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12 High Carb Lunches for Runners

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.

wooden background with strawberries, apple and water bottle post workout

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.

sweet potato nachos in blue serving bowl topped with avocado and sour cream | Bucket List Tummy

SImply eating salads are not enough for most runners, so these healthy lunch ideas for runners will provide 50+ grams of carbohydrates per recipe.

What Makes a Healthy Athlete Lunch?

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.

white plate with chicken, potatoes and vegetables

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.

RD2RD Hunger Ebook

Carbohydrates

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.

Athletes performance plate

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:

  • grains
  • pasta
  • bread
  • oats
  • granola
thrive market block

Protein

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.

Eggs, dairy, meat on table, as foods high in leucine
Fresh meat and dairy products.

Color (Fruits and Veggies)

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.

black plate with quinoa, grains, chicken and veggies

Fat

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.

cup of chocolate milk in glass

Fluids

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!

See more hydration tips for runners and how to make your own electrolyte drink.

Snacks

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.

overhead shot of trail mix bars on parchment paper and counter top

Lunch Ideas for Runners

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:

  • sandwich or burrito
  • grain bowl or salad
  • greek yogurt smoothie – some may be nutritionally sound, but oftentimes, will be low in carbohydrates. You can add a carbohydrate source on the side!
  • breakfast sandwich
  • sitrfry
  • pizza
  • soup

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.

whole wheat toast with peanut butter, yogurt and jelly as pre exercise snack

Best Lunch Before a Run

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.

Lunches for Runners

These lunch ideas for runners clock in with at least 50-60 grams of carbohydrate per serving to help fuel your endurance activity and improve recovery!

Let us know what your favorite easy lunch options are!

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