Good Diet for a Track/Cross-Country Runner

Running burns hundreds of calories per hour.
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Track and cross-country runners burn an extraordinary number of calories during practice and competitions. Many runners don't get enough food to fuel the energy needed for the sport, according to Dan Benardot, author of "Advanced Sports Nutrition." Running requires a specialized diet that ensures adequate nutrient intake and energy supply. An eating plan designed for track and cross country can also improve performance.

Nutrient Ratio

A runner's diet should largely contain carbohydrates, combined with moderate amounts of protein and fat. Carbohydrates convert to glycogen, giving you energy to complete a training session or competition. Protein gives you energy as well, and also aids in muscle function and recovery. Fats are important for energy in the right amounts. North Cobb Cross Country recommends a daily calorie intake that is 55 to 60 percent carbohydrates, 20 to 25 percent protein and 20 percent fats.


Not all carbohydrates are created equal, making some better choices for track and cross-country runners. Fruits, vegetables and grains are good sources of complex carbohydrates, while soda, candy, cookies and cakes are examples of poor carbohydrate choices. Complex carbohydrates digest slowly, giving you long-lasting energy for running. Choose whole-wheat bread and pasta over processed versions, as whole wheat is higher in complex carbohydrates. Most fruits and vegetables are good options, but avoid high-fiber choices immediately before a run as they may cause digestive disturbances that slow you down and hinder performance.


For most people, excessive protein intake results in an increase of stored fat. For track and cross-country runners, who expend large amounts of energy each day, this extra protein offers fuel. To ensure that you're getting enough, include lean meats in your diet. Good options include lean beef, chicken breast and fish. Nuts, beans and dairy foods are additional options that increase your protein intake.


Too much fat plays a role in weight gain, which may affect your running schedule and performance. However, some fat is vital for energy on the track. Like carbohydrates, not all fat choices are good ones. Avoid fast food, commercial snacks and desserts, frozen entrees, and candy, which contain few to no nutrients and are high in calories, sugar and salt. Instead, opt for healthy fats, such as fish, olive oil, avocados and nuts.

Sample Meal Plan

Reading nutrition labels makes it easy to plan and prepare meals that contain the right mix of nutrients to fuel your running schedule. Breakfast might be whole-grain cereal with milk and fruit or whole-grain toast with eggs and fruit. Good lunch choices include whole-wheat pasta with tomato sauce and grilled chicken or a sandwich made with whole-wheat bread, lean meat, cheese and sliced vegetables. Dinner could be grilled salmon with brown rice and steamed broccoli or a burrito made with beans, lean ground beef, avocado, cheese and lettuce. Snack on nuts, yogurt, sliced fruits and vegetables and string cheese.

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