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The ChiRunner’s Diet: Eating for Endurance and Recovery

Shot of cut citrus fruits

Article contributed by Katie Dawsonman running across landscape

Run, Forrest, run!

This famous line from Forrest Gump (1994) is often quoted. In the movie, the titular character runs cross country for three years. The act of running in the movie is supposed to symbolize overcoming obstacles and becoming triumphant. While few people may be willing to embark on the same long-haul journey, many have taken to running with the same sort of enthusiasm Forrest had.

Running is said to have many proven benefits. Here on ChiRunning we believe that your brain benefits as much from running as your body does. “Runner’s high” sensation is often the reason people do it. It causes feelings of euphoria and elation, reducing anxiety and stress. However, many new runners forget that getting the most out of your run actually relies on taking care of yourself, and this includes your diet. Depending on your fitness goals, some kinds of food may be better for you than others. This is called periodized nutrition, which emphasizes that your daily fuel intake matches your volume of training. It takes some trial and error to learn what is suitable for your body and what feels right. In fact, meal plans by BBC Good Food suggest that a proper diet is what complements your training routine as it will fuel you, make you fitter, and possibly reduce your body fat.

On light daysprotein rich meal with chicken and vegetables

When you’re planning on taking it easy, your body requires fewer carbohydrates which can be consumed with only one meal. Opt for protein-rich foods for both meals and snacks as this will keep you satisfied and support muscle tissue growth and repair. Fat is your source of fuel on light days. Polyunsaturated fats like Omega-3 reduce inflammation on days of recovery, and an increased vegetable intake means consuming antioxidants that also help with muscle soreness. Throw in some fruits and grains, and don’t be afraid to experiment with flavor profiles and spices.

On moderate days

On moderate days, your carbohydrate and protein intake should also be moderate. Try starting with one serving of carbohydrates on two meals to fuel your body for training and also to keep it stored for your next run. Low-GI carbohydrates are ideal for a sustained release in energy. The meal that is not high in carbohydrates should be higher in protein, fats, and vegetables. Consider iron-rich foods as they deliver oxygen to working muscles and contribute to energy production during endurance training.

On heavy or high-intensity days

sweet potatoes

Hydration is everything on heavy training days as you produce more sweat. It is advised to include carbohydrates in all meals to increase muscle glycogen or fuel levels. Snacks that are higher in GI carbohydrates can be consumed to up your carbohydrate intake which acts as your main fuel. Try to keep a balanced intake of protein and polyunsaturated fats as well for recovery, muscle growth, and adaptation. Stay away from high fiber and spicy foods as these may cause gastrointestinal issues that will interrupt your run.

During an actual run

If the run is less than 45 minutes, water should suffice. But for longer distances and even marathons, the New York Times’ ‘How to Feed a Runner’ advises carrying some carbohydrates and fuels which can be found in sports drinks, gels, and energy chews. Bananas also make a good source of natural fuel and potassium. You can even eat and drink something every four miles of your run, when there is an incline, or when you are tired. Try to use the same brands of sports drinks and gels that you’ve already tried if you intend to bring them on a marathon.


Always remember to watch what you eat after you run long distances. Because insulin levels are high and are delivering glycogen to muscle cells, it’s advised to eat carbohydrates immediately after or within two hours of a long run to help restore burned glycogen. Protein also helps in muscle recovery. Try having chocolate milk, peanut butter, bananas, full-fat yogurt, or fruit.

Clarifying assumptions

One of the biggest obstacles to creating a good food plan for yourself is challenging preconceived notions about food, as some of the food you once thought was bad for you may actually be good. We previously discussed in our post on the ‘5 Healthy Fats Your Diet is Missing’, that some fats are actually essential to your overall well being. Unsaturated fats are healthiest as they hold more nutritional value and lower your cholesterol unlike trans and unsaturated fats. Healthy fats do not necessarily equate to weight gain, but can actually curb cravings and appetite and keep you appeased faster and longer. They are essential for hormone production, cell generation, muscle movement, and blood clotting, among others. Chances are, you have some of them at home already.

Consider avocados which are some of the most nutritious fruits out there. Olive oil is high in mono-saturated fats which improve memory, cognitive function, and are anti-inflammatory. Or perhaps, switch out olive oil for coconut oil which boosts fat burning, brain function, memory, and heart health. Nuts, seeds, and cacao nibs are perfect snacks that are chockfull of nutrients. Maryville University’s discussion on current healthcare trends shows that doctors and nurses continually challenge assumptions about things we thought to be established facts, so nothing is really set in stone: there’s no reason to stop trying new things and to stop learning. Learn what works for your body and reap the rewards later.

Best foot forward

three men running on sidewalk

Not everyone has the stamina and endurance as Forrest Gump. However, for those who even have a fraction of it, they need to constantly challenge some misconceptions. Runners struggle with the repetitiveness that running seems to be associated with, as well as the idea that healthy diets are supposedly bland. Every runner or potential runner has these struggles, but the important thing is to keep putting your best foot forward. Through ChiRunning, you might find exactly what you need to keep going.

This is the beginning of a long and daily journey back to running for me but ChiRunning has made it possible and pain-free. Do yourself a favor and spend some time with this genius communicator. You never know, he may even change your life.

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