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Runner’s Diet

Today is National Running Day! As a runner, your diet is important not only for maintaining good health, but also to promote peak performance. As a kidney patient AND a runner, proper nutrition and hydration can make or break a workout or race, and also greatly affects how runners feel, work, think and of course, your kidneys. Running, if allowed by your physician, is a fantastic way to lower blood pressure in a natural way.

A balanced diet for all runners should include these essentials: carbohydrates, protein, fats, vitamins, and minerals. Here are some basic guidelines for a nutritious, healthy balance:


As a runner, carbohydrates should make up about 60 – 65% of your total calorie intake. Without a doubt, carbs are the best source of energy for athletes. Research has shown that for both quick and long-lasting energy, our bodies work more efficiently with carbs than they do with proteins or fats. Whole grain pasta, steamed or boiled rice, potatoes, fruits, starchy vegetables, and whole grain breads are good high-fiber carb sources.  For the kidney patient, some of these choices may not be the best and only options. Make sure to be mindful of your phosphorus and potassium restrictions.  Choose carbs that fall into your acceptable food lists and always reminder your binders as prescribed.  If you have diabetes as well, it is best to spread your carb intake out over the entire day in steady intervals. I do not recommend carb loading for diabetic kidney patients as this could lead to unnecessary blood sugar highs and/or lows. It is important to monitor your blood sugars and to know the signs and symptoms of high and low blood sugars, along with how to treat them.  For all types of runners, eating a high protein source with your carbs (example: ½ a turkey sandwich), helps to ensure that the carbs are absorbed a little slower into the bloodstream.  This helps to create more steady energy levels for you.  It also helps to maintain your blood sugars in a more balanced state.


Protein is used for some energy and to repair tissue damaged during training. In addition to being an essential nutrient, protein keeps you feeling full longer, which helps if you’re trying to lose weight. Protein should make up about 15% – 20% of your daily intake. Always follow your doctor and/or dietitian’s recommendations for how much protein you can take in every day.  There is a delicate balance between how much you need for endurance and repair, and what is too much for your kidneys. For a general recommendation, runners, especially those running long distances, should consume .5 to .75 grams of protein per pound of body weight.  This could be more or less of what your doctor and/or dietitian has recommended for you based upon what stage of kidney disease you are in. Try to concentrate on protein sources that are low in fat and cholesterol such as lean meats, fish, low-fat dairy products, poultry, whole grains, and beans.  Again, as a kidney patient, you may have to be mindful of your phosphorus and potassium restriction if on one. 


A high fat diet can quickly pack on the pounds, so try to make sure that no more than 20 – 25% of your total diet comes from fats. Stick to foods low in saturated fats and cholesterol. Foods such as nuts, oils, and cold-water fish provide essential fats called omega-3s, which are vital for good health and can help prevent certain diseases. Most experts recommend getting about 3,000 mg of omega-3 fat a day. Check with your physician before starting any supplements.


Runners don’t get energy from vitamins, but they are still an important part of their diet. Exercise may produce compounds called free radicals, which can damage cells. Vitamins C, E, and A are antioxidants and can neutralize free radicals. Getting your vitamins from whole foods is preferable to supplementation; there’s no strong evidence that taking supplements improves either health or athletic performance.  Kidney patients shouldn’t take any extra vitamins unless prescribed by their physician and/or approved by them.

Sodium and other electrolytes

Small amounts of sodium and other electrolytes are lost through sweat during exercise. Usually, electrolytes are replaced if you follow a balanced diet.  If you’re running longer than 90 minutes, then you may need to replace some of the electrolytes you’re losing through sweat.  Listen to your body, and most importantly, your nutrition lab results.  Your lab results are the sure-fire way to know exactly what your body needs and what you’ve had too much of!

Replacing fluids when you exercise

When you exercise enough to sweat, you may need to replace fluids lost through perspiration. People in the later stages of kidney disease may be prescribed a fluid restriction if water retention is a problem, so you may need to be careful with how you re-hydrate. Some people with kidney disease who are on a fluid restriction appreciate exercising because sweating does allow them to increase the amount of fluid they can drink. Consult with your doctor or a renal dietitian about how much and what to drink during and after your workouts.

Happy running and Happy National Running Day!


Information or materials posted on this blog are intended for general informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical advice, medical opinion, diagnosis or treatment. Any information posted on this blog is not a substitute for patient specific medical information or dietary advice.  Please consult with your healthcare team or dietitian for a more complete dietary plan and recommendations.

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