Switch to highoctane fuel
We runners have a rather strange relationship with food. We run ourselves ravenous, but how can you refuel to enhance, rather than undo, your good work? We hear ‘experts’ extolling the virtues of eating like a caveman, abstaining from sugar, eating more fat, eating less fat, going raw, cooking slow and everything in between. What to do?
Emily Brown, a dietitian at the Mayo Clinic in the US and former elite runner, says it would be better if runners looked at the performance-enhancing qualities a food brings to the table rather than how it can hurt them. ‘I try to address nutrition from the standpoint of the positive influence it can have on health and performance, versus focusing on the negative,’ she says. ‘An optimal diet can benefit an athlete by increasing energy for training and enhancing recovery.’
One way to get better fuel is by packing your own snacks, says Brown. Healthy snacks that provide quick energy include wholewheat crackers with nut butter, dried fruit and seeds, and fruit smoothies. Minimal processing is good, because the additives found in many commercially produced foods can negatively impact your performance. And be aware that simple sugars increase the production of cortisol, a hormone that can inhibit recovery if it’s constantly flowing through the bloodstream.
That doesn’t make all processed foods bad, says Brown. Consider cereal. ‘Some are low in sugar and fortified with nutrients such as B vitamins, iron and zinc.’
Try to increase the amount of fresh, natural food you consume. Then enjoy your indulgences guilt-free.
CHANGE THIS Increase your intake of healthy, nutrient-rich foods to improve your performance.
WHY Food is more than simply calories to burn for energy. Real foods contain nutrients that can improve cardiovascular health, speed recovery, protect you from disease, provide more consistent energy and result in prolonged periods of better health (which will, in turn, improve your running).
THE CHALLENGE Processed foods are convenient, inexpensive and well marketed. Runners may feel their regular activity writes them a nutritional blank cheque. It really doesn’t.
THE RISK Health-wise, none, although paying more attention to nutrition requires time and focus.