oz. roasted turkey breast

½ cup pasta

2 tsp. olive oil + parmesan cheese



12-24 oz. Fairlife milk

Want your running nutrition questions answered?
Fill out this form to be matched with one of our sports dietitians.


  1. Pfeiffer B, Stellingwerff T, Hodgson AB, Randell R, Pöttgen K, Res P, Jeukendrup AE. (2012). Nutritional intake and gastrointestinal problems during competitive endurance events. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 44(2), 344-51.
  2. Lenka H. Shriver PhD, Nancy M. Betts PhD, RD & Gena Wollenberg PhD, RD, CSSD (2013). Dietary Intakes and Eating Habits of College Athletes: Are Female College Athletes Following the Current Sports Nutrition Standards? Journal of American College Health, 61(1), 10-16.
  3. Sports Nutrition: A Practice Manual for Professionals, 5th ed. (2012)
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