The Benefits of Potatoes for Runners

Fuel Your Running with Potatoes


Disclaimer: This post was sponsored by Fitfluential on behalf of Potatoes USA. All opinions are my own. (I really, really like potatoes.)

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What’s one food that you always have in your fridge or pantry?

For me, it’s potatoes, especially red potatoes and russet potatoes. Why?

Because I believe potatoes are one of the best foods I can eat to power my running. Whether I’m marathon training or developing my speed, potatoes provide me with the carbohydrate, nutrients, and energy I need to train hard.

The Benefits of Potatoes for Runners

The Benefits of Potatoes for Runners

Potatoes received a bad reputation in the past few decades, but let me assure you that potatoes can and should have a place in a runner’s healthy diet.

Potatoes are not part of a healthy diet when they are fried or doused with butter and cream. And here’s the thing: any food would be unhealthy if it is fried or covered in butter and cream. Creamed spinach or fried okra shouldn’t be your daily choices of vegetables – nor should French fries, heavy mashed potatoes, or cheesy gratin be how you eat potatoes on too frequent basis.

But that doesn’t mean you should swing in the opposite direction and adopt a low-carb diet, especially if you are a running any distance. (And here’s why I don’t recommend low carb diets for runners!)

The fact is, runners need carbohydrates to support not only their training, but also their basic functioning. You may be able to keep running on a low-carb diet, but since carbohydrates are essential for optimal physical and mental functioning, you may experience fogginess and a lack of energy throughout the rest of the day.

Carbohydrates are the primary fuel that your body uses for energy during a run. Carbohydrates are key for both physical energy and mental energy on a run. Think of how hard it is to run when you become mentally tired! By fueling your body well with carbohydrates before, during, and after your training runs (and throughout the entire day), you will have the energy you need to train hard and run well – no matter what your goals are.

Potatoes are an excellent source of carbohydrates – especially since they fit into many different diets, whether you are vegan or grain-free. A medium (5.3-ounce) potato with the skin-on contains 26 grams of carbohydrates. Potatoes only contain one gram of naturally occurring sugar and 2 grams of fiber – which means they are a great source of slowly releasing carbohydrate.

Potassium is a vital nutrient for runners, as it is one of the minerals essential for muscle function and hydration (electrolyte). Potatoes are an excellent source of potassium, providing you with 620 milligrams of this nutrient – that’s more than a banana!

The 2015 Dietary Guidelines state that potassium is an under-consumed nutrient in the American population – and that’s looking at the average American. The more active you are, the more electrolytes (including potassium) you need to consume each day since you lose them through your sweat.

Sure, you could consume potassium and sodium through a sugary sports drink, but why not go the natural route and try a baked russet potato or roasted fingerling potato with a sprinkle of sea salt?

Finally, potatoes provide your body with the calories it needs to perform well. You can’t train hard or race hard if you are underfueled! A single 5.3-ounce potato contains 110 calories, making it the most energy-packed vegetable that you could eat.

How to Include Potatoes in a Runner’s Diet

Put down that protein powder, and reach for a potato instead after your long run or hard speed workout! With potassium and carbohydrates, potatoes are an ideal post-run snack or meal. Running depletes your glycogen (stored carbohydrate), and you want to replenish those stores within 60 minutes after your run, which is when your muscles are primed to resynthesize and store carbohydrate as glycogen.

Since potatoes are easy to prepare and gentle on the stomach, they make for a great option after a run when you may not have much of an appetite. Add some eggs or chicken on the side for protein to help your muscles recover.  

Potatoes make an excellent choice for dinner the night before a long run or hard workout. I rely on potatoes as an easily digestible source of nutrient-dense complex carbohydrates, especially the night before a long run or race.

My pre-long run dinner is a baked potato with chicken or fish and some vegetables – and every time, this meal leaves me feeling energized for my run, not heavy like a big meal of pizza or pasta would. A baked potato also contains more of several vitamins and minerals than a plate of pasta or a large serving of bread would, so you are giving your body both the carbohydrates and nutrients it needs to run well.

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You can also eat potatoes as your pre-race or pre-long run breakfast! A simple baked or boiled potato with salt will give you the carbs and electrolytes to fuel your running, and it’s easy to digest meaning you will not have GI distress on the run.

Your Quick Guide to Cooking Potatoes

One of my favorite things about potatoes is just how easy they are to cook! You can even have potato side dishes ready to serve in under 30 minutes, especially if you roast or boil them. You don’t even need that many ingredients! Most of my favorite potato dishes (see below for two of them!) require just a potato, olive oil, and sea salt.

Your local grocery store likely carries a wide variety of potatoes, so that you never get bored from eating them. Varieties include yellow, red, purple, fingerling, and more! You can purchase potatoes fresh (my favorite!) or frozen to always have on hand.

My Favorite Potato Recipes:

Baked Potato:

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit (you can do 425 if you are planning on roasting other vegetables at the same time). Scrub the potatoes, pierce with a knife a few times, and lightly coat the skin with a small amount of olive oil or coconut oil. Season with sea salt and place on a lined baking sheet. Cook for 60-70 minutes, until cooked fully through.

I always top mine with a dollop of yogurt and a sprinkle of salt and black pepper.

Oven Fries:

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Scrub the potatoes and then slice into ⅓-½ inch thick slices, cutting diagonally across the potato so that you are cutting oval shapes instead of rounds. Cut each of those oblong slices into 3-4 pieces, slicing lengthwise. Place the sliced potatoes in ice water for 10-15 minutes (this helps make them crispy). Drain the water and toss the potatoes with olive oil, salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Spread in a single layer on a parchment paper lined baking sheet and cook for 30-35 minutes, tossing halfway through. Turn your oven to broil and broil for 5 minutes for a crispy fry.

You can find more potato recipes here!

What’s your favorite way of cooking and eating potatoes?

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20 Responses

  1. potatoes are a major staple in my diet and definitely make a huge difference in how I feel when I run. sweet potatoes became a nightly occurrence when I became a vegetarian and switched to a higher carb diet and I cannot imagine my life and workouts without them! lately though I live more on regular white Yukon gold potatoes over sweet but both fuel me really well and taste real good 🙂

  2. Do sweet potatoes have the same benefit? Or does the extra sugar (I’m assuming sweet pots have more sugar than regular potatoes) come into play?

    1. Sweet potatoes do have more sugar than regular potatoes, but it’s naturally occurring sugar and still minimal. Sweet potatoes and white/red/yellow/purple potatoes have different nutritional profiles (sweet potatoes have more vitamin C but white has more potassium, etc.), but both of them are healthy choices!

  3. Oh how I love a good baked or roasted potato!! I think fresh cut or good quality frozen fries with a side of eggs or salmon is one of my favorite “Go to Meals”!! a little olive oil, fresh rosemary and sea salt are the perfect seasoning too!

  4. Mmmm….potatoes. 🙂 I have developed a new love for them over the past couple of year since my boyfriend absolutely loves potatoes!! Thanks for the great tips! I need to remember to buy a variety of potatoes at the store next time I go shopping!!

    1. You should definitely try purple potatoes if you haven’t! Yellow (yukon), red, and russet are my go-tos. Plus being near Idaho, we always have such a great selection of fresh potatoes here! 🙂

  5. Do you recommend potatoes on the morning of race day (meets are later, after-school hours for my daughter)? She loves them. I usually see menus with oatmeal and such.

    1. Hi Aurora, you can certainly eat these before a race! Potatoes are high in carbohydrates and easy to digest. There’s no one perfect food to eat race morning – some people like bagels, some like oatmeal, some like potatoes – it’s all about finding what works before for the individual.

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