There are many differing opinions about what a healthy runners diet consists of. Some people believe they lose so many calories running that they can eat whatever they want.

Then of course there’s the Kenyan runners diet.


For most people it takes a lot of effort to run. Some runners are hungry when they return from their run and it seems the further they run, the hungrier they become.

Of course this makes sense because a lot of calories are burned off on those runs, but often replacing those calories can take on a life of its own. Yet that is not the case for everyone.

healthy runners diet

Proper diet is important to running success

For many people, running works as an appetite suppressant. In many ways it is these different reactions to physical exertion that makes it more difficult to find a healthy runners diet that suits you best.

However, many new runners make the same mistake I did when I began to run. I believed that because I was burning so many calories running, my diet could consist of double and triple helpings of food.

That certainly was not the key to a healthy runners diet because I was eating all the wrong foods.

I reasoned that I wouldn’t gain weight as long as I kept on running. That might have been true, but over-eating and choosing the wrong combination of foods does nothing to enhance all the hard work from ones training.

A healthy runners diet is all about eating just the right amount of quality calories to recover and fuel the body for the next workout. It’s also about making the right food choices.


It seems that it has been proven that runners can burn far more calories in the course of a workout than bikers and swimmers or any other type of aerobic activity for that matter.

On average, a runner will lose about 100 calories for every mile run. That’s a lot of calories when you take into account that the normal person has to burn about 2500 calories per day just to function.

Add to that the 1000 calories lost during a ten mile run and it’s easy to see why many of the worlds best distance runners do not carry around much excess weight. Twenty mile runs are not unusual for serious endurance athletes and that’s a whopping 2000 calories burned.

healthy runners diet

Take up running. You just might like it.

So in this case a healthy runners diet would consist of consuming 4500 calories in order to replace what was used in the course of a normal day plus the calories burned on the run.

However it should be noted that a person who is heavier will tend to burn more calories than a thin person. So as that over-weight person begins to lose weight from their running, they will burn less calories per mile run.


If you take a long, hard look at some of the world’s most famous runners, it’s easy to tell that they know when you push away from the dinner table.

I was once listening to the commentary for a woman’s Olympic Marathon and the speaker said that the optimum weight for women marathoners at the world class level was estimated to be 88 pounds. Wow! I thought I was light at 150 pounds, but realistically the best male marathoners are not much more than 120-125 pounds.

At the recent 2010 Vancouver International Marathon where I had an Ironstruck booth set up I happened to see one of the Kenyans walk by. He was amazingly small and I doubt that he was much more than 110 pounds. I believe he won the race in something like 2:18 and he had a bad day.

They totally understand the importance of diet and it’s pretty much an indisputable fact that to perform at their world class level, a healthy runners diet is front and center.

What you eat is basically your fuel and the athlete with the cleanest burning fuel will most often be the one to prevail and meet their own goals and expectations the day of the big event.


Diet is different things to different people. Frank Shorter won two Olympic gold medals in the marathon and on both occasions had pizza the day before the big race.

Bill Rodgers the great U.S. marathoner once said “One key to success is not to make your diet too complicated”. He was right and proved it by winning the Boston Marathon.

The key is to have a good understanding of the importance of complex carbohydrates, protein and fat in your diet and how much of each to eat. World class athletes have obviously figured out what works best for them.


When I ventured into the world of triathlon, I began to pay a lot more attention to diet. It seemed that every year was a learning experience and every year I figured out something else I was doing wrong.

healthy runners diet  -brown rice dish

Brown rice is a complex carbohydrate

First of all I had to understand that the amount of calories burned running, biking “and” swimming was immense. In order to have the energy to make it through the training sessions day after day, it became imperative to learn what I really should be eating to achieve the best results from my training.

I found out what an energy bonk was all about when I was 50k from home on a training ride and ran out of food and water in the middle of nowhere on a distance highway.

I had not eaten enough before I left on the long ride and failed to take along enough food and water. It was the ride from Hell just trying to make it back home. It was obvious that what constituted a healthy runners diet or any endurance athletes diet for that matter, had eluded me.

I had started out my long ride that day with insufficient glycogen stores to begin with. From there things just got worse as I never took along enough food and water to replace the fuel I was burning on the ride.

What I really should have done was have a complex-carbohydrate rich dinner the night before and a breakfast that also contained a good portion of carbohydrates.

The carbohydrate rich breakfast is much more important for a long bike ride.

The very same thing can easily go wrong on a long training run. You simply have to have enough of the right fuel to see you through the session. The key to a healthy runners diet is not really a mystery. It’s all about finding the right balance of carbohydrates, protein and fat.

However it’s not always a good idea to eat a big breakfast before a long run. When I knew I had a long run coming up in my training, I made sure I loaded up on carbohydrates the days leading up to the run.

When I returned from my run I would treat myself to a big breakfast of oatmeal with raisins, apple, and banana and whole wheat toast with natural peanut butter. Once I figured out what a healthy runners diet really was, I had better training recoveries and better race results.

healthy runners diet

Everyone has a different body chemistry and it’s not really possible to create a “one size fits all” diet. Once you have the important points figured out, you simply fit the diet to suit you.

There is little doubt that complex carbohydrates are the key to keeping glycogen stores(your source of fuel when you train and race)topped up. The standard proportions for carbohydrates, proteins, and fats seems to be generally accepted as 40% carbohydrates, 30% fat, and 30% proteins.

However it’s widely believed my many of the best endurance athletes in the world that the key to performance and recovery is in having a larger percentage of complex carbohydrates in your diet. For some, the proportions might be 60% carbohydrates, 20% protein and 20% fat.

For years I was on the Dr. Robert Haas “Eat To Win” diet and was consuming as much as 75% carbohydrates. On this particular diet, the fat ratio was very low. The diet consisted of no more than 10%-12% fat and the rest was protein. I have to admit that I had my most successful years of marathon and Ironman competitions while on this diet.


It’s quite obvious that the Kenyans are doing something right when it comes to diet as they are truly awesome distance runners who never seem to run out of energy.

We all have the opportunity to emulate the Kenyans by eating carbohydrate-rich foods to fuel our bodies and sustain us through training and racing.

healthy runners diet   -Kenyan endurance athletes

We can also follow them Kenyan example of limiting the amount of processed, packaged and pre-cooked foods that we eat. We can also make the wiser choice of fruit as a snack as opposed to simple sugars and junk food.

According to Mike Kibe, a young Kenyan runner full of promise who lives in the U.S., the Kenyans do not have a complicated diet. It seems more like they really have a handle on what, when, and how much they should be eating to enable to train and compete at a world class level.

“We basically eat two meals a day: lunch and dinner,” Kibe explains, “unless someone is training three times a day to get in shape.

That runner will have something easily digested, such as bread and butter or two boiled eggs, following the first early morning run, so they will be ready to go again a few hours later.

Otherwise, we’ll drink tea made with lots of milk and sugar before and after our first workout, as well as fruit [following the run] to settle our stomachs.”

It’s important to mention here that the Kenyans often run twice and as much as three times a day, so one can only surmise that their diet ritual is of paramount importance. Without proper body chemistry, it’s hard to imagine them training and competing at the level they do.

Mike Kibe went on to explain that “lunch consists of up to two large cups of tea, and a “light” meal of rice or potatoes topped with cabbage and other vegetables, as well as a few pieces of chicken”.

If they become hungry in between meals the Kenyans prefer fruit as opposed to any sort of sweet, simple-carbohydrate food choice.

After the second training session of the day(or third, depending on their particular training progarm), the runners look forward to a late dinner that includes large potions of carbohydrate-rich “ugali”, one of their favorite foods. Sometimes they will top it with sauteed greens and small pieces of beef. This enables them to prepare their bodies for the next days training session.

Ultimately their diet is not that far off what Dr. Haas suggested in his eat to win diet. Plenty of carbohydrates, some good quality protein, and a small amount of fat.


This recipe comes with a warning. Ugali is most definitely an acquired taste and is certainly not for everyone. It has been the staple food of one of the most amazing runners in the world, so the question is, just how curious are you?

healthy runners diet   -Kenyan ugali

Ugali-a favorite staple of the Kenyan runner's diet

These are the simple ingredients for Ugali:

Maize: You can choose white corn flour or yellow cornmeal, and what you use will determine the character of the finished product.

Water:(Doesn’t get much simpler)

Salt: This is optional


Pour a cup of “hot” water into a saucepan, and mix constantly. Then add in 1 cup of flour of choice.

When mixture begins to boil over high heat slowly mix in 3 cups of boiling water. Reduce to simmer, cover and cook for about 5 to 8 minutes, mixing frequently to prevent sticking.

The ugali is done when it pulls from the sides of the pan and does not stick. When finished it should look like stiff grits. Serve with vegetable beef broth, cream, sugar, syrup or melted butter poured over it.

Wambui from Kenya suggested this video on making Ugali……….

The best way to come up with a healthy runners diet that works best for yourself is to experiment with different foods and then see how it impacts your training, racing, and recovery.

Check out the best foods for runners according to Runners World

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