What Foods Should Runners Eat to Increase Their Stamina?

Almost every runner can recall watching or participating in a competition where the lead runner loses in the final stretch of the race. The ability to continue with the physical and mental effort of a desired pace translates into a better chance of success during a run.  Therefore, most runners strive for this increased stamina. Through proper training and nutrition, runners can gradually increase their stamina. So, what foods should a runner eat to increase their stamina?

The most important nutrition rule to increase stamina is avoiding any restriction of calories, food groups or nutrients. Athletes will also want to ensure they meet micronutrient recommendations through eating a balanced diet of nutrient dense foods. These nutrient dense foods include whole grains, fruit, vegetables, lean meat/poultry, seafood. eggs, nuts, seeds, legumes (beans, lentils, soy) and unsweetened dairy products. 

Some of the best foods to support top stamina include oatmeal, quinoa, potatoes (all varieties), bananas, berries, beets, cruciferous vegetables (i.e. broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage), beans, nut butters, pumpkin seeds, eggs, fatty fish, and water. 

Continue reading to better understand how to use nutrition to support stamina and running performance goals. 

Why Is It Important to Eat Enough Calories as a Runner?

Scientists will often substitute the word calorie with energy. This common substitution makes sense as calories are basically the energy for the body. Subsequently, when runners fail to eat enough calories, they will not have enough energy to perform their best.

Under-eating will lead to early fatigue, a weakened immune system, increased injury and muscle loss. Runners should avoid dieting or restriction and eat to meet hunger needs. Those who feel like they may have developed disordered eating should reach out to a healthcare professional to avoid any further negative health consequences.

The following table provides general calorie guidelines for active teenagers:

SexAgeCalories Recommended for Activity Levels
Boys:132,600 calories per day
14-152,800-3,000 calories
16-183,200 calories
193,000 calories
Girls:132,200 calories
14-182,400 calories
192,400 calories

What Are the Best Foods to Increase Stamina?

An athlete will find that certain foods help them perform better and longer. The reason some foods benefit athletes more than others come from their stamina boosting characteristics. The best foods to increase stamina offer a variety of these components. 

Complex Carbohydrates

Most foods offer both complex and simple carbohydrates. However, choosing foods with a higher amount of complex, rather than simple carbohydrates provides longer lasting energy. Complex carbohydrates take longer to digest and prevent drastic spikes and drops in blood sugar. 

Simple carbohydrates alone may lead to an initial spike in energy, but the energy received quickly gives way to fatigue with the rapid drop in blood sugar. However, when an athlete combines fiber or protein with simple carbohydrates, this will also stabilize blood sugar responses.

Great stamina supporting foods will contain complex carbohydrates and/or a mix of protein and fiber. Here’s some examples:

  • Quinoa– a great source of complex carbohydrates, quality protein and fiber
  • Oatmeal– rich in fiber, nutrients and complex carbohydrates along with some protein.
  • Potatoes– the complex carbohydrates in potatoes break down faster than other sources, so an athlete should combine potatoes with protein or healthy fats. However, potatoes of all varieties (sweet, russet, red, etc.) are powerhouses of nutrients, offer energizing carbohydrates and satiation. They also contain high amounts of potassium, an important electrolyte.

Quality Protein

Protein foods are made up of tiny amino acids, which act as building blocks to the body. Consuming high-quality protein foods will help an athlete recover and maintain important body functions and tissue essential to running stamina.

Here’s some examples:

  • Lean meat/poultry– densely packed with all the essential amino acids the body needs. Also, a great source of iron and zinc.
  • Seafood– another great source of all essential amino acids and important nutrients for energy.
  • Eggs– Easy to digest, quick and protein dense, eggs offer an important source of protein, healthy fats and brain boosting nutrients to a runner.
  • Beans, nut butters and seeds– while not complete proteins, these foods provide amazing health benefits, along with protein. Eating a varied diet will allow a runner to consume all amino acids even if a particular protein source lacks certain ones.
  • Quinoa– surprisingly, this complex carbohydrate is also a complete protein with all essential amino acids.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids

A run creates a lot of stress on the body. This stress weakens the body when not addressed appropriately through rest and providing the body with the nutrients it needs. Omega 3 is an essential fatty acid that helps an athlete recover well with the its anti-inflammatory benefits. This nutrient also supports brain health, immunity, muscle recovery and heart health. A well recovered and healthy runner will have better mental and physical stamina for upcoming runs.

Foods high in omega 3:

  • Seafood
  • Walnuts
  • Flaxseed
  • Chia seeds

Anti-Oxidants and Phytochemicals

A strong body and mind lead to better running stamina. Antioxidants and phytochemicals are essential to overall well-being and good recovery as they fight inflammation, increase heart and brain health and help prevent chronic disease. Whole plant foods abound in these important substances and runners should include whole grains, fruit and vegetables as a part of their daily diet.

In particular, all the top foods recommended to increase stamina contain high amounts of these substances. 


Oatmeal, Quinoa, Potatoes (all varieties), Bananas, Berries, Beets, Cruciferous, vegetables, Beans, Peanut butter (or other nut butters), Pumpkin seeds, seafood and eggs

Nitric Oxide

Relatively new research highlights nitric oxide as a significant benefit to athletes. Basically, nitric oxide increases blood flow and oxygen delivery throughout the body to enhance an athlete’s ability to perform and endure. Nitric oxide may also lower perceived effort and improve energy production of mitochondria.

It is best to obtain nitric oxide from foods, not supplements due to poor regulation and inconsistent recommendations. Most studies focus on beets and beet juice. Other foods high in nitric oxide include dark leafy greens, some cruciferous vegetables and garlic. Dark chocolate contains flavonoids which may increase nitric oxide production.

Other Nutrients

The more nutrients a food provides, the better equipped a runner will be to meet the demands of running. Macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein and fat) provide energy and the building blocks to a strong body. Micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) assist in energy production and utilization, carrying oxygen in the blood and maintaining overall health. 

Deficiencies in any of these nutrients will affect athletic ability. Runners should avoid restriction as this practice increases likelihood of nutrient deficiencies. A runner should strive to include nutrient dense foods. Read the next section to find out more about important nutrients for increased stamina while running. 


Adequate hydration is one of the biggest contributors to a runner feeling energized during a run. With even a 2% dehydration resulting in a measurable decrease in performance, runners should not overlook drinking fluids. Of course, not all types of fluids have the same benefits.

Water remains the gold standard of hydration. Other great beverages include milk, unsweetened plant-based milk, herbal tea and moderate amounts of 100% juice. Fruits and vegetables also provide water as well as electrolytes important to hydration. 

Workouts lasting longer than an hour or with heavy sweating may necessitate a sports or other carbohydrate and electrolyte drink for optimal hydration.

What Nutrients are Important for Improved Stamina?

Almost any nutrient deficiency will negatively impact a runner’s stamina in some way. However, some nutrients are of more concern to runners than others. The following table provides a description of some of these stamina boosting nutrients.

Carbohydrates Main source of energy Grains, fruit, starchy vegetables, legumes, milk, yogurt
ProteinHelps regulate blood sugar, increases satiety and supports healthy body systems and tissueMeat/poultry, seafood, eggs, legumes, nuts, seeds and dairy products
Dietary FatLarge source for energy production and storage. Provides satiety, regulates blood sugar response and protects organ health Unsaturated fats: fatty fish, nuts, seeds, plant oils, olives, avocado 
IronHelps transport oxygen through the bloodMeat/poultry, fish, legumes, fortified cereals, leafy greens, dried fruit, nuts
PotassiumMain electrolyte and supports a healthy heartFruit, vegetables, legumes, dairy
MagnesiumCrucial to healthy muscle and nerve function, blood sugar control and protein synthesis Whole grains, dark leafy greens, milk, yogurt, dark chocolate, seeds, nuts, legumes
Vitamin DLow vitamin D causes tiredness. Adequate amounts also protect bone health.Seafood fortified dairy or juice, UV treated mushrooms, eggs
B vitaminsAssists with energy production and helps build healthy blood cellsGrains, protein foods, dark leafy greens, citrus fruit, bananas, avocados

A runner who eats a varied and balanced diet should be able to meet these nutrient needs without using additional supplementation. Those who feel the need or desire to add nutrition supplements should reach out to a healthcare professional. A professional can help teens safety and effectively navigate the confusing world of nutritional supplements.

What Are Some Other Tips to Increase Stamina for Runners?

Increasing stamina is not just about nutrition. Training and recovering appropriately prior to a race make an important contribution to a runner’s endurance level.

With training, runners should gradually increase pace or distance to prevent injury. They should also incorporate cross-training and recovery sessions into the week to allow the body time to recover and grow. Constant training or high levels of effort can result in fatigue, illness and injury.

Another crucial aspect of stamina is consistent quality sleep. Teen athletes should strive for 8-10 hours of sleep each night. This time allows the body to fully recover for more effective training and prepares the body to run as long and fast as possible on race day.

Stress increases inflammation in the body. When a teenager fails to address chronic stress, health and performance will suffer. Runners should take time for mental health and seek guidance from trained professionals if stress and anxiety affect daily living.

Should a Runner Participate in Carbohydrate Loading?

Carbohydrates offer the body an easy source of energy, making this nutrient the best source of energy to fuel a run. The body stores excess carbohydrates as glycogen in the muscles and liver. Carbohydrate loading focuses on maximizing these glycogen stores for a longer lasting source of energy.

Effective carbohydrate loading is more than just a pasta dinner the night before a race. Appropriate carbohydrate loading usually involves eating a higher amount of carbohydrates and decreasing physical activity a couple days before an event. Some carbohydrate loading protocols also involve a period of carbohydrate depletion or lower carbohydrate intake prior to the high carbohydrate diet.

Carbohydrate loading only applies to longer runs where glycogen is depleted. Runners will benefit from carbohydrate loading only if the run lasts longer than 90-minutes.

However, all runners still need to ensure adequate intake of carbohydrates to run well. So, that pasta night can still play a role in a good energy supporting pre-run regime. Just be careful not to eat too much, too close to a run as this can cause gastric distress.

See Also:

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Katherine Harmer, RDN

I'm a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist with a love for coaching others to success in their health goals, especially teenage athletes. Tennis was my sport of choice in high school. Now I'm a little bit older, a little bit smarter, and a little bit worse at tennis.

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