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Q+A: Nutrition and Eating as a Pro Athlete

Updated: May 2, 2022

diet of a pro runner

If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me a question about the elite runner diet...I would have a lot of dollars!

It's not that surprising considering we all know that the body is an important part of running well...and that eating helps you build your body. And on top of all that, it can be really hard to navigate and figure out what to eat as a runner—especially when you're a young athlete or just starting to run.

I also get asked how to build an elite runner diet plan pretty often. But the truth of the matter is that we all need to eat different things when it comes to performance.

Sure, there are general "do's and don'ts" to follow along with, but every single body is different, and every training plan isn't the same either. That's why I can't give any actual nutrition advice to anyone who asks—I'm not a trained nutritionist, plus what works for some people might not work for others.

That's why this segment focuses more on habits of healthy eating and how I think it plays a role in elite performance. And less "what to eat" advice. To be honest, if anyone on the internet is telling you what to eat all the time as like a holistic meal plan (who isn't certified and/or doesn't work directly with you), you probably should avoid following it.

It's important to know exactly what your body needs. That's why I took an Inside Tracker blood test as well...knowing exactly what my body needs can help me build a successful plan around real data instead of guessing and potentially hurting myself.

Without further ado (lol, ew), here are some of the best questions I've gotten recently on Instagram that relate to an elite runner diet and nutrition for runners.

1. Does your diet impact your running lifestyle significantly?

I definitely think so!

I would even go as far as to say that nutrition and diet could be more important than physical work put in.

Think about it, if you're not fueling your body correctly, how can you ask it to do these crazy difficult tasks, recover from them rather quickly, then do it again?

Fortunately, healthy eating has always been a priority for my family, and I've carried that with me since I was very young. However, I have had my fair share of realizations that my diet has to change if I want to see improvement.

For example, when I was a junior in college, my race times plateaued and I couldn't figure out why. The following season, I tested my iron, found out it was lower than it should be, and started taking a supplement and eating more iron-rich foods.

Not only did I perform better that year, but I felt better when I was practicing. I can't say for sure whether it's all due to more iron consumption, but I believe it played a hand.

I think it's important to talk about diet A LOT because people tend to confuse what healthy eating means.

Not eating too much can quickly turn into not eating enough, and I've been there as well. I have a small stomach and a preoccupied mind, so a busy day can leave me forgetting that I didn't eat lunch.

Just because I choose healthy foods more often than not, doesn't mean I'm eating the right things, which is why I test with Inside Tracker. I learned a lot (and I mean a LOT) about the nutrients I was lacking and what I could eat to gain them.

I also learned how these things affect performance. I was lacking in proteins (and some other fancier terms I'm not as knowledgeable of lol) which essentially meant I wasn't recovering after hard workouts.

And it kinda opened my eyes to why I was feeling terrible trying to do several tough training sessions a week.

elite runner diet
Examples of supplements my Inside Tracker test recommended for me to take

Every body is different and needs specific things, and I've been at my best when I'm:

  • eating enough

  • eating a large variety, and

  • getting the right nutrients that I need.

And when I'm not, it shows on the track.

2. Do you ever worry about your weight?


think everyone worries about weight at some point, especially women, and especially women athletes.

However, I do not own a scale and for the past several years have had no interest really in checking out my weight.

Your weight can change at the drop of a hat and vary day to day, so in my opinion, and for me, checking it frequently does more damage than good.

Understanding our bodies is one of the most important pieces of success as an athlete, and I've started to know when my body is getting into shape or in peak condition, and a number on the scale is NOT a black and white, yes or no, answer to the question: "am I fit?"

That being said, I know that weight plays a certain role in performance and I know the RANGE that I should be in.

And that's different for everyone because of how much muscle and body fat is right for you.

Instead of focusing on what the actual weight is, I worry more about day to day health factors like eating right, doing my cardio, lifting weights, getting enough water and sleep, etc.

3. Favorite Food?

My favorite meal in the entire world is definitely fajitas.

I think I could eat them every single day.

I also love that you can make them a million different ways, especially if you branch out to things like taco bowls. So many amazing ingredients in one spot.

My favorite foods though probably are donuts and carrots. Not at the same time.

4. Do you log your meals?

No, but I have wanted to!

I have been experimenting with this, specifically with the My Fitness Pal app, because there are certain levels of nutrients I want to meet daily that I don't think I am right now.

Like protein for example. I want to keep track of how much I get in a day since it's so important for getting stronger and recovering well.

I also think it would be great to learn more about how certain foods make me feel. Before a workout, after a hard day, etc.

I'm a big fan of writing things down and making lists. Logging training and meals has never been a part of that for me though.

The past year I finally started logging workouts, but still never took the time for food. Part of my concern is becoming excessively obsessed with diet, leading to unhealthy behaviors and wasted time on thinking too much.

I will report back on my findings once I start really doing it!

what do elite female runners eat

5. What do you eat for dessert? When trying to be healthy?

I'm constantly posting the meals that I make on my Insta story (sorry not sorry), so I actually get this question a lot!

I have a few go-to's for nights I'm feeling like dessert or a snack:

  • a big bowl of popcorn

  • a bowl of berries (blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries) with chocolate chips

  • easy at-home protein ice cream

  • healthy cookies or "bites" like these chia chewy oats that are easy to meal prep

  • dark chocolate

Those are my fav after-dinner desserts when I want to be healthy. I also like keeping some dark chocolate around to munch on.

If I actually make a real dessert, 9/10 it's brownies cause my boyfriend's visiting and that's what we do. And like I said before, donuts are one of my absolute fav treats.

The Diet Of A Pro Runner

As someone whose job relies on physical performance, what I eat is obviously very important.

If you run a lot but aren't fueling right, you could deal with things like:

  • not building muscles

  • not having enough energy

  • blurred/not clear thoughts

  • performance going backward

So it's important to give your body what it needs. While this might mean different meal plans for everyone, there is a bunch of nutrition advice I've picked up over the years that help me focus on the right things and keep eating as a runner simple.

Keeping it simple is really the way to go, especially when it's such a complex topic and you've got a lot going on! I like to get expert advice and take it seriously, of course, but the key to making healthy eating sustainable for the long term is to have habits in place that help you make the right choices.

Thanks for checking out this Nutrition & Diet segment and thanks to the people who asked questions. If you found this helpful or have questions of your own, I'd love to hear about it in the comments below.

elite runner diet

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Hi, I'm Madeline

Welcome to Madeline Kopp— your source of inspo for finding a balance between healthy living and going after everything that you want! Here you'll find balanced, healthy lifestyle hacks that keep things simple and stylish. Learn more. x, MK
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