Track and Field Nutrition: What a College Athlete Eats

These tips for optimizing track and field nutrition will help you get the most out of each stride you take on easy and heavy training days alike.
track and field nutrition

Written by Trystan Thayer

For a student athlete, proper nutrition is key no matter the sport or training program. As a track and field athlete that specializes in distance events, consuming adequate energy throughout the day is of the utmost importance, as is consuming enough protein to promote recovery day in and day out. I strive to achieve these track and field nutrition goals to get the most out of each stride I take on easy days, heavy training days, race days, and everything in between.

During indoor and outdoor track season, optimizing nutrition has been essential to supporting two hard workouts, a race most weekends, and tough progression long runs on Sundays. I am reaching 75-100 miles a week depending on the training cycle. Just like easy days are important and necessary in between hard running sessions, fueling your body properly is as well. Consider it a part of your training! Read on for an example of how I’ve optimized my track and field nutrition for my two-a-day training days during outdoor track season as a long distance track athlete and as a future registered dietitian. 

Disclaimer:

This example is for informational purposes only and is not meant to be exactly replicated by other track athletes. Energy and protein needs can vary drastically athlete to athlete, with differences in schedules and preferences as well. 

This example day is based off of a normal Tuesday for me which consists of a hard track session, plyometric circuit and core routine in the morning in addition to a second, much shorter and easier run in the evening. Tuesdays usually add up to about 14-18 total miles between morning and evening sessions.

I have access to a kitchen where I prepare all of my food; however what I choose to eat, or variations of it, can be found in most university dining halls.

Track and Field Nutrition: Eating to Support Morning Training

6:30 AM Pre-Run Breakfast: Peanut butter banana toast (two pieces)

peanut butter and banana sandwich

After waking up at an energy deficit from a long night’s sleep and recovery, the best thing an athlete can do before a morning training session is eat. The goal is to replenish what was lost before further depleting energy stores with rigorous training sessions. My go-to for this is peanut butter banana toast, and while a variety of options can offer a similar nutrient balance, I choose to eat it everyday. Not only is it one of my favorite foods to eat, but it provides many important nutrients and is easily digested. The banana and bread provide easily digestible carbohydrates that will help replenish lost carbohydrate stores and provide energy for what is to come. Additionally, healthy fats and protein in the peanut butter will contribute to satiety throughout morning workouts and the protein may help prevent muscle breakdown during my hard morning training sessions. In addition, peanut butter banana toast is very cost efficient and is simple enough to be prepared or found anywhere – even a dorm room!

8:00 AM Practice: 10-14 mile track workout, plyometric routine, core routine

10:15 AM Post-Run Snack: Unsalted peanuts, dark chocolate chips, raisins

When I get home from practice I spend about 15-20 minutes on body maintenance, getting in some stretching, foam rolling and everything in between. To avoid hunger and to jump start the recovery process for my body I like to keep an easily accessible snack on hand. That snack is usually a few handfuls of a homemade trail mix with unsalted peanuts, dark chocolate chips, and raisins. I find that since this snack offers carbs and protein, it keeps me going until I am able to make a nutrient dense, more energy sufficient breakfast. Not only is this snack cost efficient, but it is highly customizable with the ability to add in or substitute any type of nut, seed, or dried fruit I can get my hands on. Of note: peanuts and pistachios are a couple of the highest protein nuts, so opt for adequate doses of those in post-workout snacks. For more ideas on what to ingest during a training session, check out our performance snacking e-guide!

11:00 AM Post-Run Breakfast: Egg sandwich with spinach and muenster cheese on a whole grain English muffin, two clementines, and grits or oatmeal

track and field nutrition

The meal I look forward to most everyday is this one. Not only is breakfast my favorite meal of the day, but my body is in great need of nourishment following the stress of a morning track session and to prepare for my workout later. My favorite post workout breakfast consists of an egg and spinach sandwich on a whole grain English muffin with cheese, two clementines, and either a bowl of grits or oatmeal. If I make grits, I usually prepare it with a little bit of cheese and nutritional yeast. If I make oatmeal, I usually prepare it with a little bit of peanut butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, and apple. The whole grain English muffin and bowl of grits or oatmeal provides carbohydrates to replenish lost muscle energy stores while the eggs and cheese contribute high quality protein for muscle repair and growth. The whole grains and egg yolks in this meal also offer iron, a key nutrient for athletes. A bonus is that the clementines offer vitamin C, which can enhance absorption of iron in plant foods. Iron is important for oxygen delivery to muscles and fueling energy systems that help our muscles work. 

Track and Field Nutrition: Nutrition During School and Work Hours

11:30 AM – 6:00 PM: During this time frame I am usually working on school work at home or at my on campus job.

12:30 PM Snack: Carrots, crackers, and hummus

carrots and hummus

I find that hunger hits me within a couple hours of my post run meal especially on physically taxing workout days; however I am not quite ready to stop what I am doing to prepare a full lunch. To address hunger, continue to fuel my body and allow productivity to remain high, I have a small snack in between my post-run breakfast and lunch. A go-to of mine is carrots, crackers and hummus. It’s an easy way to supply carbs and get in a serving of veggies.  

1:30 PM Lunch: Quinoa edamame and a banana smoothie

I like to prep lunches for multiple days in advance. It keeps my day moving efficiently and assures I am consuming the nutrients I need when I don’t have a lot of time. Something I look to consistently is quinoa salad with whatever ingredients that are in my fridge. My favorite additions are spinach, edamame, corn, beets, bell peppers, and cucumber. The varied colors are visually pleasing, and they provide nutrients and antioxidants. Since eating protein throughout the day is important for muscle repair, the edamame and quinoa are a good combo to provide enough to support my training. 

I also like to add smoothies to my lunches. My favorite combo is frozen mango, a banana, chia seeds, and fortified almond milk. It offers another serving of fruit, carbohydrate and calcium, D and B12 from fortified milk. To increase protein content if you have higher needs, choose soy or dairy milk.

Track and Field Nutrition: Eating to Support Afternoon Training and Recovery

4:30 PM Pre-Run Snack: Peanut butter and jelly sandwich

I consider this time of the day to be very similar to when I wake up in the morning and need some fuel before I run. A few hours have passed since my last meal, and I need a pre-workout mini meal to fuel my evening run.. The classic peanut butter and jelly sandwich has carbohydrates to provide energy from the bread and jelly plus some fiber, healthy fat and protein so I don’t get hungry during my run. To mix it up from the morning, you could use a different type of bread and choose almond, cashew, or sunflower seed butter, too!

6:15 PM Evening Run: 4-7 miles easy

7:15 PM Dinner: Tacos, brown rice, chips and salsa

vegetarian tacos

What better day to make tacos than Tuesday? My favorite taco combination is black beans, sweet potato, cauliflower, peppers, red onion and spinach, topped with shredded cheese.This is another meal rich in iron and vitamin C.Since runners have such high carbohydrate needs, having both flour tortillas for the taco and a side of brown rice ensures I can restore muscle energy stores from throughout the day, especially the most recent run. I can also prepare extra for lunch or dinner the next day.

9:00 PM Snack: Cereal with fortified almond milk

When I am hungry after dinner my go-to snack is cereal. Since it’s so close to a protein-rich dinner for me, I usually eat it plain with fortified almond milk. If you’re more hungry or it’s been 3 hours since a meal, using a higher protein milk before bed is recommended and you can also add fresh or dried fruit and some nuts.

Take action!

Do you consider nutrition to be part of your training as a student athlete? Do you have questions about how you can maximize performance and recovery? Click here for more resources on maximizing how you fuel and how you feel for track and field or any other sport.

Trystan is a collegiate cross country and track and field athlete at Wayne State University, where he is completing the Coordinated Program in Dietetics. Following completion of the program he hopes to have the chance to work with athletes at every level to help them achieve their goals

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