There’s a lot of confusion around food for runners and what the heck to eat when your workout of choice involves lengthy long runs. Does being a runner mean having spaghetti every night? (Gotta carb-load, right?) Is coffee before a run a good idea? And where does protein come in? It’s questions like these that registered dietitian and Cook, Eat, Run author Charlie Watson, RD is used to answering on a regular basis.
Watson works with clients who have all sorts of healthy eating Qs, but she loves to help runners figure out what to eat. “My main philosophy is to eat real food,” Watson says. She’s all about eating whole grains, nuts, fruit, and vegetables to get the nutrients she needs—many of which are shelf-stable and easy to stock up on for meal prep.
Charlie likes to do her runs in the morning, before work. “I work in a busy hospital as a dietitian where I’m on my feet most of the day, so I’m usually too tired to run in the evenings,” she says. “I get up at 5 a.m., run for about an hour or so, then do strength workouts in the evening twice per week.” Here, she shares what a day of eating looks like for her on an average day. Her meals aren’t meant to be thought of as a “diet plan”—you may have different nutritional needs than she does—but it’s a fun, voyeuristic look at what mealtime looks like for her.
“I like to have a milky coffee straight after my run in the morning, which I sip on while I’m getting ready for work,” Watson says. But it’s not the only drink she downs before breakfast; she rehydrates with lots of water, too. “I’m terrible about drinking water during the day, so I make sure I start off by having at least 16 ounces,” she says.
Once she’s dressed and ready for the day, Watson says she makes herself a bowl of overnight oats for breakfast, which she likes to top off with almond milk, berries, nuts, and seeds. She’ll have a second cup of coffee while she eats, and then she’s out the door and off to work.
Watson says that for her, a typical lunch is cooked whole grains (such as farro, quinoa, or pearl barley) mixed with roasted veggies, hummus or feta cheese, and pomegranate seeds. She says that her mornings are typically so busy that she doesn’t have time for a mid-morning snack, so having a hearty lunch is a must for her to keep her energy levels up.
“In the mid-afternoon, I’ll have a piece of fruit for a snack,” Watson says. Then, she says she has another snack a few hours later, around 4 p.m. “I’ll enjoy a cup of tea with something chocolate-y. I love dark chocolate peanut butter cups,” she says.
Watson eats dinner at home with her husband and they like to make something homemade. “Typically, we’ll have something like curry, stew, or stir-fry during the winter months. If it’s in the summer, we’ll often have barbecue,” she says.
During the week, Watson says she doesn’t typically have dessert—just a cup of tea and then she heads to bed. But on the weekends, she’s all for it. “I’ll have ice cream with fruit,” she says of her favorite weekend dessert. “When it comes to my diet, nothing is off-limits. I like to go for the real deal rather than a low-cal, low-fat version,” she says. “I find that more satisfying.”
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