Running Nutrition Questions Answered - Women's Running Magazine

Running Nutrition Questions Answered!

Author: Women's Running Magazine

Read Time:   |  May 12, 2017

Running Nutrition

With new studies released each month about the benefits and health risks of all sorts of foods, perfecting a healthy diet can become quite confusing. For runners looking to bolster their performance, selecting the right diet can be even harder, particularly when we’re presented with so many myths around what we should and shouldn’t be eating as runners. For that reason, we’ve teamed up qualified nutritionist Jo Scott-Dagleish to answer your common nutrition questions.

Will eating more protein help my legs get stronger?

Having strong legs will certainly benefit your running, and to make them stronger you need to develop more lean muscle tissue. This isn’t about creating muscle bulk, bodybuilder-style, but enabling your legs to produce more power when you run. In turn, you can go faster and sustain that pace for longer. To increase muscle, your body needs to undergo a process called muscle protein synthesis (MPS), and the rate of MPS needs to exceed the rate of muscle breakdown, which occurs when you run.

Running Nutrition

There are two ways of stimulating MPS and you need to do both of them to produce the best results. The first is to undertake resistance exercise, e.g working out with weights, and the second is to consume sufficient protein in your meals and snacks. As a runner you need to have more protein in your diet than sedentary people, to enable muscle recovery after exercise. Between 1.2g and 1.4g for every kg you weigh is recommended. If you are looking to build leg strength, I would suggest aiming for the higher end of this range and making sure that you include a protein food in each meal and post-exercise snack. A recent review in Sports Medicine concluded that 20-25g per meal or snack was optimal for MPS, so it’s best to spread your protein intake evenly through the day.

Animal foods have higher amounts of protein than plant foods. Here’s the protein content of some common foods: 28g per 100g of chicken breast, 20g per 100g of salmon, 14g in two eggs, 9g in 250ml of milk, 7g in 100g of Greek yoghurt, 11g in 50g of almonds, 7g in 100g of cooked chickpeas. You can also use protein powders, which have around 20g per 25g serving. These work well blended with fruit and water to make a recovery drink

Running Nutrition

Will protein drinks help my running?

Traditionally popular with bodybuilders, protein drinks are now becoming more widely available, both as ready-to-drink bottles and as protein powders that you mix with water, milk or a non-dairy alternative. The main purpose of a protein drink is to help your muscles recover after exercise and synthesise new muscle, so take them after your run. Every step you run causes microscopic tears in muscle fibres. To repair this damage and build strong muscles, your body needs a ready supply of various amino acids, particularly those known as branch chain amino acids – valine, leucine and isoleucine – which we get from protein. This can be from foods such as meat, fish, eggs, legumes and dairy foods, or they can come from a drink containing about 20g of protein.

As a runner, you don’t just need protein after a run, but also carbohydrates, to replenish glycogen stores. So if you want to use a protein drink, it’s important to buy one that also contains carbohydrates, preferably in a 3:1 ratio of carbs to protein. Or you can make your own recovery drink by blending a scoop of protein powder with two portions of fruit and some milk or natural yogurt. You only need to use a drink like this after a long run, or if it will be more than two hours until your next meal. Including a protein food in a meal or snack within an hour or so of finishing a short run is perfectly adequate for muscle recovery.

Whey, one of the proteins in milk (along with casein), is best absorbed by the body, so dairy products are a good choice for protein. Look for whey protein isolate on the list of ingredients. If you prefer a plant-based protein, choose brown rice, or soy protein powder.

Running Nutrition

Is it ok to eat butter?

You might have seen media coverage about some research published in the BMJ Open Heart journal, which suggested that the official guidance to cut down on saturated fats such as butter, introduced in the late 1970s, was based on unreliable evidence. Many nutrition experts were quick to defend the guidelines and the research that they were based on, but the media controversy may have left you feeling confused. It’s not the first time that the question has been raised, concerning whether too much saturated fat is actually unhealthy.

There have been a number of good-quality studies in recent years that have suggested that saturated fat consumption is not linked directly to the development of the type of cholesterol which, if it becomes inflamed, may block arteries and cause heart attacks. The jury is still out on this subject, but the tide does seem to be turning, with more emphasis being placed on the health implications of consuming too many refined carbohydrates, including added sugars, which are now thought to have contributed to significantly more people becoming overweight and obese in the last 30
years or so.

So should you continue to choose low-fat spreads and margarines over butter? Butter is a natural food, without artificial colours, flavourings or preservatives, and a good source of vitamin A. A typical 7g serving of butter (for one slice of toast) contains 52 calories. Eaten a few times a week, rather than daily, it can be part of well-balanced diet. It might be preferable to choose an organic, unsalted brand. But, like all high-calorie foods, eating too much butter may contribute to weight gain, so it’s best not to go overboard.


Running Nutrition

Should I eat more red meat when I increase the amount of running I do? 

After years of bad press, red meat has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity in the last couple of years thanks to the popularity of high-protein and ‘paleo’ style eating programmes. It certainly
has benefits for female runners, but don’t feel you have to eat it every day. The biggest nutritional benefit you’ll gain from red meat is good quality protein, which is essential for recovery and adaptation after training: it helps repair and rebuild muscle, which is broken down slightly every time you train (it is the adaptation to this stress which, over time, makes you a stronger runner). Protein also helps you feel full so if you’re watching your weight, it’s a must-have in every meal.

Red meat is also a great source of iron, which is particularly important for women of menstruating age, who are more likely to become anaemic. Low iron can result in fatigue, so it’s especially important to stay topped up if you’re training for an event. A good steak will also keep you topped up with B-vitamins and zinc, which support nerve function and immunity – again, this becomes even more useful when you’re training hard. In health terms, the biggest downside of red meat is that studies have linked regular consumption with certain types of cancer, in particular bowel and rectal cancer. Then there’s the ethical side of things: many women choose to avoid meat altogether due to animal rights concerns and worries about the environment.

If you choose to eat red meat, go for good quality, lean options and buy local if you can. You can make best use of it by limiting it to once a week, perhaps after your longest run or hardest workout. You can get plenty of good quality proteins in other ways though: using oily fish or, if you’re a veggie, combining different grains and pulses and eating plenty of eggs and dairy produce.

Women's Running Magazine

NMA’s 2020 Lifestyle Magazine of the Year, Women’s Running provides expert advice on gear and training, motivation from your favourite runners and the latest running news.

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