Why is nutrition so critical to my success as a runner? Fortunately, my wife is a registered dietitian. She helps me maintain the proper balance of foods to help me thrive as a fit, healthy person. Although I see so many overweight and out of condition people, among runners and other athletes, there is an intense new focus on the role that nutrition plays in being able to improve one’s performance. Unlike other training plans, we include a complete nutrition plan as a part of our marathon plans.
Before we discuss specific meals and recovery foods, it’s important for athletes to understood some basic nutritional facts. Nutrition can imply a lot of different things depending upon whom you ask or what you read. We all want the food we consume to taste good, but when it comes to processed, sugary or fatty foods, moderate consumption is best. If you take some time to eat healthier, you will notice a difference in your performance. But telling runners to simply eat “healthy” isn’t the solution.
Fiber is an important part of anyone’s diet. Fiber assists in weight management by helping you not to feel hungry. It also works to help lower blood cholesterol. Eating fiber will also to decrease your risk of some forms of cancer, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.
Minimize intake of processed foods. This is because many nutrients are lost when processed foods are made. A whole-grain wheat bread is a much better choice than a multi-grain “processed” bread, for example. If you look at the ingredients of bread, look for “whole grain” as the first ingredient. You can also look for grams of dietary fiber. Good “whole grain” breads have 3 or more grams of dietary fiber.
Instead of snacking on sweet items like cookies, ice cream and chips, try healthier foods like fruit or non fat greek yogurt. Greek yogurt is better than regular yogurt, because it contains less sugar and has more protein and active cultures that are good for digestion. Also consider snacking on lowfat crackers with lowfat cheese. These options provide carbohydrates and protein for energy and to build muscle.
In order to get essential amino acids (proteins) which are important for recovery, I recommend regularly eating low fat meat, chicken, turkey, eggs, fish, nonfat or 1% milk, nuts and pseudo grains like Quinoa. Quinoa seeds contain essential amino acids and good quantities of calcium, phosphorus, and iron. Quinoa is considered a superfood. I look for recipes with quinoa, make a batch and keep it in the refrigerator for after hard workouts. These recipes taste great and really help me recover faster than consuming processed foods.
A few other foods that I eat as a part of my regular diet include:
1) Fresh & frozen fruit. I mix these into my cereal, oatmeal or greek yogurt. I also mix fruit into smoothies that I make after a hard workout. Oranges, bananas and apples are easy to eat fresh fruits. Consume these 3-5 times/day.
2) Consume vegetables 2-3 times per day. Green leafy vegetables are some of the best foods you can put into your body. I go through bags of Spinach and Kale. Kale is one of my secret superfoods.
The following information is taken from Wikopedia on the benefits of kale. Kale is very high in beta carotene, vitamin K, vitamin C, and rich in calcium. Kale, as with broccoli and other brassicas, contains sulforaphane (particularly when chopped or minced), a chemical with potent anti-cancer properties. Kale is also a source of indole-3-carbinol, a chemical which boosts DNA repair in cells and appears to block the growth of cancer cells. Kale has been found to contain a group of resins known as bile acid sequestrants, which have been shown to lower cholesterol and decrease absorption of dietary fat. Steaming significantly increases these bile acid binding properties.
Bottomline, get Kale into your diet somehow. A list of my Top 10 Secret Superfoods is included in all of my marathon training plans.
3) Another helpful approach to healthy eating is not to deprive yourself of foods you enjoy, but rather to swap them out for similar foods that will provide more or better nutrition. One way you can do this is with soy products. Soy is a legume and is an expensive, but very efficient protein. Soy products are available in many forms such as milk, hot dogs and veggie burgers. Soy products are a good substitute for animal products because, unlike some other beans, soy offers a ‘complete’ protein profile. This means that soy beans contain an adequate proportion of all nine of the essential amino acids necessary for the dietary needs of humans. Soy protein products can replace animal-based foods, which also have complete proteins but tend to contain more fat, especially saturated fat.
Try new ways to eat foods you eat on a regular basis. Instead of just eating plain yogurt, pour a bit of honey in and experience a new taste sensation. Instead of always steaming broccoli, try it in a stir-fry with a few other vegetables. You’ll be more likely to eat healthy if you have fun with it.
Grapefruit, asparagus, and cantaloupe contain very few calories, but provide your body with many essential vitamins. You should also look for low calorie foods that are high in protein, such as salmon and kidney beans. These will give you the energy you need to get through the day.
Legumes are superstars of the nutritional world because they provide protein and help balance blood sugar. But they may seem dull. Just dress them up in a good recipe and they are superstars of taste also: lentils become a good veggie burger, chick peas become hummus, beans excel in Mexican dishes, and there is nothing better than a bowl of homemade pea soup on a cold winter day!
Eating a well balanced and healthy diet is not something that’s going to happen overnight. There’s one secret food or pill that’s going to keep you injury free and maximize your performance. However, a diet that’s rich in multi-colored vegetables, lean meats, fiber, fruit and numerous other protein sources is the key to your success. If you expect to exercise almost everyday, nutrition must play a role. The foods that go into your body will make a difference in how quickly you recover and how well you perform. Sure you want your food to be tasty. Just make sure that your food choices are sensible.