Cooking Tips for Busy Runners
It is possible to eat delicious, nutritious foods while adhering to a busy training schedule and managing the demands of work and home life. Have a plan that takes into consideration both your running schedule and any events or outings to keep you on track.
How to Shop for Weekly Meal Prep
Create a detailed shopping list that's broken down into categories that work for you. For example, maybe it’s carbs, proteins, fats, fruits, and veggies.
Consider convenient options for each category. Ask yourself how you can prioritize nutrients during busy weeks. Individual-sized snacks like yogurt cups, string cheese, protein bars, protein shakes, jerky, and trail mix are great on-the-go options to shop for weekly. Other convenient options to include may be:
- Already cooked rotisserie chicken
- Frozen fruits and veggies
- Ready-made meals
- Pre-cooked proteins
- Microwavable pouches
- Dips and dressings to add a quick hit of flavor
How to Cook for a Week of Easy Meals
To prepare yourself for a week of easy, highly nutritious meals, start cooking on the weekend or early in the week.
Cut, wash, and prep all produce. Set yourself up for success early in the week. Have all produce washed, prepped, and ready to go for your planned meals and snacks.
Batch cook. Choose a few favorite recipes that are high in protein, and plan ways to use leftovers in creative ways throughout the week.
Use time-saving kitchen appliances. Slow cookers and instant pots can be very helpful in preparing large batches of meat, soups, or stews. Air fryers are another time-saving appliance that takes just minutes to make healthy foods taste crispy and delicious.
Try make-ahead meals and freezer meals. For breakfast, make baked egg cups, overnight oatmeal, or chia pudding. For lunch or dinner, baked sweet potatoes to use for stuffed sweet potatoes, chili, or a filling soup or stew is easy to store and eat for later. Even casseroles or pasta dishes can be made ahead of time.
Plan for storage. Make sure you have a variety of sizes of storage containers to hold make-ahead meals, freezer meals, and meals on the go. Organizing your refrigerator and cleaning it out each week is another way to stay on top of weekly meal prep.
Dietary Requirements for Different Running Goals
If your goal is building endurance, you’ll want to focus on muscle gain but also sustained energy during high mileage runs. Prioritize protein throughout your day and consume carbohydrate-rich foods before and during runs to restore depleted glycogen that occurs from long-distance running. Gel packs or sports drinks will also help.
For goals around increasing speed, carbs will give you that quick boost of energy that will also sustain the intensity of speed training. Carbs like potassium-rich bananas are ideal as they’ll also aid in recovery and mineral loss from sweating.
A healthy mix of both protein and carbohydrates will help you meet your running goals, and don’t forget that healthy fats will aid in recovery and energy levels too. Be mindful of your caloric intake on long-distance days, and prioritize sleep and recovery on high-intensity sprint days.
Caloric Intake Requirements
To determine how many calories you’ll need based on your training schedule and goals, consider your height, weight, and daily average activity level. Identify days where you will need to increase your calories to allow for adequate recovery and provide enough energy to get you through days with higher mileage runs.
Adequate caloric intake is essential for fueling long runs and building both endurance and speed. Increase your calories on more intense training days.
Getting sufficient calories is important, but managing how much of your diet comes from carbs, fats, and proteins is equally important to help you meet your training goals.
Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred source of energy. If your training schedule involves long-distance runs or higher intensity runs, shoot for 50 percent to 65 percent of your macronutrients to come from carbs — even up to 70% depending on the intensity of your runs. Complex carbs are slower to digest, while simple carbs offer a boost of energy in the form of elevated blood sugar. Try to incorporate these carb sources into your weekly meal prep:
- Sweet potatoes
Protein is required for building muscle. Whether your goal is building endurance or improving speed, running breaks down muscle, and protein can help you achieve your goals by preventing muscle loss. Protein can also aid in recovery from high mileage runs as it works with carbs to restore depleted glycogen stores in the body. Here are a few high-protein foods ideal for busy runners:
- Lean meats
- Protein powders and bars (whey, casein, soy, pea protein)
Fat is critical for energy, nerve function, and satiety. When your body runs out of carbs on a long run, it’s fat that’s there to back up your body. Fats also create a greater sense of satiety, which is helpful if your training schedule has you feeling constantly hungry. Incorporate these healthy fats into your weekly meals to reap these benefits:
- Olive oil
- Nuts and seeds
- Fatty fish
- Nut butters