What Is The Best Food To Increase Stamina For Runners?

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Running on empty. An expression that is so widely used in many different contexts but one that runners, in particular, know so well. It is not an experience you would wish for, and with careful planning, you can avoid being in this predicament.

How do you ensure that you have enough stamina to finish a race? And not only to finish the race but to finish well enough that you want to race again? 

Running is an activity that requires fuel, and for humans, that means the right food: Food that will give you all the energy you require to help you last the distance and recover afterward. 

If you are unsure about what you should and shouldn’t be eating and when you should be eating it, then read on. We will highlight the best food to increase stamina for runners.

Best Food To Increase Stamina For Runners

Best food to increase stamina for runners
What is the best food to increase stamina?

It is no good starting to eat the right foods on race day.

Runners need a special diet plan that should be part of their daily lives if they want to have the stamina required for training and racing. We are all different, of course, and we must learn to listen to our bodies and adjust our diets when necessary.

Nevertheless, we can still follow some basic recommendations to develop a diet that increases stamina.

Carbs

Carbohydrates form an essential part of a runner’s diet, without a doubt. Carbs are the best energy source for runners as they break down easily during exercise. In addition, carbs prevent blood sugar from dropping and help runners recover quickly.

Experienced runners suggest that carbs should make up 60% to 65% of a runner’s diet. They also recommend that runners increase their carb intake a couple of days before a race. 

Good sources of carbohydrates are:

  • Potatoes
  • Whole grain pasta
  • Whole grain bread
  • Starchy vegetables
  • Rice
  • Fruit, especially bananas, for runners that live in hot climates. (Bananas are high in potassium and other essential minerals lost when sweating.)
  • Oats, especially for breakfast

It is important to choose whole grain foods over the more processed varieties as they contain Vitamin B, iron, and magnesium, which promote stamina. They also contain fiber which makes you feel fuller for longer.

Protein

Protein is a vital nutrient that keeps you feeling full during exercise. It provides energy and aids in the repair of tissue damage during running. 

Protein, especially those low in fats and cholesterol, should make up 15% to 35% of your diet

A list of the best protein sources is as follows:

  • Eggs – one egg satisfies nearly one-fifth of your daily protein needs, making the egg one of the cherished power foods.
  • Fish, high in Omega 3 oils
  • Beans – evidence that power comes in small packages! 
  • Whole grains
  • Low-fat dairy products 

Protein has been proven to be a better energy source than sugary food as the energy is released slowly into the bloodstream and is, therefore, longer-lasting. 

Fats

While fats are a fundamental energy source for our bodies, they take much longer than protein to break down, so including this group of foods in your daily diet is a sensible move.

However, you must choose food that contains “good” fats, such as mono- and polyunsaturated fatty acids found in nuts, seeds, and vegetable oils. And who can forget the peanut butter sandwich?

Green, Leafy Vegetables

Green leafy vegetables will increase your stamina, improve your running performance, and contribute to a well-balanced diet. Examples of these superior vegetables include:

  • Swiss chard and green spinach
  • Broccoli – the quercetin in broccoli helps reduce inflammation of the muscles while running. The presence of Vitamin C also reduces and sometimes prevents sore muscles.

Hydration

The simplest way to increase your stamina is to drink water daily. If you are not adequately hydrated, you will tire quickly, and your post-run recovery rate will decrease. How much should you drink? 

An easy way to calculate your water intake is to drink 12 ml per pound of body weight. Therefore if you weigh 140 pounds, you need to drink 1.680 liters of water daily, while a 180-pound runner should drink about 2.160 liters.

Say No To These Foods

  • Sugary drinks give you an immediate energy boost but don’t give you stamina. In fact, after the initial spike, you can feel more exhausted than ever.
  • Artificial sweeteners cause dehydration and can increase sugar cravings.
  • “Bad” fats, such as red meat, cheese, ice cream, and butter, as they increase the risk of heart disease.

Supplements For Increasing Stamina

Including supplements in your diet can help you improve your stamina by providing you with various vitamins and minerals, such as Vitamin C, calcium, iron, and potassium. 

It is better to get these substances from the food you eat, but if that is not possible, or you want to be extra careful, then taking supplements might be an option. If you are unsure which supplements to take, consult your health practitioner.

See more: our guide to the best supplements for runners

When To Eat What For Better Stamina

When to eat on race day

Best Food Before the Race

The best time to eat before a race is about two hours before the start. Eating too close to the start could result in stitches and cramping. Don’t be tempted to rule out eating completely, as you will feel fatigued during the race. When choosing what to eat, stick to carbs and protein. Try different combinations and then do what suits you best.

If you need a snack directly before the race, choose carbs that are quickly digested, such as:

  • bananas
  • potatoes
  • pretzels
  • cereal
  • a dollop of peanut butter

Avoid spicy foods, high-fiber vegetables, and coffee. All of these food items can cause stomach issues such as cramping or diarrhea, which will make your race highly unpleasant and may necessitate an unscheduled toilet stop!

Best Food During the Race

If you’re running for 90 minutes or longer, you must eat carbohydrates to replace lost glucose while running. There are plenty of foods that will help recharge your batteries:

  • potatoes
  • grapes
  • bananas
  • raisins
  • sports gels and chews

These are all easy to carry with you in a small pack. 

In addition, sports drinks will help combat dehydration and loss of essential minerals during a race. Drink at regular intervals. Again, experiment and see what works best for you. The essential point is that you drink regularly.

The main item to avoid while running is sugary sodas, which we have discussed before.  

Supplements

Best Food After the Run

You may feel incredibly hungry after your race, and it is tempting to tuck into a delicious meal. Having a light snack packed with protein within the first hour of running is better to help your body recover and replace the glycogen stores consumed while running.

Here are some suggestions:

  • protein shakes
  • pasta with a plant-based protein or some meat
  • egg on toast
  • a peanut butter sandwich
  • a banana

Most importantly, remember to replace lost fluids. Water and chocolate milk drinks are satisfying drinks at the end of a race and effective against dehydration.

It is tempting to celebrate the end of a race with an ice-cold beer, cider, or any other alcoholic beverage, but that is probably the worst thing you can do. Alcohol is a diuretic and will cause further dehydration instead of replenishing your lost liquids.

Food For Middle Distance Races

Middle-distance races can range from 800m to 5km long. Middle-distance runners need a high level of stamina and will need to spend a fair amount of time training. While training, the rule for carbohydrate intake is to increase your carb intake, and in your off times, reduce your carb intake. 

In addition to carbohydrates, you can include the following foods:

  • oily fish
  • poultry
  • avocado
  • nuts
  • seeds

To ensure that you stay hydrated, drink fluids before, during, and after training. Take liquids along with you during the race too. It’s not necessary to take food along with you during a middle-distance race.

See more: our guide to 5K race day preparation.

Food For Marathons

Keep your glycogen reserves as full as possible during long-distance races.

Carbo-loading is recommended for one or two days before the marathon. Carbs, eaten with a small amount of protein and “good” fats, will give you the energy required for running a marathon. You certainly don’t want to be running a race of this distance on an empty stomach.

Again, just before the race, enjoy any of the following foods:

  • white bread and honey
  • boiled eggs
  • oats or low-fiber cereals
  • bananas
  • yogurt

Have some liquids, but not too much – drink to thirst. You definitely don’t want to oversaturate your system. This can lead to cramps and other GI issues.

During the marathon, aim to drink at every drinks station, probably every 15 to 20 minutes. 

Consume energy gels regularly for extra stamina, and eat energy bars or bananas if you feel exhausted during the race.

Avoid solid foods.

Ensure that you replenish your liquids after the race in much the same way as you would for a middle-distance race. Eat small snacks that are high in carbs as well.

Choosing the Right Food Is Key To Increasing Stamina

In conclusion, eating the right foods and taking in plenty of healthy liquids is vital to increase your stamina while training for and running in races.

Listen to your body and take care of it, and you will be able to enjoy a long and satisfying running lifestyle.

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Thalia Oosthuizen

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Thalia Oosthuizen

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