Meal Planning For Athletes

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Runners have different nutrition needs than the average person, just ask my snack-stache.   Making sure you’re armed with a well-balanced meal plan can help stave off fatigue, nutritional deficiencies or just that 3 p. m. crash.

A meal plan is your culinary roadmap for the week that does all your nutritional thinking in advance so that you’re not counting grams of protein at 8 p.m. on a Thursday night after a long week of training. Block out some time in your schedule early on in your week, preferably on a day where you can sit down, pick recipes and do shopping in one push. After you’ve considered the information in this article, write down what recipes you plan to eat when, and when you’ll do the shopping (you can use a meal planner like this one, or a normal notebook) and stick to it. Proper meal planning should take a lot of hassle out of mid-week decision making.

Maybe you feel like you don’t have the culinary skills, nutritional-know how or free time to plan healthy meals.  You don’t have to spend hours upon end cooking over a hot stove to eat a balanced diet that supports your training.  Going back to the basics and adding in some structure is a great place to start. Here’s how to get started building your own meal plan.

Plan Your Meals

Many of us are creatures of habit, and simplifying your meal choices will make your life a lot easier.  When you start building your plan, don’t’ go overboard picking out a long list of recipes. Give yourself limited choices.  It is often easier for people to follow something like a 2-2-2 plan (For example, two breakfast options, two lunches, and two snacks).  For dinners, consider how many options you really want to have, and never underestimate the power of leftovers!   Three recipes in rotation, plus some leftovers can be stretched to last an entire week, and leaves you plenty of room to swap things out depending on what sounds tasty in the moment.

Simplify your meals by choosing meals and snacks that are realistic for you.  If you are limited on time, don’t plan to cook something elaborate. Don’t try to execute the perfect souffle on a busy Monday, or attempt crepes for the first time when you’re trying to get ready for work in the morning.  Use a crockpot or Instant pot to make your life easier. If you are always on the go choose meals and snacks that are portable.

Consider a Runner’s Nutrition Needs

When planning your meals and snacks, it’s important to keep your specific nutritional needs as a runner in mind.

  • Increased Protein Needs: Protein needs tend to be 1.5-2 times higher than the general population.  Look at each meal and snack and ask yourself where your protein source is and if it is significant enough.  Familiarizing yourself with which foods contain protein and how much protein is in that amount of food can be a great way to ensure that you are getting enough.

How To: Try adding an egg to your breakfast or a hearty serving of black beans to your dinner to boost your protein.

  • Carb Up:  Don’t shy away from complex carbohydrates like whole grains, fruits, and starchy vegetables.  Even if you are on the low carb train, make sure you are getting enough complex carbs throughout your day to fuel your training and support recovery.

How To: Roast some extra root vegetables and add them to your lunch bowl or try some sweet potato toast for a breakfast or afternoon snack!

  • Eat the Rainbow:  Making sure you’re eating a hearty dose of fruits and veggies at every meal ensures that no, you do not need a multivitamin!

How To: Add a handful of spinach to your eggs or reach for a banana and peanut butter instead of crackers and cheese.

 Make a List

Creating a shopping list will help you save time and money at the grocery store.  When you’re picking out your meals for the week, look through your refrigerator and pantry, check off the items you have, so that you’re not scratching your head in the grocery store wondering if you have oat flour or not.


One Pan Chicken (Or Chickpea) Stir Fry

Serves: 4


  • 3 tbsps Tamari
  • 1 tbsp Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 1 tbsp Raw Honey
  • 1 tbsp Sesame Oil
  • 1 1/4 lbs Chicken Breast (sliced into cubes)
  • 1 Red Bell Pepper (de-seeded and sliced)
  • 1Yellow Bell Pepper (de-seeded and sliced)
  • 4 cups Broccoli (chopped into florets)
  • 2 cups Snap Peas
  • 3/4 cup Quinoa (dry)
  • 1 1/2 cups Water
  • 1 tbsp Sesame Seeds
  • Optional: Substitute 20oz chickpeas for chicken breast


#1) Preheat oven to 425ºF (218ºC) and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

#2) In a jar, combine the tamari, apple cider vinegar, honey and sesame oil. Shake well to combine and set aside.

#3) Add the chicken (or chickpeas), red bell pepper, yellow bell pepper, broccoli and snap peas in a large mixing bowl. Drizzle the sauce over the vegetables and chicken then toss to combine. Transfer to the baking sheet. Bake in the oven for 25 to 30 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through.

#4) Meanwhile, cook your quinoa. Combine the quinoa and water in a saucepot and place over high heat. Bring to a boil, then cover with a lid and reduce to a simmer. Let simmer for 12 to 15 minutes, or until all water is absorbed. Remove lid, fluff with a fork and set aside.

#5) Remove chicken (or chickpeas) and vegetables from the oven and divide into bowls with a side of quinoa. Garnish with sesame seeds. Drizzle with extra tamari or hot sauce if you like. Enjoy!

Do you have a question for our RDN? Send your trail-running-nutrition quandaries to

Kylee Van Horn is a licensed Sports Registered Dietitian and competitive trail runner.

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