I’m A Runner. What Should I Eat?

Guest post by: StarRunner Deborah Davis MS, RD, LDN

I’m a runner training for a marathon. What should I eat?

I’m a diabetic trying to improve my blood sugar control. What should I eat?

I am 50 pounds overweight and I want to get back to my ideal body weight. What should I eat?

As a Registered Dietitian, the question, “what should I eat?” is one that comes up numerous times on a daily basis.  Unfortunately, this question is not necessarily one that has a single universal answer that applies to everyone who may ask; nor is it a question that can easily be answered in a single blog post. Since you are reading this blog, you have already made on huge step in the right direction towards living a healthy lifestyle by joining StarRunners! There is a mile long laundry list of reasons why being physically active, ie. running is great for your body. Star is a super coach who will make sure to help you reach your race goals. However, your body may not perform as well as you hope unless you fuel it with the right foods!

I think the simplest way to begin to answer the “what should I eat?” question is to go back to the very basics. It is way too easy to get caught up in fad diets, overwhelmed by calorie counting, or confused by trying to base meals on percentages of protein, carbohydrates, and fat. The USDA recently replaced their outdated Food Pyramid for the much simpler (and drastically improved!) My Plate. Instead of trying to keep track of the number of servings of all the food groups you eat throughout the day, it models a healthy meal – plain and simple. Here is what I am talking about…


As you plan your meals, try to incorporate the different food groups on your plate to mirror the MyPlate model above.  The website ChooseMyPlate.gov actually has a lot of great resources for how to plan healthy meals using this model. To get you started, here are some things to keep in mind:


  • The vegetables included on your plate should be non-starchy, ie. anything but potatoes or legumes. Also, think about incorporating more color to your meals with vegetables – darker greens like spinach are much better than say, iceburg lettuce.
  • Often, the vegetable section of my lunch and evening meals fill more than half of my plate. Think of vegetables as diet “freebies” – they are super low calorie and chock full of fantastic vitamins and minerals! You can’t over-eat veggies!
  • Don’t forget that a dark-green leafy salad can turn into a great base for a delicious, filling meal. Just top with cheese, lean protein (like grilled chicken or tuna), nuts, cranberries, and dressing! The possibilities are endless.


  • You may notice that the protein and grain sections are much smaller than normal for Americans! (At the VA hospital I have so many patients who subsist on the “meat and potatoes” diet!)  The key for protein is to choose lean meats (this does not include sausage, bologna, bacon, Spam, chittlins, hot dogs, etc).
  • The best way to prepare meats is to bake/grill/broil rather than fry (sorry!) them.  A typical portion size for your protein is 3 oz or the size of a deck of playing cards.
  • Don’t forget about protein-packed vegetable alternatives to meat such as tofu, soy foods (like burgers!), seitan, hummus, or nuts/nut butters!


  • Any grains you choose should be whole grain. Look for things like brown rice, whole wheat pasta, quinoa, barley, and more! Check out the nutrition label on cereals and breads and look for ones with at least 3 grams of fiber per serving. Potatoes and legumes (ie. black beans, black-eyed peas, chickpeas, etc.) also go in this section.
  • The fewer processed grains the better! Choose less white bread, white rice, sugary cereal, pre-packaged snacks, cookies, cakes, etc. Don’t completely eliminate these however, it’s ok to treat yourself every once in a while! You work hard putting in lots of miles each week!


  • Dairy does not necessarily have to be limited to a glass of milk on the side. Incorporate dairy into your meal by sprinkling your food with shredded cheese! Or you could create a dessert with yogurt and fruit…
  • I find it’s easier to get in my daily dairy by eating yogurt or cereal in the morning and then snacking on string cheese. Milk, especially chocolate milk, is a great way to refuel and recover after a long run. Also, cottage cheese with a little fruit can be a great snack too!


  • Fruit can be a great dessert! Dress fresh fruit up with whipped topping or stir into flavored yogurt, bake apples with cinnamon and honey, or make a fruit cobber.
  • Freeze a peeled banana and then puree with a food processor for an ice cream-like dessert without the added calories!
  • Puree fruit with yogurt and milk for a tasty breakfast smoothie!

Here’s an example of a meal I had last week based on the Plate plan! Pictured below is a 3 oz filet of spicy baked catfish, ½ large sweet potato with a bit of butter and cinnamon, and a side of salad greens topped with roasted beets, feta, and balsamic vinegar. For dessert? A 1/2 cup serving of frozen yogurt! 🙂


Beginning to model your meals after the HealthyPlate is a great way to get started on the right foot towards eating healthier and better fueling your body for running! Keep checking in for more guest posts on topics such as healthy snacking, sample meal plans, carbohydrates, breakfast (start your day off right!), calorie needs, and more! If you have any questions about these posts, feel free to email me at dldavis.rd@gmail.com or chat with me at running group(!).

6 thoughts on “I’m A Runner. What Should I Eat?

  1. Thank you for this post, Deborah. I’m a nutrition idiot. I mean, I eat the right stuff a lot of the time but sometimes I don’t. I’ve read some Runner’s World books (Run your Butt Off, Runner’s Diet) but by the time I’m considering the right mix of protein, carbs and everything else, my head is spinning and I just reach for a beer. (Yes, where is the beer section of this post?)
    Do you know of a good place to get weekly menu planners? (And I’m gonna check the web site above.) I have searched online and downloaded an app for my phone but with little success.
    So glad we have you on our team. I think I know now why you’re such a fast runner. You had to outrun all those morons bombarding you with nutrition questions.
    Thanks again!

  2. Oh, and Trey, I found the beer section of the post. It’s in the picture of the healthy dinner above (top & center of the photo). See the smooth, brown bottle? Look close enough and you can make out the rough shapes of hops plants above text at the bottom that roughly reads “IPA.”

  3. Thanks guys! You totally caught me – that is in fact a beer in the background. Haha! It can most definitely have a place in a healthy diet. 🙂 Also, I am working on a week long meal plan – so hopefully that will be helpful! I’ll scope out some good sites with additional meal plans as well.

  4. Hello just wanted to give you a brief heads up and let you know
    a few of the pictures aren’t loading correctly. I’m not sure why but I think
    its a linking issue. I’ve tried it in two different
    browsers and both show the same results.

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