The Perfect Weight Loss Meal Plan

..Runners love to eat. In fact, it's the reason why many of us run in the first place. Logging all those miles can make you hungry. And that means filling up on meals that satisfy your cravings for real, delicious food while still providing a balance of nutrients to fuel your running.

Many runners assume that logging 10, 20, 30, or more miles per week will automatically lead to drastic weight loss. But the truth is, while running is an excellent calorie burner (burning on average 100 calories per mile), you won't lose weight if you don't also take your diet into consideration. That's because all that exercise makes you hungry--and it's easy to overdo it and consume all of the calories you just burned (or more) during that five-mile run.

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So how do you successfully pair running and weight loss? The key is to keep up your running routine while slightly reducing your daily calorie intake--by no more than 250 to 500 calories per day, says Pamela Nisevich Bede M.S., R.D., an RW advisory board member and co-owner of Swim, Bike, Run, Eat!. "Cut any more, and fatigue and injury can set in." Many runners find it hard to cut back on calories at all, given their increased hunger from training, which is why your diet should be loaded with two specific nutrients that help combat a growling stomach: "Fiber and protein fill you up and keep you feeling fuller longer," says Nisevich Bede. Vegetables, fruits, beans, and whole grains are some of the best sources of fiber, while protein from lean meats, fish, low-fat dairy, and eggs can help keep hunger at bay. In fact, studies show that eating a high-protein breakfast instead of a high-carb one can help reduce the total number of calories you eat throughout the rest of the day.

Another surprising key to losing weight is keeping snacks in your diet--not cutting them out, as many runners mistakenly do. "By consuming a few small snacks throughout the day, runners keep blood-sugar levels more stable and avoid spikes and drops that can cause fatigue and extreme hunger to set in," says Nisevich Bede. The most weight-loss-friendly snacks are between 150 and 250 calories and are high in fiber or protein (again, both of which are filling), such as apple slices with a bit of nut butter, whole-grain toast with a slice of low-fat cheese, or yogurt topped with high-protein granola.

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The only time you don't want a high-fiber, high-protein snack is immediately before a run. "Foods high in fiber can send you sprinting for the bathroom, while protein and especially fat take longer to digest and can slow you down," says Nisevich Bede. But you still need a prerun snack, since without it, you may not have enough energy on board to run hard, limiting the number of calories you could burn. In this instance it's best to choose snacks high in easily digestible carbs that will energize you without weighing you down, like watermelon drizzled with honey, a handful of low-fiber cereal, or pretzels and some sports drink. Our weight-loss meal plan demonstrates how you can shave calories from your diet while still loading up on delicious, filling foods. (Learn how to make any of the meals below--check out our full list of recipes!)

BREAKFAST: Spiced Breakfast Quinoa
Studies show that people who eat a good amount and a wide variety of whole grains have smaller waists and weigh less than people who don't include whole grains in their daily diet. Whole grains such as quick-cooking quinoa (an ancient Incan grain) contain more fiber, protein, and other nutrients than refined versions, helping keep you fuller longer.

NUTRITION PER SERVING: 311 calories, 55 g carbs, 8 g fiber, 9 g protein, 7 g total fat, 1 g saturated fat, 11 mg sodium

MIDMORNING PRERUN SNACK: Butternut-Squash Hummus with baby carrots
This hummus-like spread (made without high-fiber chickpeas) has the same smooth and creamy texture as the traditional stuff with a touch of added sweetness from butternut squash. Paired with carrots or pita chips, it makes for a high-carb snack that will energize you for your run.

NUTRITION PER SERVING: 151 calories, 10 g carbs, 2 g fiber, 3 g protein, 12 g total fat, 1.5 g saturated fat, 114 mg sodium

POSTRUN LUNCH: Cantaloupe-and-Cucumber Salad

A study in the journal Appetite shows that eating a vegetable-based soup before the rest of your lunch can help you feel more satisfied while reducing the total number of calories you eat at that meal by 20 percent. Researchers think the water-rich broth and fiber-rich vegetables combine to fill you up while slowing down the rate at which the soup is digested. Pair the soup with this cool and refreshing salad, which will help you rehydrate and replenish electrolytes, including potassium (found in the cantaloupe).

NUTRITION PER SERVING: 278 calories, 25 g carbs, 5 g fiber, 16 g protein, 9 g total fat, 3 g saturated fat, 325 mg sodium

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AFTERNOON SNACK: Orange-Pomegranate Power Smoothie

With 19 grams of protein and fewer than 300 calories, this fruit smoothie packs a powerful punch. Pomegranate juice adds an antioxidant kick--just be sure to buy one made with 100 percent pomegranate juice, without any less-nutritious fillers.

NUTRITION PER SERVING: 288 calories, 53 g carbs, 6 g fiber, 19 g protein, 2.5 g total fat, 1 g saturated fat, 233 mg sodium

DINNER: Jerk Shrimp with Sweet Potato and Black Beans and a salad of mixed baby greens with Honey Dressing

For runners looking to load up on protein, shrimp is a smart choice. A three-ounce serving provides 18 grams of filling protein with just one gram of fat and 84 calories. Black beans push the protein content of the dish even higher, while adding complex, fiber-rich carbs. Add a side salad tossed with a lower-calorie dressing to round out the meal.

NUTRITION PER SERVING: 229 calories, 20 g carbs, 4 g fiber, 24 g protein, 5 g total fat, 0.5 g saturated fat, 662 mg sodium

REMEMBER: The Golden Rules of Weight Loss

DESSERT: Roasted Pink Grapefruit with Honey Yogurt

Just because you're trying to lose weight doesn't mean you can't indulge in dessert. Sprinkling the grapefruit with a touch of sugar and then roasting it caramelizes the naturally tart fruit, while serving it over honey-infused low-fat yogurt adds a rich, creamy finishing touch.

NUTRITION PER SERVING: 139 calories, 23 g carbs, 1 g fiber, 9 g protein, 2 g total fat, 2 g saturated fat, 33 mg sodium

Daily Nutrition: 1,788 calories, 231 g carbs, 39 g fiber, 86 g protein, 62 g fat

By Joanna Golub, Runner's World

Hungry for More? BUY THE BOOK!
Get all the delicious runner-friendly meals, snacks, and desserts mentioned here, plus many more, in The Runner's World Cookbook: 150 Ultimate Recipes for Fueling Up and Slimming Down--While Enjoying Every Bite (Rodale).