Meal planning for runners — your secret sauce to successful runs
Meal planning can help you stay fueled for your runs, save time on daily meal prep, and incorporate foods that boost performance and recovery. If you're new to the concept, we've got you covered. Here's how to make meal prep work for you, plus a delicious, prep-friendly recipe to help you get started!
What is meal planning?
If you're new to planning meals, it can seem intimidating. As a registered dietitian, I often hear this sentiment from my readers and clients. Fortunately, my career has made me aware of the challenges associated with prepping food and privy to the hacks that can make the process easier for you!
Meal planning refers to devoting some time to laying out what you're going to eat at future meals. You can plan for just a few days, a week, or even a whole month. Meal prep is the process of making meals, or components of meals, in advance and is often a part of meal planning.
Meal planning 101 for runners
Runners can plan out their meals to help support their training schedules. I love having prepped foods in my fridge that I can easily put together when I'm exhausted after a long run, and even if you don't prepare any food ahead of time, coming up with a plan for what you're going to eat takes away the pressure of thinking of a meal when you're tired or busy.
Start with whatever level of planning and prep works for your schedule and needs. You can begin by writing down your meals for a few nights a week and organizing a corresponding grocery list. Work up to planning more meals over time if desired.
Aim to incorporate foods that are great for fueling and refueling, such as carbohydrates, proteins, and fruits and vegetables. A sheet pan dinner with salmon, sweet potatoes, and broccoli is an easy option to plan for a busy night. Or, perhaps you want to lean into meal prep and schedule "assembly" meals with components that you prep in advance to put together quickly when you want to eat. Even spending one hour on a Sunday roasting sweet potatoes, boiling chicken, and prepping oatmeal can be a huge help for staying on track during the week.
When you're at the store, stock up on foods that you can keep on hand for meals that you don't plan. Yogurt, fruit, eggs, bread, nut butters, jams, beans, canned fish, whole grains, potatoes, string cheese, and frozen produce are all great foods for runners. These affordable items are versatile and require minimal or no prep, making them good choices when you're short on time.
Keep it flexible
Meal planning can be as flexible as you want it to be. Don't stress about adhering to the schedule you made for the week if you want to eat something other than what you planned. See if you can freeze or repurpose meal components you prepped in advance. Maybe you made shredded chicken to eat with rice, greens, and a salad dressing but now you're craving Mexican food. Still serve the chicken with the rice, but season it with salsa and add a can of beans and some frozen corn.
Recipe: Farro bowls with honey mustard dressing
With a basic understanding of meal planning for the run, here's one of my favorite tasty, run-fueling recipes to try out for yourself!
This recipe is an amazing meal prep option for hungry runners. The ingredients can be kept in the fridge until you're ready to eat and can be enjoyed cold or reheated, too. Some other meal ideas for the day include a berry and Greek yogurt smoothie, baked sweet potatoes stuffed with white beans and pesto, and for a sweet treat to top it all off, perhaps a warm brownie for dessert. Make the smoothie before you go to bed and keep it in the fridge so that you can enjoy it on the go in the morning. Sweet potatoes can also be prepped ahead of time.
For this meal, farro is an excellent carb source for fueling, shredded chicken provides muscle-repairing protein, and arugula is loaded with vitamins and minerals. Plus, I added some dried cherries for anti-inflammatory benefits. It's all drizzled with a honey mustard dressing that's simply the best. If you want to switch up the protein source, chickpeas, lentils, or hard-boiled eggs also work — it's up to you!
- For the bowls:
- 2 cups cooked farro
- 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast
- 8 cups baby arugula
- 1 cup dried cherries
For the dressing:
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard (can sub whole grain mustard)
- 3 tablespoons honey
- Salt, to taste
Prep the farro according to package instructions. Store in an airtight container in the fridge.
Cook the chicken in a slow cooker on low for about 6 hours, or until the chicken is cooked through and has an internal temperature of 165 degrees F. Remove from the slow cooker, place on a cutting board, and use two forks to shred the chicken into pieces.
If you don't have a slow cooker, you can also boil the chicken. Place the breasts in a large pot and add enough liquid (water or broth) to cover the chicken. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to maintain a gentle boil. Cook for about 10 to 15 minutes until the chicken has an internal temperature of 165 degrees F. Remove from the pot and shred.
In the meantime, whisk together the olive oil, apple cider vinegar, Dijon mustard, honey, and salt.
If you're eating at a later time, store the farro, chicken, and dressing in separate containers in the fridge. When you're ready to eat, make a bowl with some farro, chicken, arugula, dried cherries, and dressing. Enjoy!
Meal planning is an awesome tool that can support your runs no matter where you're at in your running journey. And the best part is that you can customize the process to fit your needs and schedule. Use the tips and recipe in this post to get started with meal planning, and check out more health tips and running training plans to help outside of the kitchen on our Run Happy Blog.
Our writer's advice is intended for informational or general educational purposes only. We always encourage you to speak with your physician or healthcare provider before making any adjustments to your running, nutrition, or fitness routines.