Hacking the Perfect Runner’s Diet: Food Lessons from a Lifetime of Obsession

I have a confession. I’m obsessed with optimizing my life. Whether it’s finances (yes, I have a Roth IRA!), marathon workouts, decluttering and living more like a minimalist, or getting the best night’s sleep, I’m fascinated by learning how to be the best.

Loco Moco

Loco Moco – a Hawaiian Cowboy Tradition

The same is true with eating. For years, I’ve been reading the latest articles and books trying to learn how to create the perfect human diet. It’s been said that the next great performance improvements will come from advances in how athletes eat. I don’t doubt it – and I’m obsessed with finding out what that diet is all about.

I don’t write too often about diet here on Strength Running. I’m not an expert, but if I didn’t have a running website I’d probably have a food blog. You could call me a “foodie” but I think that sounds a little too fancy. Instead, I like trying new things and have learned a lot about what’s good for you and why.

Just Because You Run Doesn’t Mean You Have a Dietary Hall Pass

Most runners have terrible diets. You know it’s true. A common excuse to eating whatever junk food you want is, “If the furnace is hot enough it will burn anything!” That’s partially true, but it doesn’t mean you’re being healthy. You can get away with eating processed food, second and third helpings, and too much dessert when you’re young and working out a lot.

Sooner or later, your crappy diet is going to catch up with you. You’ll stop recovering from hard workouts like a 17 year old. The 130 grams of sugar you just ate in that pint of Ben & Jerry’s is going to keep you up on a sugar high way past your bed time. You’ll probably pack on a few pounds.

Everyone needs to get a grip on what they eat at some point. My turning point came during my senior year in college. Since becoming fascinated with food, nutrition, and diet I’ve read:

My reading list includes Gary Taubes, Robb Wolf, and more “evolutionary health” experts. My quest to understand what optimizes health is insatiable.

There’s a common theme that runs through these books. Judging from most of the titles above, you probably think that they all promote a paleolithic diet and that I eat mostly paleo.

A quick definition: a paleo diet tries to emulate what humans evolved to eat, focusing on vegetables, meat, seeds and nuts, seafood, and some fruit. It avoids grains, sugar, salt, processed oils, and all processed food. That’s right, no Fruity Pebbles.

But I’m not a paleo eater. Sometimes my diet looks close, but for runners it’s impossible to eat so few carbs and still be able to crush workouts and do our long runs – intelligent carb-loading is important. That’s why I like the Paleo Diet for Athletes book I mentioned above.

Eat Real Food

The common theme throughout all of these books (including Michael Pollan’s books, which do not promote paleo) is simplicity. The perfect human diet is focused on real food, not food products that were made in a lab.

Michael Pollan said it best: Eat food, mostly plants, not too much. But what does this quote mean in practice?

“Eat food”

Don’t we all do this every single day? No, some of us don’t. Many people eat things that shouldn’t be considered real food, things like:

  • Muffins
  • Donuts (my personal kryptonite – I love them!)
  • Lunchables
  • Boca burgers
  • Almost everything at Burger King, McDonald’s or any other fast food restaurant
  • Pizza
  • Soda

These things are created in a food lab. Have you ever looked at the ingredients list for pizza? You’re going to read things like guanylate, carrageenan, xanthan gum, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, and autolyzed yeast extract. No thanks, these aren’t for me.

One of my favorite adages about food is, “If your great great grandmother wouldn’t recognize it as food, then it’s not food.” Would she look at a bowl of Count Chocula and consider that food? No, that bowl of sugar is why two-thirds of Americans are overweight.

“Mostly plants”

Pollan knows his stuff about nutrition. If you want a diet packed with nutrients, then you need to eat a lot of plants. Vegetables, fruit, nuts, and seeds pack a very high nutrient density. You know you’re giving your body what it needs when a large part of your food intake is plants.

I don’t count calories or supplement with any vitamins, but I cover my bases by eating a lot of vegetables, 2-3 servings of fruit and a big handful of nuts every day. It’s also virtually impossible to gain weight when most of your food is fruit and vegetables. They’re low calorie, but high nutrient.

“Not too much”

Even if you’re eating all the right foods you can still gain weight if you’re overeating. It sounds difficult to “just eat less” but there are a lot of subtle tricks you can use to change your behavior:

  • Serve dinner on smaller plates
  • Don’t keep bowls of food on the table – keep them on the counter. You’ll eat less.
  • Eat slower – chew longer and take short breaks in between every few bites
  • You don’t need dessert
  • Drink a big glass of water before dinner

To simplify things, I don’t count calories or limit how much food I eat. Instead, I try to eat the right foods (no hot pockets) and if I’m still hungry, I’ll eat more. Variety is important so I try to eat as many different foods as possible.

There’s been a lot of talk recently in the health blogosphere (especially in the paleo circles) about intermittent fasting. This practice has you abstain from eating for 12+ hours. Health benefits are purported to be increased fat burning, better neurological health, longevity, and a healthier blood lipid profile. Mark Sisson (author of The Primal Blueprint above) has a great article on it here: The Health Benefits of Intermittent Fasting.

I don’t recommend this for runners, simply because our energy needs are higher. Since many of us run 5+ days per week, we need that energy to constantly be refueling and adapting. However, you may want to run 1-2 runs per week in the morning without breakfast. These runs in a fasted state have been shown to increase your body’s reliance on fat as a fuel (perfect for marathoners). Just don’t do them right before your race – you want to be fueled and sharp!

Debating Minutiae – What Do You Need to Know?

When it comes to dieting, food, and nutrition everyone wants to know the latest super food. Diet forums make me want to shove bamboo under my finger nails. You’ll read questions like, “Should I buy pomegranate juice if I’m running a marathon?” or “Are yellow peppers healthier than asparagus?”

I’m sorry, the correct answer is “Who gives a shit?

People love to debate minutiae. It’s like with personal finance – you do not need to create an elaborate budget, read the stock page of the New York Times, or work on Wall Street to steadily increase your net worth or eliminate debt.

You just need a set of guiding principles. A simple set of food guidelines can help you stay on track with your diet and you can get on with your life. Instead of wondering if peaches or apples are better for you, you’ll be able to make the best food decisions for your situation.

Based on everything I’ve learned from the books above, my constant reading of the subject, and my personal experience I think there are just a few real guidelines to follow.

  1. Eat unprocessed, real food. This means vegetables, meat, fruit, and nuts. No pop-tarts or “food product.”
  2. Eat vegetables with at least two of your daily meals if you have trouble meeting your daily amount at dinner.
  3. Don’t freak out about dairy – if you tolerate it, enjoy it, and it’s a normal part of your diet then you can keep consuming it.
  4. If a food comes in a package and has a health claim on it, be skeptical. Look at the ingredients list and try to buy the product with the least ingredients.
  5. Vegetarian or meat-eater? I’m convinced the ideal human diet includes meat. We evolved eating it and numerous studies strongly show that we thrive eating meat. If possible, choose grass-finished, humanely raised animals. I could write volumes on the subject, but pick up a copy of the Paleo Diet for Athletes for more reading.
  6. Almost all runners can cut back on their carbs.  Too many carbohydrates can make you gain weight, get cavities, and even have high triglycerides and cholesterol. Focus on healthy sources like fruit, yams, quinoa, wild rice, and beans (in moderation; they can irritate some people). Most runners should avoid sugar 99% of the time!
  7. On beverages: coffee and tea are good for you (skip the added sugar/whipped cream). So is red wine, but limit your alcohol consumption to about two drinks. Drinking more ruins your sleep and recovery, dehydrates you, and lowers testosterone levels (very bad for women too!)
  8. Dietary cholesterol has no impact on blood cholesterol (i.e., eat whole eggs).
  9. Don’t overindulge to excess, even on healthy foods. Moderation is wise with almost everything.
  10. Yes, it’s okay to cheat once in awhile. Especially if you just rocked a long run.

Many of the guidelines can be combined. If you want to drink coffee because it’s healthy, you know that a Starbucks Mocha Frappuccino violates Principle #1 of eating REAL food with minimally processed crap. Stick with brewed coffee and a dash of cream or little bit of milk.

If you remember even a few of these simple rules, you’re going to be far healthier than the majority of the population. You don’t need to know which type of meat has the most vitamin B12 or whether to combine melon with quinoa for digestive reasons. Cutting sugar and processed food from your diet are the most important things to remember.

The perfect runner’s diet includes whole foods, healthy carbs when you need it, enough protein through high-quality meat sources to rebuild muscle after hard workouts, and no processed food. Nobody’s perfect, so I actually recommend cheating at least once a week.

Red Wine

Enjoying some red wine at sunset.

Your Action Plan

Are these guidelines exhaustive? No, but that’s not the point. My goal here is to distill the intricacies of diet and nutrition into a simple set of principles that will get you to 80%. Remember the 80/20 rule?

Optimizing my diet has taken years to perfect. It’s still not ideal, but now I know so much more about nutrition and what it takes to lose and gain weight.

I get my dairy and meat delivered from a local farm that produces everything humanely and much more healthfully than a factory farm. In the summer and fall months, Meaghan and I also get a weekly CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) box of fruit and vegetables from local farms. Everything tastes better and it’s healthier.

The best part of ordering fruit, veggies, and high-quality dairy and meat from a local farm is that it forces us to eat healthy food! We spend far less time in the grocery store, being lured by glitzy packaging for 100-calorie snack packs or 1/3 less fat ice cream. Instead, our meals are based on fresh veggies, meat, and occasional grains like quinoa.

Now it’s your turn: I want you to become a better runner by eating a more healthy diet.

For the next month, choose 1-2 lessons I listed above and start implementing them in your diet. You can start skipping sugar in your morning coffee and replacing that bag of chips with an apple. Then the next week, you build on those small changes by making a few more. If you want to take it to the next level, pick up one of the books I recommend.

Keep your changes small and manageable. In less than two months, you’ll have gradually transformed your diet into a nutrient powerhouse. I guarantee you’ll feel better, recover faster, and eventually start racing faster. And isn’t that what we all want?

The Master Grocery List

To help you out, I’ve created a massive master shopping list that’s available in the Runner’s Gear Bag. It has almost 90 ideas for your next shopping trip – everything from veggies and fruit to seafood and grocery items like Sunbutter and guacamole.

Use it anytime you’re wondering, “What the hell should I eat tonight?” It’s bound to give you a few great ideas for dinner.

Simply sign up here or in the box below and you’ll be given the link to this secret page (where you can also download The Strength Running PR Guide, a circuit workout, and bonus content not available on the blog).

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  1. Great post Jason. I plan to mention it in a post on my blog to get you some business 🙂

    I’m also a big fan of the Paleo Diet for Athletes and am following it as much as I can as I progress in my marathon training.

    • Cool, thanks Brandon. I’m a big fan of the book and the diet ideas it has. It’s shaped how I look at diet in a big way. Good luck!

  2. Love the post Jason- I’m a physiologist by trade, so I share a similar fascination with the human body and how to get the most out of it. There seems a large disparity between how focused and disciplined some runners can be when following a training plan, but how little attention and effort is given to nutrition. I think you nailed it with the list of 10 basic guidelines to healthy eating- simplified and to the point. Keep em coming.

    • Thanks Ben, it’s been working for me (even though I cheat regularly – and I think that’s fine) and I just feel so much better after eating real food.

  3. Morris Pelzel says:

    Hi, I’ve just begun following your blog recently and I think this is an excellent post. I am cutting way back on carbs and trying to incorporate the kinds of suggestions you list here. A couple of thoughts…yeah, pizza is often not a healthy choice, but there are a lot of things you can do to improve if, especially if you make your own. There are ways to make healthier crusts using whole wheat flour…still getting carbs, but not as refined. And there’s all kinds of room for creativity in healthy toppings…spinach, broccoli, etc. along with more traditional pizza veggies such as peppers and onions; lean meats like canadian bacon and grass-fed hamburger; and feta cheese. Pizza is definitely one of those “cheat” foods for me.

    Also, I’ve noticed that the paleo diets recommend shunning beans and other legumes. I’ve always thought these were pretty healthy and a good source of protein and fibers. So what’s up with that?

    • Hey Morris, thanks! You’re right – pizza is one of those foods that can either be wildly unhealthy or a fairly healthy “cheat meal.” And sometimes, it’s one of the best foods you can eat (think: post-long run). Paleo diets avoid beans because of the carbohydrates and also lectins, which have been shown to be an “anti-nutrient.” I’m not as fanatical about avoiding beans, since they agree with me if washed. They provide quality carbs for runners, along with protein and fiber, so I enjoy them.

  4. As a “pizza enthusiast” myself, I feel obliged to comment on the whole pizza is not real food thing. The problem is what you get from a freezer in a grocery store is not pizza. Pizza can be perfectly healthy and real, you just need to make it yourself (which is ridiculously easy, by the way). The most minimalist version has only tomatoes, basil and mozarella… and the dough of course, which is just bread.

    • Hey Serge – I agree, pizza CAN be real food, but most times it’s not. And I don’t think eating mostly bread is a good idea, since the number of carbs is way too high for regular consumption. My thinking is that it’s fine after long runs or harder workouts.

  5. Great post! I like what you said about making small changes. Small changes make it much easier to change your habits than drastic changes. And I love Pollan’s “eat food, mostly plants, not too much”. It is so simple and that’s basically what I tell people when they ask me how I lost the weight. The “not too much” part is the hardest for most.

    However, I do have dessert every day! A piece of dark chocolate at lunch and a mint chocolate cookie for dinner (both around 40 calories). Life without chocolate just isn’t worth living!

    • It’s amazing advice isn’t it? And yes, dessert is great! Maybe not EVERY day (I don’t think your tiny “desserts” even count!), but once every few days is fine in my book.

  6. Great article. I read the books by Michael Pollan a couple years ago and highly recommend them as well. They really make you think about the former food pyramid, why the country swtiched to carb-loaded breakfasts, etc.

    Although I haven’t fully adopted a Paleo diet, I have made adjustment to reduce carbs (primarily eliminating breads and increasing healthy salads). I eat Greek Yogurt for breakfast, salad for lunch (no croutons or bad stuff), and eat a fairly typical US dinner which may contain carbs in pasta but avoid breads.

    Every person is different, but I weigh 50+ pounds less than I did 10 years ago. A lot of people ask me for my “secret.” Basically, I changed one habit at a time and applied my running discipline to the habit change. I started with cutting out beer (I was a member of the Beer of the Month Club getting those great microbrews from around the country), cut out all processed snack foods, essentially eliminated snacking. When people hear all the things I do today, they don’t think they can transform their diet that radically. The “trick” is that I didn’t either. I just took it one step at a time. That is not to say, you cannot implement a radical makeover of your diet. From my observation of others who try that, they generally don’t stick with the change over the long run.

    We think so much about how we train for marathons and other events. It is important to think about what you are putting into your body.

  7. One other thought I forgot to include in my previous comment… first habit to change for most people: cut out liquid calories. We consume an insane amount of liquid calories in this country through soda, lattes, even supposedly healthy juices. I basically drink water or unsweetened green tea. Always take a look at how much sugar is in your beverages.

    I was not a big soda drinker 10+ years ago. I would probably have one per week day and maybe two a day on Sat/Sun. It was actually the first habit I changed and I could tell a difference.

    I am also highly skeptical of diet sodas. I am not an expert on that topic, but I don’t know if we truly understand how artificial sweetners affect our bodies. Along the lines of what Michael Pollan preaches, stick with real, natural foods. Artificial sweetners is not one of them.

    I will get off my soap box. Sorry if I am coming across as preachy. Just trying to share my experiences with others.

    • You’re not preaching at all! Just sharing your story, which I really appreciate, so thank you. You’ve lived a lot of the principles it’s taken me a long time to learn. A great example of making incremental changes. Thanks Steve.

  8. Another excellent post Jason. I really find that the more I get in shape or the more I eat healthy the more my body wants to. To be honest, my two main guilty pleasures, ice cream and pizza, seem to appeal to me mostly when I’m seriously down in calories because of upping mileage or a long run. If I haven’t run during the day I don’t want anything but salad and lean meat. That doesn’t excuse the crap eating from time to time, I need to get that under control. But I do think that good habits lead to more good habits and that our body actually tells us what it wants and needs when it gets healthier and in better shape. All that being said, sometimes pizza, beer, and ice cream does just sound good. Great, challenging post. Back to re-evaluating the little things.

    • Great stuff Tim. I’m in the same boat – after a hard 2 hour run, I just don’t get full and sometimes revert to some ice cream or cookies. I’m only human 🙂 But ideally (and most of the time for me) I usually stick with “real food.”

  9. Great post, Jason! I agree with your assessment of good food made from quality ingredients. However, I don’t like the word “diet” because it can imply a strict, temporary change to the way a person eats and reminds me of a roller-coaster or yo-yo. I also think of dieting and low-fat or fat-free gimmicky foods as going hand in hand which are chock-full of chemicals and other crap (sorry, no offense meant here). I prefer to think of it as a lifestyle change because smart eating is meant to be forever, right? I don’t get caught up in some of the indulgences I make because they are temporary and I always get right back on the wagon but I am aware of the choices I make.

    Thanks for the book list! I look forward to some new reading material.

    • Thanks Dawn! When I say “diet,” I really just mean what you eat. It’s not a strict food list by any means (why I hate almost all diets) but more of a way of thinking. So yes, definitely more of a lifestyle. Great to hear that you don’t get caught up in your indulgences, what matters more is what you do regularly, rather than occasionally.

  10. Great post Fitz. Right on about just eating real food. I think where many paleo hardliners branch off from everybody else is that they don’t consider grain products to be “real food”, probably because of the high sophistication of biochemical defenses found in those plants.

    On intermittent fasting for runners, I totally agree that it would be difficult. But there has been some exercise physiology research suggesting that an enhanced adaption can be derived from glycogen depleted training. It’s hard as hell, but your body gets more of a workout. Also high fat diets activate pathways to more effectively utilizes fatty acids for energy output.

    One way to utilize these two ideas could be to train lower-carbish, and carb up to prescribed levels a little bit before your race.

    • Some of the grain products are a hard sell, but some of the grains I mentioned are the best bets for runners. Better than “wheat bread” or something like that.

      IF can work, sure, but it’s a very advanced technique and I’d only recommend it for marathoners looking for that extra boost. It’s not for beginners, intermediates, or even someone at my level. We’d all see better results just by running more and training smarter.

      Thanks for the comments Dave. Have you read the Paleo Diet for Athletes? Highly recommended.

      • Yeah – from what I could remember, Cordain’s original Paleo Diet book is primarily for people who don’t move around much, and he says to stay away from potatoes. Potatoes however, are the preferred source of starch in PD for A’s if I remember correctly. Kind of a funny contradiction, but I suppose it all comes back to activity levels.

        Definitely a lot of anthropological evidence pointing to tubers being prized and utilized for maintaining exertion. In general, to accept a universal low-carb theory almost requires one to deny the endurance running hypothesis, eh?

        • Totally. I think the endurance running hypothesis had ancient runners going a lot slower though, so they’re more likely to use fat stores. But still, tubers are likely 100% necessary for that type of activity.

  11. I agree with everything you’ve said and am looking forward to reading the books you’ve suggested. I found my info via Tony Robbins, Stu Mittleman, Robert Young and Phil Maffetone. Would definitely recommend their books too.

  12. Nice post Fitz! I think these suggestions are all usueful and I already follow almost all of them. Being Italian and based in Italy just a quick note: “pizza” is a very basic and healthy food: water, flour and yeast are the only needed ingredients. I know that those “commercial” pizzas are quite widespread in the US, but they just share the name with the original version, unfortunately. 😉
    An interesting book on the subject, I still have to read it but it is on my wishlist, is “racing weight” by Matt Fitzgerald – I got excellent feedback about it.

    • Yes, I seem to be getting some flack for the pizza comments in my article 🙂 I definitely agree that pizza can be healthy, but it’s also an indulgence most of the time because of the huge number of carbohydrates, so I typically try to reserve it for after a long run or hard workout. The problem is that most pizza eaten here in the states is of the Pizza Hut or Papa John’s variety…not healthy at all. Thanks for the book suggestion, I haven’t read that yet but definitely am planning on it!

  13. Awesome post!!!! I’ve spent a lot of time learning how to eat, and I haven’t come close to perfecting it, but the main thing I have learned is to eat REAL food! Even when having “treats”, I put in a lot of effort to make things from scratch (down to the mayo in my potato salad) – as much as I possibly can. The food tastes 1000 times better, and you’re proud of it – it satiates at a completely different level, both physiologically and emotionally. Suddenly, you find yourself more satisfied and eating a fraction of what you used to eat 🙂

    • Hey Jen, thank you! I’ve juiced vegetables, made my own nut butters, and done a lot of cooking from scratch (of course, with my wife’s help) and you’re right, the difference is incredible.

  14. Thanks Jason! This is a great great post – very helpful. I think I’m going to try reading the Paleo for Athletes book – thanks for the suggestion. I do ok with nutrition, but definitely some areas where I can get better. Focus on real food, to start. Be more mindful of it. That’s my goal. But dude, seriously… why hate on pizza? 😉

  15. great write-up. in fact, i motion you write more about food for runners, tips n tricks. i’m still learning paleo and i’m training for a 10 mile race so i feel like i’m always STARVING! and i’m 5’3″ so over indulging isn’t an option for me. awesome stuff!

    • Thanks Amy! I’m actually putting together an exhaustive 5k guide with Steve Kamb of Nerd Fitness, which will include an entire Diet section. It’ll be out in a few weeks so definitely stay tuned.

  16. Great write-up Fitz. I’ve always wondered about the timing of meals, i.e., eat less at night and more in the morning. Have a small mid-morning snack and mid-afternoon snack to keep appetite in check. Do you have any guidance with that?

    Also, what is the impact of sleep (or lack thereof) upon diet?

    • I’m becoming more convinced that the timing of when you eat doesn’t matter that much. As long as you’re not over or under-eating, it shouldn’t matter much. With regards to sleep, you’ll end up eating more when you sleep less. But it won’t impact your weight that much because you’ll need the extra calories (you burn more when awake). Just try to get your 7-9 hours and you’ll be set.

  17. So glad that your interview was featured on Nerd Fitness recently, allowing me to find your blog. I’ve been reading back through it and enjoying thoroughly. This was my favorite post, since my wife and I more or less cut out 99% of processed food about 2 years ago and could never imagine going back. I’ve found the impact on my running to be fantastic. Went from a 3:30 marathon to 3:04 (ok, I was training a little harder/smarter as well) but I think the diet, and subsequent loss of excess weight were key components. After a while, it just becomes normal and processed ingredients and artificial colors/flavors make you feel sick, thereby making me even less interested in eating them.
    As a side note, I like that you are a runner putting up great times, so you’re clearly taking things pretty seriously, but you don’t come off as preachy or inaccessible to those of us who aren’t nearly so fast.

    • Hey Jeff – thanks so much for the kind words! Really appreciate that. Processed food seems to weigh me down, though I admittedly don’t have a perfect diet. But eating clean 80% of the time is good enough for me – glad you found what works for you.

  18. I enjoyed all the posts. It seems there are a lot of different thoughts about carbohydrate intake for endurance athletes in the paleo world. As a paleo athlete in my mid 50’s, what are some clean burning carbs to stay fueled? Thanks

  19. This is just what I have been hunting for! My son is a cross country runner in high school. Well, he was until he got so sick he had to quit last season. He actually got so ill that he had to go to home school and lost 30+ pounds. Many doctors & countless tests never found the source of his constant diarrea. Now, 9 months later, he is feeling better, except for when he runs. A friend suggested he may need more carbs before running. In my search for healthy carbs, I found this article. What a treasure!!! Thank you for this, it is exactly what I need, what my son needs, what the whole family needs!

  20. Hey Jason, now that I’m running more I find myself craving salt a lot. Is that because I’m losing so much in my sweat? Is that normal and is it okay to be satisfying that craving?

  21. While we might not see eye to eye on the topic of consuming flesh as a viable source of protein I do however, 100% agree on increasing your fruit and veg intake as well as cutting out the crap from our diets. I used a series of small changes over the course of six months to become a 70% vegan (I consider it a diet that does not directly consume animal products for example, I still eat “standard” bread as long as its 100% whole wheat or multigrain and 100% whole wheat pastas). I feel being 100% vegan puts too many social restrictions on a person as you cannot go out and hang out with friends and get dinner at a typical place.
    I have noticed a huge improvement in my recovery time as well as my on course/training energy. I have run several road and trail half marathons, a trail marathon, and several triathlons of various distances and I will be making my debut this year for both Ironman and Ultra marathon at Ironman Arizona in November and Los Pinos 50K in January or another ultra.

  22. So more veggies, less sugar and processed is basically it?

  23. My experience with recovery mirrors Daniels. As soon as I cut meat and dairy out of my diet and started depending on whole, raw fruits and veggies for calories, my recovery improved orders of magnitude. Meat is extremely tough to digest and, while nutrient rich, was likely a food of opportunity and not a regular staple. This is evident even in modern tribes. I think meat is ok, in severe moderation. It is also much more costly to raise. The water consumption per calorie alone is somewhere around 10x that of lettuce and 50x that of tomatoes.

  24. Very informative post. You have suggested to drink a big glass of water before dinner. But I have heard that drinking water before meal may hamper proper digestion.

  25. It’s pretty easy to become obsessive to. I did a nuts only diet for four straight days and then found after four days i hadn’t lost a single pound – then discovered how many carbs can be in nuts. So – what you’re saying here is have a great balanced diet. One thing I’ve found though that works well is sugar free. I’ve had a sugar free diet now for over six weeks and the pounds have dropped off. Mainly due to the fact that you become incredibly careful what goes down the throat. Might be worth a post on this Jason.

  26. Great information about the kinds of fodds to focus on, but can you direct me to a resource to determine the quantity of the foods? (Number of calories etc) Specifically for an 18 year old male who is a distance runner and still growing. It’s hard to know “how much” he needs in order to properly fuel for best performance.
    Thanks so much!!

  27. For years the first thing i have when i wake up is a hot raw ginger tea. Grate 8 inches of raw ginger root, put into coffee plunger and cover for ten minutes with boiling water. Its very hot (think chili) but seems to give me instant energy and the best thing of all is that I haven’t even had a common head cold in all the time I’ve had it.

    • Ginger is supposed to have incredible healing powers and be so good for you. I’m going to have to try this to get a natural energy kick. I try to stay aware from energy drinks and one thing I’d been doing is taking brewer’s yeast mixed in some orange juice to get a natural source of B vitamins.

  28. Can you define what low, moderate and high carb is?i.
    I am new to running and beginning to train for a half. I am also 240lbs. Although I’ve lost 75lbs I want to continue with weight loss while having good nutrition for my runs. Low carb (under 60) works for helping me to lose weight.

  29. That was a an amazing post! Very informative and thought provoking. I am having trouble with the whole sugar thing, but I really want to see better results so I am trying and I will continue trying. Thanks for that—maybe soon I will try and read one of those books. Do you have one that you recommend for someone starting out for the first time? They all seem intense, but I want to try.

    • Thanks Bekah. Go with Pollan’s “In Defense of Food.” It’s not intense at all. Very readable and great for those who want a good framework for understanding “what is food?”

  30. I absolutely loved this article. Thanks for putting so much valuable info together. Loved it!!

  31. Kathryin says:

    Great Article, Jason. I like your list of guiding principles, and think the photo you chose is mouthwatering.

  32. Thanks for the great post. Your prose is very direct and easy to follow. I enjoyed reading this from top to bottom. I have searched all over the internet for a running diet plan and you combine some of the best advice I have found in one post; kudos again. I am just wondering one thing: do you have the recipe for that DELICIOUS looking loco moco?

  33. Shirley says:

    I’m six weeks into becoming a runner (something I’ve wanted to be my whole life but never pursued. I’ll be 35 this summer.) I eat pretty clean but have been more conscious of it since starting this running program. However, I’m not a big fan of meat. Several people suggested I get my protein through a protein powder which I’ve been doing now for 3 weeks. I blend it into 8 oz milk & a fruit of choice–either a banada, some strawberries or raspberries to make it inot a smoothie which I make either my breakfast or my supper. What is your take on protein powders for those of us that aren’t fans of eating a lot of meat?

  34. Some of it gets a bit technical, but it is most likely a step in the right direction.
    The paleo plan is a change in the way that
    we think about and approach the foods we eat.

  35. We all know there is total confusion about what to eat. In the west we’ve lost our natural instincts that kept us well throughout history. I think you have to read contemporary science to have an on going understanding, so to read people like T Colin Campbell and Caldwell Esselstyne is very informative. I’ve been running for a long time now (i’m very old!) and it’s mostly a question of how you feel. We all know that macdonalds food does not make you feel good! and that the diet of mostly plant foods is what works for humans. We really KNOW it but we mask it. Humans work well on small amounts of protein and fat and large amounts of carbs. Ometimes this is hard but once you’ve stuck with it for a time you will KNOW because allof it, including the running, will feel so much better. Cut the protein especially and i’m sure you’ll get this. Great website by the way.


  1. […] of it this way: sitting is like smoking. If you smoke but eat a super healthy diet or run frequently, you’re still a smoker. No amount of running can undo that. I don’t […]

  2. […] Strength Running is a running website. There are other topics that I’ve covered that have helped to bring in new types of readers. While I know far less about nutrition than I do about running, I wrote a post called Hacking the Perfect Runner’s Diet: Food Lessons from a Lifetime of Obsession. […]

  3. […] heavy grocery bags are easier. My focus on work is better, I tend to pay closer attention to a healthy diet, and have a stronger sense of well-being after a good […]

  4. […] fuel, aim to eat a well-balanced meal within 1-2 hours. Complex carbs, protein, and vegetables – keep it simple. But also keep in mind you just ran a marathon so go a little nuts with your meal. If you want a […]

  5. […] read Jason Fitzgerald’s blog Strength Running, you need to check out his recent post “Hacking the Perfect Runner’s Diet.” Great stuff about eating healthy/paleo while running and training. One of the key takeaways […]

  6. […] love to find a good, reasonable book or website of meal plans, but for now I’m going with this article from StrengthRunning, which cites my favorite Michael Pollan-ism: “Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too […]