Finding Balance Between Our Diets & Workouts


I receive a lot of emails asking how to find balance between our diets and our workouts. If you ask me (which many of you have), it’s an ever evolving quest for finding that balance. Although on some level it’s simple – eat to fuel your appetite – it’s not always that simple.

There’s no one size fits all dietary lifestyle and even for each individual, what works one week may not work the other. It’s important to realize that our bodies require different nutrition at different times which means we must be open to change in our diets and be adaptable.

Today is the first day in what will likely be a two or three-part series of finding balance between our diets and workouts.

My goal is to provide us with the information necessary to further understand just how much we actually need to eat and how to figure out the right balance for our bodies.

I want to help us get away from restrictive mindsets while finding pride in the foods that help fuel our muscles to keep us healthy and happy.

I have enlisted Laura’s help in covering these topics. While she is not a doctor or registered dietitian, she is so insightful, a certified running coach and has a really special way of explaining things so that we can understand.

Finding Balance Between our DIets & Workouts

On average, how many calories does a female runner/female who is active need on a daily basis?

The answer is probably more than you think! Since caloric requirements vary on height, weight, training, and individual metabolism, I can’t provide an outright answer. A calorie is not always a calorie: you could eat 1,500 calories a day of crappy food or 2,500 calories a day of whole foods and weigh the same, although you would see a difference in your athletic performance.

As a running coach, what I recommend to my athletes is that they calculate how many carbohydrates they need. There are very straight-forward formulas to help them determine this. Female runners need at minimum 2 grams of carbohydrate per pound of body weight per day; if you run for an hour, you need 3-4 grams; runners logging 2 or more hours of running require 4-5 grams of carbohydrate.

So let’s take a hypothetical female runner who trains for an hour a day and weighs 130 pounds. She needs 390-520 grams of carbohydrates a day; at 4 calories per gram of carbohydrates, that’s 1560-2080 calories from carbohydrates alone.

You of course need to also eat a healthy amount of protein to repair your muscles and fat to promote overall health.

While you should consult a RD for an exact number, this formula will help most female runners assess whether or not they are eating enough calories and enough of the right foods.

Editor’s note–> I am not an habitual calorie counter. However, there are times when you may need to check in with what you are eating to not only see if you are getting enough calories but the right breakdown of nutrients. I do recommend My Fitness Pal to help you get a look at your diet but if you are sensitive to calorie counting and restriction, do not use it as an everyday tool!

What are some approaches to making sure we fuel ourselves correctly?

I personally advocate intuitive eating with an emphasis on whole foods. Eat how much you want when you are hungry; by listening to your body’s signals such as hunger and fullness, you will know when you need to eat. Quality of diet matters significantly for everyone, especially athletes, so I recommend finding a healthy eating approach that works for you and helps you feel your best.

I never recommend restriction to athletes. If you are restricting your food intake and feeling hungry often, you are likely not fueling yourself correctly. If you eat high quality foods for a majority of your diet and eat until you are satisfied, you will easily maintain a healthy weight and see your body composition improve during training.

Editor’s note—> If I find myself snacking too much at night on chocolate chips, I know I am not eating enough during the day. Maybe my mileage increased, maybe my needs are changing. I make it a point to pay attention to this when it happens and eat more at my meals, not restrict anything just because I overindulged on chocolate – I overindulged for a reason and that reason is usually because I didn’t eat enough!

Which foods are best for runners and easily incorporated into meals?

This will vary based on dietary preferences, but fruits, vegetables (especially starchy vegetables), legumes, nuts, seeds, lean meats, eggs, and whole grains are the best foods for runners. This doesn’t mean you should restrict other foods; rather, these foods should constitute most of your diet to fuel your running and help you maintain a healthy weight.

I recommend that runners focus on complex carbohydrates for most of their daily carbohydrate requirements. Brown rice, oats, quinoa, whole grain bread, white and sweet potatoes, vegetables, and fruit all provide excellent sources of carbohydrates. Unlike refined flours and simple sugars, complex carbohydrates do not spike the body’s insulin levels (which can lead to weight gain and affect sports performance) while also providing more vitamins and minerals as well.

Healthy fats are essential for female runners, especially when it comes to your reproductive health. Omega-3 fatty acids also help reduce inflammation and speed the recovery process, meaning that you can train better. Great sources of fat include nut butters, chia seeds, flax seeds, avocado, nuts, and healthy oils (coconut, olive, grapeseed, etc).

I also recommend that all women include iron-rich foods in their diet. Women naturally lose iron during their periods, but endurance athletes lose iron through foot-strike hemolysis (when iron is lost through the repeated impact of your feet to the ground) and through the recovery cycle (the protein hepcidin, which plays a vital role in muscular recovery, blocks iron absorption). Iron supplements can be tricky to take safely, so instead you want to consume iron from foods such as black beans, lean red meat, blackstrap molasses, raisins, and lentils.

Editor’s note–> I am very careful about iron. I have definitely noticed a difference in my energy levels by making sure I eat a lot of spinach, lentils and quinoa, especially around my period. I will also say that sometimes I have experienced fatigue which turned out to be a need for more protein. Once I added in some extra protein in the form of eggs, I immediately felt better.

Never underestimate the power of food! Just a little bit extra of the right stuff goes a long way.

Stay tuned for part two next week! Thanks Laura for helping us 🙂

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Do you have any questions specific to this topic that you want us to address?

Is there a specific food you tend to crave more often that is your signal that you aren’t eating enough?

Are you a night-time snacker?







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  1. says

    I do usually have a nighttime snack, but not necessarily because I am hungry or craving sugar. I just feel like I need something to finish off the day. I like to incorporate some red meat into my diet when I am noticing that I’m feeling tired or sluggish.
    Rob and I were actually talking about how hard it would be for us to stop eating meat (we were talking about giving things up for lent) and I really don’t know how I would get enough protein because I am so picky with alot of foods. I know there are plenty of options but it would be a really tough transition!
    Lisa @ Running Out Of Wine recently posted…I Miss Outdoor Running…My Profile

    • says

      It’s funny – I really didn’t have an issue giving it up which was shocking since I survived on chicken or steak as my main lunches and dinners for my whole life! And then I just gave it up and never craved it again (maybe one or two steak cravings in 4 years). It’s weird I guess but worked for me. It can be hard to get the same amount of protein in but lots of foods have it and sometimes we don’t need as much as we thought. But, you have to like beans, eggs, cheese, quinoa, lentils etc to get a variety going. It’s not for everyone!

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  2. says

    Back before Paleo I would be starving at night because I wasn’t getting enough during the day, especially fat I think. I find that when my mileage is high I crave more fat over carbs interestingly, possibly just to get calories in the quickest. I don’t feel like I need a ton of carbs – potatoes and fruit and plantains do it for me!
    Michele @ paleorunningmomma recently posted…Spinach Bacon Quiche with Caramelized Onions & Butternut Crust {Paleo}My Profile

  3. says

    Marathon training has, in so many ways, freed and healed me (as I’ve discussed on my blog). Now that I am doing quite a bit less exercise, I have had to adjust to different hunger cues, but with the recent increase in cardio, I am starting to get the hunger back, for real! So I am listening!
    Susie @ SuzLyfe recently posted…Running by Feel vs Running by PaceMy Profile

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  4. says

    This is great! Looking forward to future posts!

    I have such a big sweet tooth and pretty sure I have sugar consistently flowing through my blood stream. Sometimes (not often), I find myself saying no to sour patch kids and that’s when I know my body is demanding some solid protein. I’d love to be better about eating a more balanced diet!
    Arthi recently posted…Monday Night Confessions – Part 45.My Profile

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  5. says

    I’m so excited about this series! I’m definitely more of a nighttime snacker if I didn’t eat enough during the day. When I was training for my first half marathon, I kept trying to limit my carbs for fear of weight gain, which was a horrible decision. I was so tired and hungry all the time. I find I crave sugar more in the evenings but am usually good about limiting it to a piece of two of good quality dark chocolate. recently posted…Weekend Wrap-Up+T.P. EnlightenmentMy Profile

  6. says

    It’s funny, my elimination has caused me to take a really good look at how I can ensure I am eating enough of the right foods because I’ve been ravenous for much of it. I realized that even though I’m well past my history of restrictive eating, I still tend to try subconsciously to “save” 1/3-1/2 my calories for dinner, when really I need the most food in the morning and midday. I eat a large breakfast/lunch/snacks, but if I am truly in tune with my body, it needs to be around 3/4 of my total intake during the day, because that’s just my natural rhythm. All the spoonfuls of peanut butter and sunflower butter in the world won’t stop that!
    Alyssa @ renaissancerunnergirl recently posted…Weekly Workouts and Updates 1/24-1/31My Profile

  7. says

    Salt salt salt. I crave it a LOT because of all the running I do, as I’m a really sweaty person when I run especially when I’m on the treadmill a lot. I’ll sweat so much on the treadmill that my shirt and shorts get SOAKED. It’s gross. So ya, I have to drink a lot of water to replace all of that, with some salty snacks too. 🙂
    Suzy recently posted…Week in Review: Beep BeepsMy Profile

  8. says

    Love it love it love it. I don’t track what I eat or even pay attention anymore because I consider myself pretty intuitive. I do like the idea that if you find yourself eating too much chocolate at night it’s because you need more food during the day. I’ve worked hard at adding more food into my diet lately and when I do, I notice a drastic change in my sugar cravings. That’s how I know I’m finally eating balanced. While saving tons of room for the cakes and ice cream of course 😉
    Sarah @pickyrunner recently posted…Hawaii Part 2My Profile

  9. says

    Good topic and looking forward to reading more 🙂 I’m definitely a night-time snacker and nearly always have something sweet as a treat to the end of the day. Probably more a habit than anything else!
    Fiona recently posted…That Friday FeelingMy Profile

  10. says

    I am a night time snacker out of boredom and I “save” room in my daily eats to account for this. I am attempting to rework my diet these days – part vanity to lean out a little more and part geared to optimal running performance. My carb intake has been pretty low barely above 200g (and at 160 apparently that is on the too low end by the calculations above!). I’ve been adding in more sweet potatoes but need some grains in there as well. Great post!
    Gianna @ Run, Lift, Repeat recently posted…Half Marathon Training 1/18/16 – 1/31/16My Profile

  11. says

    I’m definitely a night time snacker – more out of habit and food want rather than me just being hungry. I hate the idea of going to bed hungry and waking up though, so I prefer to just avoid that. My diet is pretty carb heavy, moreso during training.

    • says

      I ate a ton of eggs when I was pregnant because they told me they were brain food for the baby so I listened! The good thing about when I was pregnant and ravenous all the time is that I lost my sweet tooth. I actually filled up on real food all day long.


  1. […] writing without settling for low pay, content mills, and compromising of your style and integrity. Finding Balance Between Our Diets and Workouts: Meredith and I did a Q&A on her blog (first in a series) on what runners, especially female […]