Food for runners: Healthy meal ideas from a nutritionist

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Have you ever wondered what a CrossFit champion eats for breakfast? Or how a spin instructor powers himself through several hours a day? Or how an Olympic gymnast snacks? Food Diaries takes you on an inner journey through the healthy eating habits of athletes at the top of their game, because admit it, you’re curious. See more

There is a lot of confusion around food for runners and what the heck to eat when your favorite workout involves long long runs. Does having spaghetti every night mean being a runner? (Gotta carb-load, right?) Is coffee before a run a good idea? And where does protein come in? It is questions like these that registered dietitian and Cook, eat, run Author Charlie Watson, RD is accustomed to responding on a regular basis.

Watson works with clients who have all sorts of issues about healthy eating, but she love to help runners figure out what to eat. “My main philosophy is to eat real food,” Watson says. She is all about eating whole grains, nuts, fruits and vegetables to get the nutrients she needs – many of which are durable and easy to replenish for meal preparation.

Charlie likes to run in the morning before work. “I work at a busy hospital as a dietitian, where I am on my feet most of the day, so I am usually too tired to run in the evening,” she says. “I get up at 5 in the morning, run for about an hour or so, and then do strength training in the evening twice a week.” Here she tells what a dining day looks like for her on an average day. Her meals are not meant to be perceived as a “diet plan” – you may have other nutritional needs than she does – but it’s a fun, voyeuristic look at how the meal looks to her.

Scroll down to see what an average eating day looks like Cook, eat, run author, Charlie Watson, RD.

charlie watson breakfast
Photo: Stocksy / Natasa Mandic; Graphics: W + G Creative


“I like to have a milky coffee right after my morning run that I sip while getting ready for work,” Watson says. But it is not the only drink she drinks before breakfast; she also rehydrates with plenty of water. “I’m awful at drinking water during the day, so I make sure I start by having at least 16 ounces,” she says.

When she’s dressed and ready for the day, Watson says she makes a bowl of oats for herself for breakfast, which she likes to top with almond milk, berries, nuts and seeds. She wants another cup of coffee while she eats, and then she’s out the door and at work.

charlie watson breakfast
Photo: Getty Images / Westend61; Graphics: W + G Creative


Watson says that for her, a typical lunch is cooked whole grains (such as farro, quinoa or pearl barley) mixed with roasted vegetables, hummus or feta cheese and pomegranate seeds. She says her mornings are typically so busy that she does not have time for a mid-morning snack, so it is a must for her to eat a hearty lunch to keep her energy levels up.

charlie watson snack
Photo: Stocksy / Cameron Whitman; Graphics: W + G Creative


“In the middle of the afternoon, I want a piece of fruit for a snack,” Watson says. Then she says she has another snack a few hours later, around 6 p.m. 16. “I want to enjoy a cup of tea with something chocolate-like. I love peanut butter cups with dark chocolate,” she says.

charlie watson noon
Photo: Stocksy / Cameron Whitman; Graphics: W + G Creative


Watson eats dinner at home with her husband and they like to make something homemade. “Typically we want something like curry, stew or stir in the winter months. If it’s in the summer, we often grill,” she says.

charlie watson dessert
Photo: Stocksy / Tatjana Zlatkovic; W + G Creative


During the week, Watson says she usually does not have dessert – just a cup of tea, and then she goes to bed. But this weekend, she’s all for it. “I need ice cream with fruit,” she says of her favorite weekend dessert. “When it comes to my diet, nothing is allowed. I like to go for the right item instead of a low-cal, low-fat version,” she says. “I think it’s more satisfying.”

Do you want more food for runners? Here is what to eat before and after a run. And if you want to run a 10K, this is how you train.

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