Meal Plans: A Helpful, Healthy Eating Strategy For Runners

Meal Plans: A Helpful, Healthy Eating Strategy For Runners

Meal Plans & Meal Prep for Runners

You got up early, smashed your morning run, and now you're getting ready to rush off to work. Thoughts are already swirling through your head about what you'll have for lunch:

  • Will you grab something out of the fridge?
  • Will you hit the vending machine? 
  • Will you step out and pick up fast food - again?
  • What on earth are you going to make for dinner once you get home?

Somedays, it seems like it would be a lot easier not to eat at all! But, of course, this isn't an option. As an athlete, you need to make sure that you are getting the fuel you require. High-intensity workouts require a proper balance of macros. Without this, your body won't get the nutrition it needs to allow you to push through your runs, have enough energy throughout your day, and properly build your muscles.

One of the easiest ways to save yourself a lot of time and effort, plus meet all of your strict nutritional requirements, is to join the millions of others who have made meal planning part of their weekly routine.

You don't sit and think about whether or not you will go out for a run; you just do it, right? So why waste time contemplating your food options, either?

  • Integrating a meal plan into your schedule takes the hassle out of organizing, prepping, and cooking each meal three or more times a day.
  • Plus, it ensures that you eat consistently and nutritiously, two essential factors in a runner's life.

Today we are going to take an in-depth look at meal plans, what they are and how they can bring a lot of simplicity and organization into your life, leaving you more free time to spend doing the things you love and providing a heightened level of health and wellbeing.

“This article contains links to some recommended products. Please note, as an Amazon Associate I may earn from qualifying purchases.”

Benefits of Meal Planning

Benefits of Meal Prep for Runners

Meal planning is a game-changer, trust me. Once you start planning out meals, cooking them ahead of time, and no longer waste your valuable energy on daily kitchen sessions, your life is going to be changed forever, for the better! Imagine waking up in the morning and never having to spend time contemplating what you, or your family, are going to eat that day. Imagine just being able to open your fridge or pantry, grab something healthy, and go. On top of this, imagine knowing every bite of food that you put in your mouth has been considered ahead of time, giving you the most nutrition for optimal energy and meeting all of your health and fitness goals. It sounds like a dream!

For you, this can be a dream-come-true. Let's take a minute to look at all of the different ways how meal planning can better our lives.

Saves a Lot of Time

We have already touched on this fact, but it's worth mentioning again - meal prep saves time. Who couldn't use an extra hour or two each day to be more productive? Think about all of the things you could accomplish! You could sign up for your next half-marathon and devise a detailed training plan, or you could spend more time with your family or friends. Whatever you choose to do, know one thing: you won't have to do it in the kitchen, slaving over a hot stove.

You also won’t be spending hours a week scrubbing pots and pans and loading and unloading the dishwasher. The only clean-up you will need to do is on your designated meal prep day!

Cuts Down Grocery Store Trips

Meal planning also means fewer trips to the grocery store. You will spend less time looking for a parking space and will never have to wander the aisles aimlessly again. With one well-planned trip each week, you can be sure that you get all of the ingredients you need and be able to use the time you save to do something much more exciting than browsing frozen food freezers.

Ensures You're Eating Healthy and Can Help You Reach Your Fitness Goals

As a runner, good nutrition is one of the most critical factors contributing to your success. You can get a good night's sleep, train hard every day and own all of the hottest running gear and gadgets available on the market, but without the proper nutrition, you will never reach your full potential.

  • A small, easily digestible meal composed primarily of carbohydrates will boost your energy levels and give you the stamina you need to endure throughout your session. 
  • Eating the right amount of carbohydrates and protein after your run will replenish your glycogen stores and help build and repair your muscles.
  • Regular meals throughout the day will keep your energy levels up and prevent you from feeling fatigued. 

As an experienced runner, I'm sure you know all of this, but the question is, do you consistently practice it?

How often has life got in the way, and you have skipped an important pre-run meal or haven't had time to make lunch and, as a result, grabbed something from the convenience store instead. When this happens, how do you feel? I'm confident that you didn't beat any personal bests during your training session, and more than likely, you hit a wall sometime that afternoon.

Meal planning prevents all of this from happening. By having your meals and snacks planned out and ready to go, you can grab what you need, when you need it, ensuring that your body gets the right balance of macros and the perfect portion control to meet your fitness needs.

We've talked a bit about the importance of macros in our diet, but having our meals prepped also ensures that we are getting the proper amount of micronutrients as well. The right proportion of vitamins and minerals will keep our immune system healthy and boost our energy. Planning our meals gives us the perfect opportunity to mix in a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, keeping our food colorful and full of nutrition.

The final point I'd like to make is that planning out your meals ahead of time can help you meet your fitness goals. We all know what it feels like to be hungry. It's uncomfortable and can make us feel downright grouchy. When our bodies get to this point, we are much more likely to grab whatever food is in front of us and chow down, even if that means eating something that isn't good for us. This is one sure-fire way to derail us from whatever we are hoping to accomplish from our fitness, whether we are looking to lose weight, build muscle, get in shape or compete in a 5K. Fast foods and snack foods won't help us reach our goals, especially if we are mindlessly eating them because we have nothing else to satiate our hunger.

  • Meal planning can keep our eating on track. It helps us control our portions, ensures that we have something healthy that is ready to eat when the hunger strikes, and eliminates the desire for snacking and trips to the drive-thru.

Saves Your Money

We could all use a little extra money in the bank, right? Planning out your meals ahead of time is a great way to do this! Since you know precisely what you will eat each meal, you will spend less on impulse buys, and there won’t be any food that goes to waste. No more wilted veggies in the bottom of your fridge, withering away while they wait to be eaten!

Another important money-saving fact about meal planning is that it can be specifically created to meet any budget. If you are looking to save money and only have a certain amount to spend on groceries each month, you can create your plan with this in mind, but what's on sale and incorporate seasonal products into your prep. All of this will help you make the most of your budget, keep as much money in your pocket as possible and ensure that you have healthy, nutritious food ready when you need it.

With meal planning, you will also save a lot of cash when it comes to going out to eat or ordering in. Since all of your meals are prepped and ready in advance, there won’t ever be the need for last-minute delivery. You can tell your regular pizza shop owner that you won’t be seeing them in a while!

Keeps You Organized and Reduces Stress

None of us need any added stress in our lives, especially when it comes to eating. Planning out meals ahead of time takes away the indecision that often occurs when deciding what to eat and makes life simpler. You will find that you are better organized, have more time, and won't have to endure the stress of wondering what you should cook.

It’s Fun and Easy!

If you have never tried meal planning before, you will find out soon that it is much easier than expected and can actually be a lot of fun! It is a great way to get the whole family involved in making their own meals. You can all learn healthy eating strategies, try out wholesome recipes, and can set an excellent example for others in your household when it comes to proper nutrition. Gather all the free hands that you can and make it a family affair! Not only will you have a lot of fun making the food, but you will enjoy eating it more, knowing that it was made with love.

6 Easy Meal Plan Ideas

There are so many different types of meal plans that you can incorporate into your life, each one slightly different from the other. Some will be more appealing than others, depending on your eating habits and preferences. Take a look through a few of the examples below to see which meal plan ideas will work best for you and your family.

Cook Once, Eat for a Week

This is probably the most popular type of meal prep, as it gets all of your cooking out of the way at the beginning of the week. Many people choose Sundays as their meal prep day and will visit the grocery store and spend a few hours in the kitchen, preparing all of their meals for the entire week. By mid-afternoon, all of the cooking and cleaning is completely done, and you don't have to turn on the stove again for a week!

Sheet Pan Meal Plans

Sheet pan meals have grown in popularity and are a great way to cook up a lot of food, in a short amount of time, with hardly any mess! All that is required is a large sheet pan, some protein, and some veggies. They all get put on the same pan, drizzled with oil, and dashed with spices. After a short time in the oven, everything is done! All that is left to do is divide it up into containers and put it in the fridge!

Sheet Pan Meal Prep for Runners

Pro Tip for Pan Cooking: Combine proteins and vegetables that have similar cook times

Homemade Frozen Dinners

There is nothing more convenient than pulling out a frozen dinner from the freezer, popping it into the microwave, and having your meal ready in five minutes or less. The only problem with store-bought frozen dinners is they are often high in calories, sodium, and lack of nutrients, so why not create your own? All you need is some simple recipes, a few fresh ingredients, and some containers that can be put in both the freezer and the microwave. Voila!

Mason Jar Lunches

DIY Mason Jar Salad

These are a big hit that is trending all over social media and for a good reason. Mason jar lunches are easy to prep, easy to store, and contain healthy ingredients. Whether you wish to make a layered salad or want to try out your own homemade version of instant ramen noodles, the possibilities are endless with mason jar lunches. Plus, they look extra appealing as well! You will be the envy of the office.

Slow-Cooker Meal Plans

Don't have time to spend a few hours slaving away in the kitchen, making up a week's worth of meals? Don't worry! Pull out your old slow cooker, dust it off and try out some of the fantastic slow cooker recipes that are gaining in popularity. All you have to do is dump in the ingredients and turn it on. Within six to eight hours, you will have an entire post filled with delicious food to feed you and your family for multiple meals. It doesn't get any easier than that!

Organized Grab-and-Go Fridge

Some people prefer organizing their fridge so that the whole family can grab what they want and run with it. By using dividers or plastic baskets, you can fill each one with a healthy snack option. Try having a protein section with a selection of pre-packaged cold meats, hard-boiled eggs, cheese slices, or tofu bites. In the fruit section, have sliced apples and oranges and in the veggie section, provide an assortment of pre-sliced and bagged veggies. You can even have packaged nuts and trail mix in the pantry.  This method allows for mindful snacking and ensures that everything is appropriately portioned out beforehand.

Meal Planning and Shopping List Templates

Before you can begin prepping your meals, you have to have a plan - a meal plan. This may sound daunting but planning out what you will eat for the week is vitally important. It allows you to hit the grocery store with a specific list of required items and enable you to go into your prep with a strategy. The better your plan, the more efficient you will be.

Each meal plan should be divided up by days of the week, and each day should include every meal and snack. Some people even include the time that this food will be eaten. If you have people in your household with different food preferences, you can create a separate plan for each one.

Once you have decided what you will be eating for the week, you will need to create a grocery list that contains every item you will need to buy. For optimal efficiency, divide your grocery list into sections, one for every part of the grocery store. Make sure there is a section for fruits, vegetables, dairy, meats, frozen food section, grains, drinks, and other. Having this detailed and organized shopping list will make your trip to the store faster and eliminate any chance that you will forget an item and make an extra trip.

You can create your own meal plan and shopping list template by hand or on a spreadsheet on your computer or phone. You can buy a meal plan journal or app or download a free template online.

5 Meal Planning Cookbooks for Runners

Getting your hands on a meal planning cookbook is the perfect way to learn all of the tips and tricks of meal planning from a professional. Not only will it outline everything that you need to know and give you excellent new recipes to try, but it will also serve as an excellent reference for all of your meal planning questions in the future.

Some of the best meal planning cookbooks that are specifically geared to the needs of runners are:

The Runner’s Kitchen by Emma Coburn

This excellent cookbook is specially designed by world-renowned Olympian, Emma Coburn,  to help you achieve all of your running goals. With healthy recipes for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks, Emma details methods on how to fuel your workouts for peak performance.

The Runner’s World Cookbook 

Created by Runner's World Magazine, this cookbook features over 150 delicious recipes focusing on nutritious, performance-enhancing foods. Whether you are looking for easily digestible pre-run snacks that will boost up your glycogen stores or want recipes that will satiate your hunger after a hard day of training, The Runner's World Cookbook has it all.

Last update on 2021-06-12 / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Last update on 2021-06-12 / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Run Fast, Cook Fast, Eat Slow by Shalane Flanagan and Elyse Kopecky

Shalane Flanagan is the world's first-ever women's Olympic marathon champion. She has partnered with renowned chef Elyse Kopecky to compile the healthy recipes geared towards runners in this book. The meals in this book are created to be cooked quickly and with minimal ingredients. They are quick on time but big on flavor.

Runner’s Cookbook by Anita Bean

As an athlete with a background in nutrition, Anita Bean has compiled over 100 delicious recipes in the Runner's Cookbook. With a focus on fueling your runs and optimizing performance, this book is chock full of tasty meal ideas that will meet the nutrition requirements of any runner.

Runner’s World Vegetarian Cookbook

This book is the meatless version of the Runner’s World Cookbook. It contains countless protein-packed options that are perfect for all you vegetarian runner’s out there who are looking to enhance your performance level the plant-based way.

Just like your running is getting faster, so are the lives that we are leading. It's no secret that speed and productivity are considered number one in so many different areas of our lives. Often the requirement to constantly be on the go leaves us sacrificing other, essential things - like our nutrition. As a high-level athlete, this just isn't acceptable. Performance, endurance, energy,  recovery, and overall health depend upon our bodies being appropriately fueled.

3 Key Takeaways

  • By integrating a meal plan into your weekly routine, you can save yourself a lot of time, stress, and money.
  • You can ensure that you are eating healthy all week long and slaying every fitness goal you set for yourself.
  • While meal planning may take a little bit of practice, it can be a lot of fun, and we're sure you once you see the life-changing benefits it can provide, you will be hooked!

Additional Running Resources

Attend My Live Training Plan Workshop - Are you interested in learning how to build your own customized training plans? Want to learn how to stop relying on generic plans that don't take YOU into account. In my LIVE two-part interactive, workshop you will learn how to take control of your running and build a customized training program around your skill level, your race distance or your running goals.


You will learn how to build, customize and modify your own personalized training plans for any race distance between 5k and 50k. You will learn how to match your short and long terms goals to a training plan that can realistically achieve what you set out to achieve. And, you will walk away with a plan you actually built, plus mentoring to make sure the plan will work for you. Come learn the exact process I have used to build thousands of training plans for my clients of all experience levels.

Get Our Free Runner's Toolkit - Get access to 30 days of free coaching tips by email and get your #1 running question personally answered by me, just for signing up. Plus get free access to our private Facebook community where other RunBuzz community members gather for support, camaraderie and general shenanigans.


 

Sponsor The Podcast - Do you find the RunBuzz Running podcast helpful? Then consider helping me continue to bring quality running content to the running community. Did you know it takes approximately 8-10 hours of work to research, record, edit and release each episode of the RunBuzz podcast? Consider supporting me by donating a few dollars to keep the show running. Your support helps keep RunBuzz podcast episodes ad-free and new episodes coming.

About the Author Steve Carmichael

Steve is a RRCA / USA Track and Field Certified Running Coach who has helped thousands of runners since 2010. He coaches online as well as locally in the Columbus, Ohio area. He is host of RunBuzz Running a top rated running podcast with 150+ episodes available for free on all major podcast apps. Steve resides in Lewis Center, Ohio with his wife, kids, and dog.

follow me on: