The Interconnectedness of Diet Choice and Distance Running: Results of the Research Understanding the NutritioN of Endurance Runners (RUNNER) Study

Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2016 Jun;26(3):205-211. doi: 10.1123/ijsnem.2015-0085. Epub 2015 Oct 19.

Abstract

This study examined differences in diet, particularly vegetarian and vegan, among ultramarathon and other long distance runners. Participants who had completed a half- (HALF), full- (FULL), or ultramarathon (ULTRA) in the past 12 months were recruited to complete an online survey assessing current diet, reason for diet, and other dietary behaviors. A total of 422 participants completed the survey (n=125 ULTRA, n=152 FULL, n=145 HALF). More ULTRA participants were men (63%) (vs. FULL (37%) and HALF (23%)) and ULTRA participants reported significantly more years of running (16.2 ± 13.6) than FULL (12.1 ± 11.1, P<0.05) or HALF (10.6 ± 11.6, P<0.05). Body Mass Index (self-reported height/weight) was significantly higher in HALF (24.3 ± 4.4 kg/m2) vs. FULL (23.1 ± 3.2 kg/m2, P<0.05). ULTRA runners were almost twice as likely to report following a vegan/vegetarian diet than HALF and FULL marathoners combined (B=1.94, 95% CI=1.08, 3.48) and reported following their current diet longer (13.7±15.3 years) than HALF participants (8.6±12.1 years, P=0.01). ULTRA participants more commonly cited environmental concerns whereas HALF and FULL participants cited weight loss or maintenance as a reason for following their current diet. There was no difference in diet quality between ULTRA and other runners but vegan and vegetarian runners had higher diet quality scores than non-vegetarian runners (P<0.001). The findings point to an interconnectedness between long distance running, diet, and diet choice and can help guide nutrition, exercise, and psychology professionals who are working with distance runners.