The staples every runner needs in their pantry

In an ideal world, we would all have time to plan, shop, and prepare our meals and snacks for the week. The reality is that most of us runners are short on time due to training, work, and family commitments. nutrition often becomes an afterthought. Step into the pantry: stocking up on the right time savers can help you meet your refueling and performance goals. Quick, must-have options can help you cook a meal or save time in the kitchen, while helping to fuel your body.

When thinking about healthy food staples to buy, try breaking down your pantry into what your body needs as a runner. All three macronutrients – carbs, protein, and fats – should form your foundation, and adding color with fruits and vegetables can boost your overall micronutrient (vitamin and mineral) intake.

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Healthy Pantry Staples: Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are our body’s most efficient fuel when we run, and they play a key role in energy production, hormonal balance, injury prevention, sleep and recovery. When considering basic carbs for the pantry, a mix of simple and complex carbs can ensure you have a variety to meet your needs. Simple carbs break down quickly in the body and can be a good way to fuel up before or after a run, while complex carbs break down more slowly in the body, keeping your blood sugar levels more balanced. Neither are “bad” for you; our bodies use both for energy.

RELATED: Your Complete Runner’s Guide to Carbohydrates

Basic carbohydrates to keep on hand

  • Dry oats: Whether used as a pre-race oatmeal snack (fast cooking only due to low fiber; high fiber before a race can make you run to the nearest bathroom), an addition to smoothies or for making your own granola, oats are a versatile pantry item that can help you meet your carb needs.

  • Granola: Some granolas can really pack a punch if they contain nuts, seeds and dried fruit. This can be useful for runners who need an easy way to get more overall nutrition to support their training. Look for a granola without too many added sugars (10 grams or less). Bonus points if it also contains protein and fat. Purely Elizabeth and Kind Healthy Grains Granola are convenient options found at most grocery stores.

  • Dried fruit: A convenient and portable carb option that can be a great addition to rolled oats, trail mixes, or just plain. Beware of sulfur dioxide which is used as a preservative – it can cause dizziness and headaches in sensitive people.

  • Pre-cooked cereals: If you’ve ever tried to cook that perfect batch of rice or cereal, you know how difficult and time-consuming it can be to get it right. This is where storing frozen or shelf stable pre-cooked beans can come in handy. Microwave so your carbs are ready to add to any meal in moments. Brands like Seeds of Change or Tasty Bite offer a variety of options to choose from, but if you’re looking at added sodium, be sure to check the nutrition facts.

  • Frozen waffles: A convenient pre-bake option, frozen waffles pack a carb punch. Look for whole-grain options like those offered by the Nature’s Path brand and bonus points for Kodiak cakes, which contain carbohydrates and can help maintain more balanced blood sugar levels.

  • Frozen fruits and vegetables: Fruits and vegetables add a negligible amount of carbs, but are important for getting the extra antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and fiber benefits they provide. Try to choose a wide variety of colors to help increase diversity in micronutrient intake and make sure you cover all your bases to stay healthy and run strong. Keep in mind that frozen fruits and vegetables are frozen when fully ripe!

protein

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Healthy Pantry Staples: Protein

Used for the building blocks of the body, protein is broken down into amino acids and used as a support system for neurotransmitters, immune cells, and rebuilding damaged muscles during physical activity. Differences in the protein content of the food usually stem from whether it is a plant or animal source of protein. Most often, animal protein sources contain more protein in a smaller volume of food. The protein requirements of endurance runners are higher than those of the general population. It is therefore essential to ensure that you consume enough to recover and prevent injuries.

Basic proteins

  • Shelf-stable tofu: A plant-based protein option that can be used in smoothies, stir-fries, scrambles, and wraps, tofu can be mixed into just about anything to boost protein content. Be sure to keep a variety of textures in your pantry – silky to firm – to increase versatility.

  • Shelf stable nut milk: Most often used as a base for a smoothie, nut milks can be an easy post-run nourishment. Choosing a nut milk that contains protein (most contain a high percentage of water) is key. Ripple Pea Milk does the trick perfectly and is available in a shelf stable version.

  • Canned beans: Ideal as an addition to a meal or for the base of a bean salad, canned beans provide extra carbohydrates and protein. When choosing your beans, look for BPA-free cans to avoid possible health risks like increased blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.

  • Canned tuna/salmon or tuna: A quick snack or addition to any meal, salmon and tuna provide you with the protein you need and bonus omega-3 fatty acids for inflammation-balancing properties. For eco-friendly options, look for sustainable, wild-caught companies like Wild Planet.

  • Chickpea Pasta: With both carbs and protein, chickpea pasta like Banza can be a great base for meals or side dishes. Just watch the fiber content before a big run or you may need to make a few bathroom stops along the way.

  • Protein powder: While a food-focused approach is always preferred, it can be useful to have a protein powder available to mix up a quick shake, boost the nutrition of your overnight oats, or even add a boost to your Soupe. Gnarly Nutrition or Garden of Life Sport are both certified for sport, which can guarantee a purer end product free of heavy metals.

fats

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Healthy Food Staples for the Pantry: Fats

Not only do they improve the taste of food, but fats are essential for proper hormonal function and the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (vitamins K, A, D and E). As a macronutrient, they pack twice the energy (calories) of protein and carbohydrates in a smaller volume of food, making them a practical choice for meeting a runner’s higher energy needs. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids can be good choices for stocking the pantry due to their anti-inflammatory properties.

Basic fats

  • Olive or avocado oil: Used as a dressing, sauce or cooking base, oils like olive and avocado contain anti-inflammatory mono- and polyunsaturated fatty acids. Great choices include Chosen Foods or Primal Kitchen for avocado oil and California Olive Ranch for olive oil.

  • Nut/seed butter: A perfect addition to a meal or snack, nut and seed butters pack a big nutritional boost with their combination of fat and protein. Watch out for added sugars and preservatives. Try Big Spoon for fun flavors or 88 Acres for tasty, allergen-free seed butter options.

  • Potted pesto: Having a great pesto on hand can not only provide inflammation-balancing fats, but can also add a lot of flavor to a meal. For a traditional version, choose Kitchen & Love Organics; for something more alternative, try Freak Flag’s kale or tomato pesto.

Meal Ideas with Go-To Pantry Items

Keeping your pantry stocked with all the macronutrients can help you when trying to prepare quick meals and snacks. The basic principle to keep in mind is to choose one item from each category, which will result in a meal that provides the energy, vitamins and minerals needed to help you stay strong.

Breakfast

  • Frozen fruit smoothie, frozen spinach, protein powder, oats, nut butter and nut milk

  • Kodiak Cakes with Peanut Butter and Frozen Berries (if you have syrup, drizzle on some for more carbs)

Breakfast

  • Bowl of tofu with pre-cooked grains, sautéed frozen vegetables and pesto

  • Three Bean Chili with Sourdough Bread

Having dinner

  • Chickpea pasta with tomato sauce, sautéed vegetables and cannellini beans

  • Tofu stir-fry made with frozen vegetables and pre-cooked rice

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