Heart Healthy Nutrition for Runners

July 5, 2022

We're proud to share an anniversary year with the Twin Cities Marathon. Back in 1982, Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation was established as a research organization to investigate better ways to prevent, detect and treat heart and vascular disease. In the same year, athletes were running the first Twin Cities Marathon. Congratulations TCM and cheers to your longevity.  MHIF is excited to be an official marathon partner in 2022 as we celebrate 40 years! 


Nutrition is key to both cardiovascular prevention as well as enhancing performance. Read on for some strategies to optimize performance and recovery.

When in training, you’re burning more calories than usual and that means you’re likely hungry! You’ll need to consume more calories to stay healthy, prepare for longer runs, and replenish post-run. To get enough calories and keep your muscles fueled, you may need to eat 3 meals and 3 snacks a day, but this all depends on personal preference. Make sure you’re taking the right steps to ensure those extra calories are heart-healthy.   



  • Eating a healthy breakfast can help you focus longer and feel better during the day.
  • Nutrient-dense foods such as oatmeal with fruits and nuts, cereal, 100% whole wheat toast, egg whites, and real fruit smoothies are all good choices.
  • Choose low-fat (limit saturated and trans fats) and low-sugar options (real fruit juice vs. artificially flavored juice with added sugar).


Smart Snacking

  • Combine two food groups to increase variety. Including a source of protein, such as nuts, will help you feel satisfied longer.
  • Foods high in fiber will keep your digestive system working. Fruits, vegetables, oats, and whole grains are all great options.
  • Whole grains, such as brown bread or rice, will continue to feed your body for hours. White bread and highly processed foods will break down too quickly — giving your body a quick sugar rush and dragging your energy down again.


Meal options 

Your body needs a wide variety of foods for optimal performance and heart health. Using the plate method is one way to plan out healthful meals. Simply divide your plate into quarters and fill 1/2 with a variety of colorful vegetables and fruit, ¼ with whole grains, and ¼ with lean protein. Add a couple servings of dairy foods a day and some healthy fats to round out your meals. Choose from these options.

  • Fruits and vegetables provide a wide variety of nutrients. Many of them are high in potassium, magnesium, and some calcium to help prevent leg cramps. These include bananas, sweet potatoes, avocado, melon, orange juice, dark leafy greens, and tomatoes.
  • Whole grains (brown rice, quinoa, whole-wheat pasta), beans, breads made with whole grains are good sources of fiber and energy.
  • Fish, poultry, and lean meats provide protein needed to build muscle.
  • Dairy foods (yogurt, milk, cheese) are great sources of calcium for strong bones. Choose low-fat options.
  • Nuts, seeds, and avocado are good sources of heart-healthy fats.



When you eat can affect how you feel during exercise and how you perform. Time your meal or snack (and the size of it) based on the time of day you plan to exercise.
In general:

  • It’s a good idea to have about 100–300 calories of carbohydrate-rich foods in your body before exercise, depending on type/amount of exercise you plan to do.
  • Allow 3–4 hours for a large meal to digest; 2–3 hours for a smaller meal; and less than an hour for a small snack, as tolerated.For example: If you work out in the morning, you may want to eat a light snack/breakfast (e.g., banana or cereal or both). If you work out in the afternoon, you may want to eat a light lunch (e.g., sandwich and/or soup). If you work out in the evening, you may want to just have a snack before your workout, such as an energy bar, yogurt, and/or fruit.

Everyone is different. The key is to do what works best for you based on your experiences and goals.


To stay well-hydrated:

  • Drink 16 ounces of fluids 2–3 hours before exercise and 8–16 ounces just before if you are thirsty.
  • Drink water after your workout to replace lost fluid. If you are exercising for more than 60-90 minutes, sip a sports drink.


Post-run recovery

For post-run recovery, restore fluids and electrolytes. Consume carbohydrate and protein-rich snacks within 30-60 minutes of the race. This could be a banana with peanut butter and milk, cottage cheese and fruit, or yogurt with fruit and granola. Follow your recovery snack with meals that contain whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fats, such as grilled chicken with a small baked potato topped with plain yogurt and green beans. Drink plenty of fluids.

Recovery takes between 24-48 hours to replenish muscle glycogen stores and enhance future exercise performance. To stay in top condition, make heart-healthy food choices ongoing throughout training and competition.

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Heart 360 with Harry Connick Jr

Heart 360 Concert is September 24

Join us for Heart 360 - a concert for world-class heart research. On September 24 we'll celebrate our 40th anniversary with Emmy and Grammy award-winning musician and entertainer Harry Connick, Jr. The community will come together at the historic and beautiful Armory, Minneapolis as we raise a toast to frontline healthcare workers who served through the pandemic. 


Hope health humor minneapolis heart institute foundation

Join Us for a Night of Fun and Inspiration

Gather with women from different backgrounds, including community leaders, business owners, patients, physicians, and artists. On August 24, we'll come together to learn more about heart and vascular disease in women in our community. Proceeds support the Penny Anderson Women’s Cardiovascular Center.