This post will share easy lunches for runners and high carb meals for athletes to help improve and stabilize energy, and prep or help aid in recovery from workouts and exercise.
We all tend to know about the benefits of breakfast (refer to this post about breakfast for athletes), and dinner is usually our largest meal, but what about lunch? Lunch can be short, skipped, or missing key nutrients as it’s typically our “busiest” time of day.
Lunch however has many benefits and is a very important mid-day meal for runners. For those who have run in the morning, lunch provides a subsequent meal to aid in the continual muscle recovery from exercise.
On the flip side, for those who will be running later in the day (or doing double workouts), lunch can help top off glycogen stores and provide sustained energy for the rest of the day.
SImply eating salads are not enough for most runners, so these healthy lunch ideas for runners will provide 50+ grams of carbohydrates per recipe.
A healthy, balanced athlete lunch will have all food groups present, with a large focus on carbohydrates and protein. The exact macro breakdown may depend on an individual athlete’s needs, as well as when their workout is.
Balance and variety are important in healthy lunches for runners because each macronutrient group has a purpose. Let’s review each group while making a healthy lunch plate.
When making lunch, the breakdown may vary depending on when and how long the planned exercise is for.
For example, did you work out in the morning or just before lunch? If so, a post-run lunch will focus around carbs and protein for recovery.
On the flip side, if you’re planning a pre-run lunch, the focus will be on mostly low-fiber carbohydrates, with minimal fat and protein. Eating high-fiber foods may contribute to runners gut symptoms and we don’t want to eat them before exercise. Saving those for after exercise would be more prudent.
Carbs should make up the basis of an athlete’s lunch plate. This is because carbs are the quickest and most available source of energy for exercise, and they have a purpose in loading up for exercise and helping aid in recovery as well. Learn more about carb loading here.
Carbohydrates generally make up between 45-60% of an athlete’s plate. Depending on the training level and intensity of an athlete, the carbohydrate recommendations may range from 3-5 grams of carbs per kg a day (low intensity or off season), to 6-8 g/kg/day (moderate), to even as high as 9-12 g/kg/day for those who are exercising for hours a day at a high intensity.
Using the athletes grocery list, you can make sure you have ample carbohydrate choices on hand to make lunch.
Some of my favorites (that I stock up on from Thrive Market) include:
Amino acids, the breakdown of proteins, are the building blocks of muscle. They are most important after exercise, as they aid in muscle growth and stopping muscle breakdown. Including branched-chain amino acids, especially leucine, can help with muscle growth and repair, decreasing muscle soreness and more.
Protein generally makes up between 10-35% of total calories. As discussed in this post on protein needs for athletes, total needs generally range from 1.4-2.0 grams per kg of body weight.
When possible, I’m always talking about iron for runners in our meetings too, as that is a nutrient of concern, especially among female athletes. When we can include meat or plant-based sources of iron in our meals, that is ideal.
Having some sort of color on your plate is how our body gets many of the micronutrients we need, from water soluble vitamins, such as Vitamin C, B Vitamins, and antioxidants. Antioxidant-rich foods can help manage inflammation that occurs from and during exercise, and help to maintain overall health.
Aim to have color at each meal, but as mentioned previously, you may want to limit it right before running or endurance exercise to minimize fiber and gut discomfort.
Fat isn’t a macronutrient we discuss in depth around exercise, but it does play an important role in the overall diet. Fat generally makes up about 20% of an athlete’s diet, and is helpful for reducing inflammation, improving skin and brain health, absorbing fat soluble vitamins, improving flavor and adding caloric density to an athlete’s higher needs diet.
Some longer distance athletes may become fat adapted. You can read more about the low carb diet for running here.
Fluids, like water, milk, juices and even sports drinks can play a role in an athlete’s diet and providing calories, carbohydrates and electrolytes.
Hydration will also contribute to more energy, longer endurance, lower perceived rate of exertion, lower heart rate and more. It’s only to your benefit to stay hydrated!
If you have large amounts of time between lunches and workouts, it’s helpful to consider adding in healthy snacks for runners, too. Snacks are pretty much necessities for athletes because they help bridge nutritional gaps.
They also provide great pre or post workout fueling and recovery options, and add more calories when it can be difficult to meet energy needs through just 3 meals a day.
While leftovers and a general sandwich can be fine on some days (definitely better than not eating at all), sometimes we want to expand upon the general healthy lunches for runners and make them more exciting.
Some common go to’s for packed lunches for runners include:
It’s still important that these lunches are nutritionally balanced, and high in carbohydrates, regardless if you’ve done a morning workout or plan on doing an afternoon one. Either way, the carbs will be beneficial, and are always among the best foods to eat after running.
Before a run, aim for an easy to digest lunch, such as a simple sandwich (without ample dressing, mayo or veggies), oatmeal, eggs and toast, or grains. You want to focus mainly on high carb, low fat meals.
Another option is to eat half of your lunch before your run, and save the other half for after. This can help minimize gut discomfort for those with sensitive stomachs.
Hopefully, the following easy lunch ideas for runners will be helpful, whether you’re looking for lunches for teenage athletes or adults, these recipes can be halved, increased, or modified as needed.
Let us know what your favorite easy lunch options are!