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Food Runners Should Avoid: 15 Foods That Are Bad For Runners

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When it comes to running, diet plays a significant role in performance. If you are strict about what you eat and maintain a healthy diet, your body will be performing at optimum levels, thereby ensuring better performance. 


All athletes look for ways to excel in their sport. When it comes to running, one of the most important things that you can do is to take into account your diet. Unhealthy eating habits could cause havoc on performance. They can cause fatigue and tiredness and even cause cramps which is disastrous for athletic performance. 


When it comes to runners, there are certain foods that you should look to actively avoid. Avoiding these elements from your diet will ensure greater success during training and a stronger performance during an event. 


Regardless of whether you are a sprinter or a long-distance runner, these foods that you should avoid apply to all runners, regardless of the length of the run. Avoiding these foods should be the best place to start when looking to optimise performance. 


As an added bonus, we discuss the ideal diet for a runner, so you have a better idea of what food to include further to what should be avoided. We will also discuss the ideal pre-run meal for you to consume before a run or on the day of the event that will give you a competitive edge by providing your body with the necessary fuel. Hence, keep reading this word to word as we uncover the foods that runners should be looking to avoid. 


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15 Foods That Are Bad for Runners

As mentioned, there are certain foods that runners should look to steer clear of. These foods will do more damage than good and will hamper athletic performance. Hence, for those who are looking to gain a competitive edge over opponents, it is important that you avoid these foods.


Hence, without further adieu, let’s dive into the list of 15 foods that are considered bad for runners. 


1. Processed Red Meat

Though red meat can provide the body with a good amount of protein to aid with muscle growth and recovery, processed red meats are considered really bad for runners. 


Consuming a lot of processed red meat could lead to an increased risk of colon cancer. To iterate, examples of processed red meat include sausages, bacon, cured and smoked meat, ham and hot processed red meat. Though it isn’t entirely clear exactly what component of the processed red meat increases the chances of colon cancer, the nitrates that are formed during the cooking methods are more likely to blame. 


If you are a big fan of red meat, you should make it a point to enjoy it in moderation. Remember, when it comes to running, you should look to consume everything in moderation. 


Though red meat can be a great addition to the diet of a runner and contains heaps of essential vitamins and protein, processed red meat should be avoided when possible. The more you consume processed red meat, the greater it will impact your health negatively, thereby hampering performance. 


2. White Chocolate

Don’t get us wrong, cocoa has plenty of antioxidants that help fight free radicals in the body. That being the case, though dark chocolate contains cocoa, white chocolate has little to no cocoa in it. This means they don’t have the same nutritional value as dark chocolate. 


All types of chocolate are high in sugar and best avoided. However, white chocolate in particular has way too many calories for it to be a healthy choice for runners. It contains sugar and fat which could lead to insulin spikes and even fatigue. 


White chocolate simply has more of the bad stuff in comparison to dark chocolate. Hence, if you are looking to indulge as a runner, it is best to avoid white chocolate and opt for darker chocolate with more cocoa. 


Darker chocolate contains more minerals and fibre in comparison to white chocolate which can be linked to better health. In comparison to this, white chocolate will only give you a sugar rush, leading to an eventual lack of energy.


Remember, white chocolate drinks are just as bad as eating white chocolate, hence be sure to avoid drinks with white chocolate too. Consuming it will only hamper your performance negatively and lead you to feel tired and lazy during your run. 


3. White Grains

Though white bread, rice and pasta are fine for runners in moderation, it isn’t the ideal source of nutrients. White grains do not contain the same level of nutrients and fibre since they have been stripped of wheat germ. 


Thus, eating white grains which are considered highly processed food, will lead to raised insulin levels which can cause a lack of energy when the insulin levels dip. It can also lead to unhealthy sugar cravings. 


Though carbohydrates are important for runners, there are healthier sources of carbohydrates that you can choose from. Choosing white grains may result in weight gain, which will prevent you from maintaining a lean body weight, which is necessary for optimum performance. Remember, the more fat you have, the harder it will be for you to perform at optimum levels. 


Opting for whole grains as opposed to white grains will provide as a better carbohydrate source, which will provide your body with ample nutrients for lasting energy. They work as a better energy source that is clean, which will help you maintain better energy levels during your run. 


Thus, when considering a carbohydrate source, it is best to avoid white grains and opt for whole grains instead, which are considered the better nutrient source.


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4. Sugary Cereal

Though cereal is a common breakfast meal for many, opting for those that contain high levels of sugar would have negative effects on the health of a runner. 


These colourful cereals are often tempting for many, with many people enjoying a bowlful of their favourite cereal every day. That being the case, it is not the ideal breakfast for runners and will cause insulin spikes due to the high sugar content. This will basically signal your body to store more nutrients as fat and could lead to unhealthy weight gain. 


If you are opting for cereal as a morning treat, ensure to pick something that has 10 grams of sugar or less per serving. They should also ideally contain three grams or more of fibre which will help with digestion. 


Better yet, if you are looking for a good breakfast choice that is easy to prepare, oats provide a healthy alternative to cereals for runners and provide a nutrient fix that is sure to propel performance. That being the case, oats are too high in fibre to be included in a pre-run meal and should be avoided unless you provide ample time after consumption for digestion.


5. High-Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)

High-fructose corn syrup is abundantly found in many commercially baked goods. They are also found in high quantities in soda. Surprisingly, you may even find HFCS in certain tomato sauces and salad dressings. 


High-fructose corn syrup is known to add unnecessary calories to your diet. What’s more, they are known to cause insulin spikes, which will lead to the inability to maintain good energy levels. When a spike in insulin level occurs, it will cause the excessive secretion of insulin thereby enabling the lowering of blood glucose; resulting in lower energy. Hence, though you can get an energy fix from eating food that contains HFCS, the energy won’t be sustained and will lead to tiredness. 


It can also cause an increase in sugar cravings due to the lowering of blood glucose. Overall, HFCS can cause unnecessary weight gain, which will hamper muscle performance. It is a good idea for all runners to avoid food that contains HFCS and opt for healthier alternatives when they have a craving for sugar; such as fruit. 


6. Caffeine

Though low to moderate doses of caffeine can be good for runners, high levels of caffeine can cause dehydration. This is why it isn’t recommended that you drink caffeine before a run. 


The dehydrating nature of caffeine can cause a host of issues in runners, including tiredness, exhaustion and fatigue. 


Though low to moderate levels of caffeine is considered fine, it is best to avoid caffeine and caffeinated beverages to ensure that your body is running on clean energy. 


The trouble with caffeine is that it provides the body with a quick fix of energy that is hard to sustain. The energy that is derived from caffeine is fast-acting and will lead to a lack of energy, therefore a lack of motivation during intensive exercise. 


Caffeinated beverages can be hard on your stomach, especially if consumed before a run. Hence, as a word of advice, if you do consume caffeinated beverages, look to maintain low to moderate levels of consumption and be informed that it could cause energy lapses during training. 


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7. Fried Food

Though we all love some fried food and find them tasty as can be, it should most certainly be avoided during training and before the next workout. This is because fried food is dense in calories and will take a long time for your body to digest. 


Due to the fact that they take longer to digest, they work really badly as a pre-workout meal. If consumed before training or exercise, it could cause gastrointestinal distress and bring with the many issues caused by indigestion, all of which can hamper performance. 


It can cause bloating, which would be disastrous during an event and are usually high in fat. Fat isn’t the best energy source for runners. It is best to opt for easy to digest carbohydrates instead. 


Fried food, even when consumed after training can lead to unnecessary weight gain. They contain unhealthy calories and are usually high in fat, which will lead to deteriorated health. They are not good for your cardiovascular health and will not help you maintain your body at optimum levels. 


Remember, when it comes to fine-tuning your body for performance through diet, fresh and whole foods go a long way in providing your body with quality nutrients. 


8. Alcohol

This is obvious for many runners. You simply cannot look to consume large quantities of alcohol and look to excel. Though you don’t have to completely eliminate alcohol, you don’t want to overdo it. You want to ensure strict moderation and limit your consumption as much as possible. 


Alcohol has the tendency to dehydrate the body, which drastically lowers performance levels. They can hamper reaction time, which is important for many athletes.


When looking to have a drink, you may be better off choosing something like beer, which has a higher water content than hard alcohol. 


Though you can enjoy an occasional drink, it isn’t advisable to drink during training or even on the night before an event. You would have more to gain by consuming high-quality carbohydrates on the pre-race day as opposed to drinking beer. 


9. Trans Fats and Saturated Fats

LDL levels, which are also known as bad cholesterol are an important aspect of cardiovascular health. The higher your LDL levels, the greater risk your heart will be in. 


Runners should look to consume food that is high in HDL, which is known as good cholesterol. HDL works to fight the actions of LDL in the body, thereby maintaining healthy levels of cholesterol. 


Trans fats and saturated fats contain hydrogenated oils, which can raise LDL levels. This can lead to unhealthy cholesterol levels which will resultantly raise your blood pressure. High cholesterol levels will hamper blood flow in the body and will thereby decrease the efficiency of oxygen delivery to muscles. Hence, it is best to avoid foods that raise LDL levels, such as those containing trans fats and saturated fats. 


A healthy alternative would be foods that contain high levels of HDL, such as nuts, seeds, olive oil, seafood and avocados. These foods will help you maintain healthy cholesterol levels, thereby maintaining your body at optimum levels for better performance. 


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10. Full-Fat Dairy

Full-fat dairy is loaded with calories and extra fat. Full-fat dairy is only of use to runners who are looking to gain weight. Unless you are looking to actively gain weight to improve performance, it is best to avoid full-fat dairy. 


The type of full-fat dairy that you choose to eat also impacts the levels of performance that you will see. Ice cream for example is a full-fat dairy that is loaded with sugar. Eating ice cream will not only increase fat levels in your body but will also cause insulin spikes. 


Full-fat yoghurt on the other hand is equally high in full-fat, however, doesn’t contain the same levels of sugar. Therefore, it becomes the healthier full-fat option. 


That being the case, high levels of fat can cause you to suffer from high cholesterol. This could lead to cardiovascular issues over time. Hence, unless you are looking to gain weight as a runner, you should look to avoid full-fat dairy. 


11. Sugary Food

Sugar cravings during a race are more common than you think. Athletes are no different to us and have the same cravings that we normal people have. They crave sugar, such as candy and cookies. 


That being the case, candy and cookies or any sugary food for that instance would never be healthy, regardless of how much intensive exercise you do. However, you can enjoy them in moderation, thereby decreasing the harm that they could cause. 


The problem with sugary foods such as doughnuts, cakes, cookies and candy is that it causes blood glucose spikes which result in insulin spikes. This will cause energy dips over time and the lowered ability to maintain healthy blood glucose levels. In certain cases, it could lead to you suffering from diabetes. 


Chocolates probably are a popular favourite among runners who often look to indulge after a race. Though small indulgences in moderation after a race are considered okay, eating processed sugary food before a race could have disastrous effects on performance. 


Eating sugar before a race will provide you with a quick boost of energy which will deplete with time. This will lead you to find yourself starved of energy halfway through the race, leading to a greater chance of fatigue and tiredness from hampering performance. 


Enjoying a small amount of sugary food after a race is fine. However, when combined with training or on the day before the race, sugary foods could have a negative impact on performance, hence should be avoided. 


12. Soda

Soda is high in sugar, which makes it a big no-no for runners. It will cause spikes in blood glucose levels which will result in insulin spikes. The energy that you get from soda isn’t long-lived. It is a short burst of energy that soon depletes to leave you feeling drained and tired. This can be horrible for any runner who is looking to maintain good energy levels during a run. 


Diet soda contains artificial sweeteners instead of sugar. Though diet soda doesn’t contain sugar, it contains many unhealthy artificial sweeteners which makes them equally unhealthy for runners. They contain sweeteners like acesulfame-k, cyclamate and aspartame which is known for causing kidney problems.


The artificial sweeteners in diet soda could lead to dehydration and even sugar cravings. Though they contain fewer calories, they could lead to overall weight gain. 


The negatives of soda and diet soda are many. Under no circumstances are they recommended for runners and will not do anything to boost performance in any way. 


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13. Energy Drinks

Though energy drinks provide the runner with a quick boost of energy, they do more damage than good. Isotonic sports drinks are varied from energy drinks. While energy drinks provide your body with a given boost of energy, isotonic sports drinks work to replace the fluids and nutrients that are lost during exercise.


Isotonic drinks are considered the better option when compared to energy drinks. Energy drinks work to hamper your performance by increasing your heart rate. They also contain loads of added sugar which could cause insulin spikes. They work to prevent optimum blood flow in the body thereby hampering oxygen delivery to muscles. 


Even a single can of an energy drink could hamper your heart health and place you at risk of heart damage. Hence it is best to stick to real istonic sports drinks and avoid energy drinks at all costs. 


14. Food High in Fibre (Before a Run)

Though fibre is an important aspect of diet for everyone, including runners, fibre consumed before a run could have negative effects. 


This is because food that is high in fibre when consumed before a run could cause digestive issues such as gas and may cause problems such as abdominal pain and bloating. This is not something that you want during a run or even during training. 


High fibre foods are great after a run and can actually provide you with various benefits. The trick is knowing that you shouldn’t consume high fibre foods before a run. 


Consuming high fibre foods after a run could actually work to lower cholesterol levels, help maintain bowel health and work to control blood sugar levels. However, when consumed before a run, it can cause digestive distress during the run.


15. Energy Bars

Energy bars can cause nutrient deficiency. This is because, when you consume energy bars, you tend to get more protein than your body requires. Though energy bars are a good source of protein, it doesn’t replace a healthy source of carbohydrates such as whole grains. 


When you rely heavily on energy bars, you tend to become satisfied with the protein content of the energy bar, leading to lower consumption of other foods, which can lead to nutrient deficiencies. 


Carbohydrates are an essential source of energy for runners. Skipping carbohydrates by consuming high levels of protein will lead to you feeling sluggish, which will resultantly bring about fatigue and tiredness, which will all hamper performance. 


Though energy bars can be a good source of protein, you should ensure to eat it in moderation and not allow it to replace essential nutrients in the diet. It isn’t a necessary component of a healthy diet for runners and should be avoided altogether if possible. 


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Food Runners Should Avoid Before a Run

When it comes to food before a run, certain foods are for certain a big no-no. As you may have already realised, though high fibre foods are generally considered healthy for you, they are not suitable when you consider consumption before a run. 


The same goes for food that is high in fat and protein. Too much fat and protein consumed too close to a run can cause cramping or even tiredness. This is because both fat and protein is hard to digest and takes a substantial amount of time to properly digest in the body. This means, your body would be spending useful energy, digesting food during a run. 


As mentioned, high fibre food can cause gastrointestinal distress and can lead to cramping which will stop you in your tracks during a run. Much like fats and proteins, high fibre foods are hard to fully digest, which will result in indigestion during the run. 


When it comes to caffeine, though caffeine made our list of foods to avoid, some runners actually swear by caffeine boosts. However, we added it to the list because caffeine in large quantities is not healthy. They can cause increased heart rate, stomachaches and the need to frequently urinate. All these elements could negatively impact health and of course athletic performance. 


When it comes to food to avoid, you should look to stay away from high fibre fruits such as apples and pears. Legumes are too high in fibre and should be avoided before a run. Vegetables high in fibre including broccoli and artichokes should too be avoided before a run. Cheese, red meat, bacon and other high fat and protein food should too be avoided.


Spicy food, in general, can cause digestive issues and should too be avoided. Lastly, too much caffeine could too have a negative effect on performance. Stick to low to moderate levels of caffeine before a run and avoid when possible. 


Trans fats, saturated fats, full-fat dairy and fried food should all be avoided before a run. This is because these foods are hard for your body to digest and will cause digestive distress if consumed too close to a run. 


You want to eat a healthy, balanced meal before a run and ideally something that is easy to digest. Keep reading this word to word, we will highlight what you should typically eat before a run to excel performance as a runner. 


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Food Runners Should Avoid After a Run

Dehydrating food should be avoided after a run. This is because, after a run, your body requires water and good amounts of it. Hence, you should never consume alcohol right after a run and should award yourself a good recovery period before consuming alcohol. 


Apart from alcohol, you should also look to avoid white grains as a carbohydrate source after a run and should look to eat whole grains instead. White grains can cause insulin spikes and often have a lower nutrient value than compared to whole grains. Hence, it is best to avoid white grains after a run. 


Do not drink energy drinks to boost energy levels after a run. You would want to consider more natural means to regulate energy levels. The consumption of energy drinks after a run will cause a boost of energy which will negatively impact health as opposed to help you recover. Instead, you can opt for a clean smoothie or a good isotonic sports drink. 


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Ideal Runners Diet for Optimum Performance

Runners need a good source of carbohydrates to provide as fuel and an energy source. Fats and protein do not provide them with sufficient energy and hence, a diet rich in quality carbohydrates should be key. 


When considering carbohydrates, look for whole-grain foods such as pasta, rice and bread and make this the staple in your meals. 


Apart from the carbohydrates, you also want a healthy protein source that will help you maintain healthy muscle mass. Beef and fish are considered the two best sources of protein that will provide your body with the nutrients that are necessary to repair muscles, build and grow them. 


Fruits like bananas that are high in potassium should ideally be a part of the diet. Runners tend to lose a lot of potassium through sweat and potassium is important to maintain healthy blood pressure levels. Eating bananas are a great way to replenish potassium reserves. Other fruits such as pears, cantaloupe and watermelon can too provide excellent benefits for runners. (Here is a list of the best fruits for runners.)


Though you want to steer clear of high fibre vegetables like broccoli before a run, after a run, high fibre vegetables would be great for your digestive health and will provide your body with a good nutrient fix. Vegetables are an important part of the diet for runners and should look to include as many vegetables as possible to prevent nutrient deficiencies from hampering performance. 


Lastly, you want to include dairy, such as milk and plain yoghurt into your diet. Again, this is not suitable to include in your pre-run meal, however, is an important aspect of performance when considering a runner’s diet. A good amount of dairy will provide for stronger bones, which will lead to better performance and lower chances of injury.


Runners should look to consume a diet rich in carbohydrates. Further to this, they need a healthy dose of fruits, vegetables, protein, fat and dairy to ensure a well rounded balanced diet.


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What Should a Runner Eat Before a Run

Runners require an easy to digest carbohydrate source to provide as fuel and energy for the run. Wholewheat bread is considered great and will provide the body with a good amount of fuel. Spreading some peanut butter on the bread will provide added nutritional value. 


You would also benefit from including fruits in your pre-run meal. Fruits are loaded with essential vitamins and minerals and are easy to digest, making them a great source of energy. Fruit juices alike add extra weight and value to the meal.


When considering ‘carb-loading’ you should strive to include whole grain rice and pasta along with lean meat, starchy vegetables and fruits into meals, three days leading up to race day. This will provide your body with a good energy fix to maintain healthy levels of momentum that you should be striving for during the race. 


As for hydration, you should look to consume between 500 to 700 ml of fluid about three hours before a race to prevent dehydration during the run. Water, juice or sports drinks could all provide as great sources of hydration for optimum performance during the run. 


To Conclude

What you eat as a runner will decide the outcome of the run. Just as there are foods that will help you boost performance, there are foods that will hamper it. 


We hope after reading this word to word, you have a clear idea of the types of food that will work to negatively affect performance levels during a run. Remember, you should strive to eat nutrient-rich, clean foods that will provide you with clean energy that you would be able to sustain during the run. 


If you steer clear of the foods that we have listed here and take into consideration the recommendations we have made with regards to what you should eat, undoubtedly you should notice improvements in performance. 

We hope you enjoyed reading this word to word and it has helped you better understand the diet you should maintain for greater success as a runner. 


Happy Running!

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