Healing Food for the Hungry Runner

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Food is fuel. If you’re a runner, you must think about your body’s rebound at the cellular level. What you and I eat during training matters. Calorie intake varies from athlete to athlete, but every runner should be taking advantage of the opportunity to fuel with foods that contribute to performance & recovery.

In this article, we feature foods recommended by experts that will help heal and satisfy hungry runners during training. These experts also give us examples of how to eat these foods as we upgrade our menu to match our ambition.

Food: Beets

by Kristy Baumann, RD, LD

Can this root vegetable really help you “beet” your competition?
Beets. They have that earthy, slightly bitter taste that some people love and others can’t stand. But, when roasted or cooked, it brings out their natural sweet flavor.

Have you heard all the hype around beets these days? From beet powder to beet shots and pre-packaged cooked beets, they are popping up on supermarket shelves.

Why eat beets?

So, what’s so special about them and why should you consider adding them into your diet as a runner? Beets are rich in dietary nitrates, a compound that is converted into nitric oxide in the body. Nitric oxide dilates blood vessels, lowers blood pressure and allows a person to exercise using less oxygen.

Yes, they can improve performance! Consuming 200 grams (about 2 medium-sized beets) of beets or drinking a beetroot ‘shot’, 75 minutes before exercise, has shown as an effective dose to improve performance. One study found performance to improve one’s time by 3%. So if you ran
a 5k at 8 minutes/mile pace, that would shave off about 30 seconds!
Now if you’re thinking…wait, I thought we were told to stay away from nitrates… like those found in processed meats – bacon, hot dogs, and deli meats. Current research indicates nitrates (even in high doses) are not carcinogenic. The preferred sources are from vegetables like beets, arugula, celery, lettuce, kale, spinach, collards, Swiss chard and bok choy. So you better eat up!

How to eat beets?

New to eating beets?


  • Try tossing cubed beets with a little olive oil and salt.
  • Roast in the oven at 425 for 20 to 30 minutes.
  • Throw them on top of a salad and you are all set.

Or, check out this recipe link that made me first fall in love with beets.

About Kristy

I am a momma, marathon runner and Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. I am a small-town country girl who never thought she would love the big city and an ice cream-lover who grew up as a picky-eater turned veggie-lover. I have experienced the impact nutrition has on feeling energized, confident and improving performance. I am here to share my passion of nutrition through balanced eating and supporting a positive relationship with food.

Contact info:
Kristy Baumann, RD, LD
Email: Kristy.k.baumann@gmail.com
Instagram: @Marathon.Nutritionist

Food: Lentils

by: Meghann Featherstun, MS, RD, CSSD

Why eat lentils?

Lentils can be a recovering runner’s best friend. High in protein, complex carbs, and iron, they give you many of the essential nutrients and micronutrients needed to stay strong and healthy while training hard.

One cup of cooked lentils provides 18g of protein, 40g of carbohydrates, and over 1/3 of your daily iron needs. Lentils are also rich in antioxidants which help fight off inflammation.

Note: lentils are also high in fiber – choose these as a recovery meal, not a pre-run meal.

How to eat lentils?

My favorite type of lentils are red lentils. They break down more in soups and stews and add some creaminess without adding actual cream or butter. This Sweet Potato Red Lentil Soup is the most popular recipe on my blog for good reason – it’s delicious!

About Meghann

I’m a registered dietitian nutritionist with a certification in sports dietetics (CSSD) who works with endurance athletes of all abilities to help them get the most out of their training and improve overall health. A 3:58 to 2:57 marathoner, mom of two young kiddos, and working full time – I get the importance of figuring out how to balance it all and make nutrition a priority!

Contact info:
Meghann Featherstun, MS, RD, CSSD 
Website: https://featherstonenutrition.com/
Email: meghann.featherstun@gmail.com
Instagram: @featherstonenutrition 

Food: Sweet potatoes

by: Chelsea Mae Plummer, Owner and Food Blogger at Mae’s Menu

Why eat sweet potatoes?

Sweet potatoes are one of my favorite running foods because they’re healthy and slow-releasing carbohydrates that taste great! They also are high in the potassium that our muscles need to contract, so they can help prevent cramping.

How to eat sweet potatoes?

I enjoy sweet potatoes in a variety of ways — air-fried, hash browned, roasted, and the like — but one of my favorite recipes is my Turkey Taco Stuffed Sweet Potatoes. 

We’ll first bake the sweet potatoes and then we will fill them with a healthy and protein-rich turkey taco filling, avocado, cilantro, and whatever other taco toppings you prefer! This recipe uses a homemade taco seasoning blend, making it free of any preservatives and big on fresh taco flavor! 
Enjoy these stuffed sweet potatoes for dinner, leftovers for lunch, or even after your morning workout! 
Mae’s Menu Recipe: Turkey Taco Stuffed Sweet Potatoes 

About Chelsea

I’m a recipe developer, runner, dog mom, and food photographer. I love creating recipes for runners and other active people — after all, food fuels us for all of life’s activities. When I’m not in the kitchen or out on the running trails, I love spending time with friends, drinking a good glass of vino, or watching independent movies with my husband, Chris.

Contact info:
Chelsea Mae Plummer
Mae’s Menu Owner & Food Blogger
Recipes for Runners and Other Active People
Website: https://maesmenu.com
Instagram: @maesmenu

Food: Salmon

by: Tracy Janecek, MS

Why eat Salmon?

Salmon is a valuable food for recovery! First, it is a lean protein source of high quality protein to assist with muscle protein synthesis after exercise. Salmon is also an excellent source of anti-inflammatory omega-3 essential fatty acids and one of the few dietary sources of vitamin D. Vitamin D is crucial for bone formation, memory, and mood. Our bodies create it through UV rays touching our skin during summer months; however, during winter months, we often become deficient.

How to eat salmon?

Recipe from Tracy:
Simple oven roast for one

Yield: 1 filet, Time: ~15 minutes
Ingredients: 1 salmon filet (4-5 oz)
Desired oil, salt, pepper, lemon wedges (optional)


  • Preheat oven to 350 F with a rack in the middle.
  • Rub the salmon with desired oil on all sides.
  • Place the salmon on a flat roasting pan (skin side down if the filet has skin) and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and/or any other preferred seasonings or spices.
  • Place in the oven for 10-12 minutes. If roasting multiple filets, increase time to 15-20 minutes to desired doneness.
  • Serve immediately.
  • Leftovers can be refrigerated for up to 5 days.
  • **Salmon is done when easily flaked with a fork. Its internal temperature at the thickest part of the filet should be a minimum of 145 F for safe consumption.

About Tracy

I’m a registration eligible dietitian in Chicago. I completed a Masters in Nutrition, and I’m preparing to take my RD exam. After having been a collegiate runner who struggled with eating, my passion lies in teaching individuals how to view food as fuel and recovery. Working with college athletes through presentations, grocery store tours, and cooking classes has been my favorite part of being a dietitian so far, and I hope to continue working with athletes and the fitness community. In addition to my career and food preparation, I enjoy coffee, the outdoors, and traveling with my husband and dog.

Contact info
Tracy Janecek, MS
Email: c.tracy.run@gmail.com
Instagram: @choosing.joy.nutrition

Food: Tart Cherries

by: Kylee Van Horn, RDN

Why eat tart cherries?

Tart cherries and tart cherry juice offer quite a few benefits to runners. They contain anthocyanidins, a type of antioxidant that can help to balance out inflammation and reduce muscle soreness. By reducing pain and muscle soreness, runners can continue to train at higher intensities. Tart cherries are also a natural source of melatonin, so runners that struggle with sleep, can try using tart cherry juice vs. over the counter medications.

How to eat tart cherries?

Tart cherries can be eaten fresh, frozen, or in a juice concentrate. The majority of scientific studies have used a large amount of tart cherries, so it is usually preferred to drink the tart cherry juice concentrate to experience benefits.

Recipe from Kylee:
Tart Cherry Chocolate Smoothie

Serves: 1
¾ cup tart cherry juice
¾ cup frozen mixed berries
1 scoop chocolate protein powder
½ cup unsweetened almond milk


  • Blend all ingredients in blender until smooth.
  • Add more unsweetened almond milk until desired consistency is reached.

About Kylee:

Kylee Van Horn is a Carbondale, CO based sports dietitian and competitive trail runner that believes that nutrition a key player in sports performance that many overlook.  She seeks to provide individualized, but sustainable plans that work for athletes to help them achieve their goals. Kylee is a freelance columnist for Trail Runner Magazine and has contributed to Outside Magazine Online as well as Women’s Health Magazine. 

Contact info
Kylee Van Horn, RDN
Email: kylee@flynutrition.org
Website: http://www.flynutrition.org
Instagram: @flynutrition3

Time to Eat!

What a wealth of nutritional recommendations from these experts! Let’s start incorporating some healing foods. Since compiling this blog post, we have eaten foods from this article that we don’t normally stock up on. (Ask Zach some time about how he felt about our food adventures!)

If you found this article helpful, save it, pin it, & share it. And while you are in the kitchen, check out the A to Z Running Podcast to entertain and motivate you!

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3 replies
  1. Amy Haas
    Amy Haas says:

    Your content is so, so, helpful! Totally did my own blog post on beet juice a while back… man… that stuff tastes terrible but you can DEFINITELY notice the difference! Love the extra ideas here!

    • admin
      admin says:

      Definitely, Karl! Us too! (Totally serious here: in college, I used to carry around a small jug of cherry concentrate and just slam that thing after workouts… it was awful!)

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