Eat your way to running success

One Hot Humid Summer is almost coming to an end. Unless you are in Florida, of course (because here, the summer never ends)! For a European like me, it is permanent summer here, we just have different degrees of summer - hot, hotter, and hell. (if you have ever been to Belgium, you would know that the coldest day in Florida compares to the most normal & nice summer day there).

Scott at Badwater (135mile ultra marathon race)

But Hot Humid Summer always has certain effects on our running. Well, for one, it’s super hot and difficult to go out any time of the day. Second, you can’t drink enough coconut water to feel nicely fresh during your training. And third, well let’s just revise our dietary habits for a moment. Though I would always agree people tend to slim down and go the fruity route in the summer months, there is still room for improvement on the general scale. So here is an article I wrote for my local Running Forum concerning the end of summer (or any time of the year) nutrition strategies that can assist every runner in fueling properly!

With school season approaching at the end of August, running moms and dads, babysitters and students, experience their schedules filling up too quickly to even notice the attention to their health and fitness drop. Even if most runners are entering a half or marathon training program to prepare for the (Florida) winter running season, increased back-to-school expenses and all other distractions may leave little room for nutrition talk. Whether it’s lack of time, energy or skill, most runners easily find excuses to neglect what’s on their plate in favor of convenience.

After all, runners are notorious for eating what they please, while the pounds keep on dropping as they steadily increase their mileage yet decrease their PR’s (what, you don’t?). That is why they refer to their eating habits as fueling, instead of dieting like the general fitness oriented masses. While your average gym goer avoids sugars, carbs and sodium in wide circles, a runner wouldn’t survive a 10k race, let along weeks of training without sugary gels and salt pills and drinks. But unless your running schedule compares to Ryan Hall’s when prepping for the Olympics, eating 6,000 calories worth of PB&J’s and bananas a day may not be the best way to go (and yes, that is a verified number retrieved from an interview with Mr. Hall. That lucky bastard!).

Carb Loading with Vegan Pasta

While numerous articles, studies and coaches suggest an optimal 4:1 ration of carbs to protein to keep the legs fresh and moving, most runners (and other average American dieters) don’t lack any of those two major food groups on their plates. What most don’t care to think about too much is piling up on delicious, healthy and tummy-filling fruits and veggies. Let’s examine for a moment why is this so?

Well, rare are people who associate the words “delicious” and “tummy-filling” with green leafy chewy foods they can’t even pronounce. And kids are not the only ones who like to stay clear of the expression “but it’s so healthy for you” when sitting at the dinner table after a long, exhausting day. Adding to the list of reasons is already mentioned convenience and cost-effectiveness of quick meals. Forces of habit, and ultimately lack of interest in homemade cooking and grocery shopping, are all common culprits on the path of executing an optimal nutrition plan.

But, are runners the type of people who give into excuses? I sure don’t think so. So let’s rewind to the beginning of your running career (yes, you can call it that if you will, even if you only have a few 5ks under your belt). I bet health, or some variation of that concept, was the original inspiration that got you into an active lifestyle. The same will continue to be the motivation that gets you out on the road in the morning. Do you know what vitality and endurance come from? They primarily come from what you put into your body. Health comes from within, and runners know that only a healthy body can perform what you have set out to achieve.

So let’s get practical! Here are a few tips and tricks that make eating fun and guilt-free for me:

Experiment:

I must list this as a first and foremost point, simply because I see how hard it is to add foods to my plate if I am unfamiliar with them. I seriously eat more varieties of foods than most of my friends. This is the easiest way to find what you really like (in the healthy department) and permanently stick with it.

  • Read blogs, ask friends – after all, I haven’t been to a running event without food talk popping out in the first 5 minutes.
  • Sample in grocery stores, maybe try a health foods store or restaurant for a change. When shopping at a health market, ask the people who work there for things you have read or heard from on healthy sections on the news or magazines. You would be surprised how much these people know.
  • Search for athletes you know and love about their eating habits. My favorite: Scott Jurek’s recipes recorded in his blog, guest articles (e.g.: Veg News, Competitor and others) and book: Eat and Run.
    Few of my favorite food expeditions: arugula, endive, spinach, salads are quick to add to any meal and there are so many varieties to try, just skip the iceberg for once. Lentils, beans, hummus all make for super healthy protein sources. And for God’s sake, try a different nut or seed butter, PB is getting old. Almond and sunflower seed are my favorite sandwich butters, and Chocolate Hazelnut became a quick Nutella replacement.

Smoothies:

Not the ones from big brand smoothie bars, at least not every day. This is by far one of the easiest foods to prepare st home for anyone who owns a blender or magic bullet. I always keep precut frozen fruits in the freezer (I prefer organic, but any is good to start), and any ripened fruit that is about to go bad gets frozen at my house.
Recipe suggestions:

  • Banana, yogurt or avocado as a creamy base
  • Pairing berries and peaches makes a light spring smoothie;
  • Pineapple and mango create a tropical delight
  • Add-ons: here comes your creativity! From spinach to make it green and healthy, spirulina, goji berries or macca for a superfoods boost, to a recovery powder for a post-workout meal.
    Fresh fruit or veggies with every meal:

Fruits do contain sugar and should be eaten in moderation, preferably in the AM. as they take only 30ish minutes to digest. But veggies, mainly those you can eat raw, are in my book the most nutritious and lightest food – you can eat all you want, any time of the day! This a great trick for Floridian athletes, as we are prone to dehydration any time of the year.

  • “Eating” your water is incomparably more effective than just drinking it. Watermelon and other melons, cucumbers, peppers, celery, broccoli, berries, the list of foods with 70%+ water content is long.
  • Besides clearing out the kidneys, aiding digestion and adding fiber to your diet, fresh foods are overflowing with vitamins and minerals whose names and benefits I don’t even feel the need to list, it is pure logic.

To sprint across the finish line: Runners are more in touch with their bodies than most people, and therefore experience the difference between feeding the body with foods that come from nature, versus one’s that were made in factories. Just like with training plans, your body and your tummy simply need to get used to enjoying nutritious foods as opposed to seeking a quick hunger fix. Running probably wasn’t too pleasant when you first started, and it took a while to get regular, but once you broke through all the barriers, it became the most meditative, relaxing and satisfying part of you day. You can almost say you are addicted to it!

If that hasn’t happened to you yet, trust me, it will. Ryan Hall and Scott Jurek say so.

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