There has been a lot of talk about clean eating of late, and this topic is especially important for runners. Clean eating refers to the philosophy that performance is based on what we put into our bodies. Whole, unrefined and unprocessed foods that are preservative- and additive-free are best. There are different degrees of compliance to this style of eating. Some people are very strict about what they eat while others will occasionally eat clean. Decide what is working for you to determine how strict or lenient you want to be with clean eating!
Food is more than nutrition to a runner, it fuels them during races and while training. A runner needs to know what to eat prior to a race, while racing and after they finish running.
Note: Marathon training burns a lot of calories. It depends on the intensity of the training, your size and gender as to how many calories you need to consume. Clean eating is the best way to get the types of foods you need to do your best. Don’t expect to lose weight, though. Runners have increased appetites which means you should watch your calorie intake if this is an issue for you.
WHY DOES CLEAN EATING MATTER?
Clean eating matters to a runner as it helps to improve their performance. They must focus on the conversion and digestion of the foods they consume as fuel. Fast-foods and processed ingredients aren’t good sources of fuel. The right amount of good fats, proteins and carbs are neededin order to fuel the body for effective training. Some runners prefer to eat clean 80% of the time and the other 20% they are less stringent about their diet.
DO YOU GET RUNGER?
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A feeling runners get when training for a marathon is often referred to as “runger,” which is a feeling of being hungry all the time. This could signal a dietary change is in order. Make sure you are eating enough protein as it stabilizes blood sugar and helps you feel full longer. Eat 3 meals a day with a couple of snacks between meals to avoid “runger.” Also, eating a variety of snacks will ensure that you don’t pick up fast-foods for a quick treat.
HOW IS CLEAN EATING EFFECTIVE?
Muscle cells are fueled by fat and sugar sourced through our food or from what our body has stored from what we have eaten. Carbohydrates in our diets are broken down into simple glucose, which is a type of sugar, and this, in turn, powers our cells. Leftover glucose that is not utilized is stored as glycogen in the liver and muscles. As a fuel source, the body pulls from the sugar in the bloodstream and then into the stored levels as our glucose levels diminish.
Ingested fat is broken down into fatty acids before it is used by muscles. This makes it less available than carbs and a less efficient fuel source, particularly during an intense workout.
Fat that is stored in the body is a great source of fuel. As you continue to run, your body becomes better able to tap into stored fat as a fuel source.
CARBS ARE LIKE JET FUEL FOR YOUR MUSCLES
The body breaks down carbs into glucose, which is what it needs in order to perform. Carbs provide instant energy when you are working out, which is why sport drinks are full of them, but they are mostly sugar. If you consume too many carbs at once, your body won’t be able to handle it and will convert them into fat. This is why complex carbs, in addition to simple carbs, are important for long-distance runners. Foods such as potatoes, oatmeal and pasta are a good source. Right before a race, it is best to eat easily-processed carbs, such as instant oatmeal.
FAT IS NOT YOUR ENEMY
Stored fat in the body is a vital source of fuel for those involved in endurance training. It helps your body to absorb vitamins and serves as a backup source of energy when carbs are used up. They can help you to feel full longer too. Processed foods replace fat with sugar, which leaves you craving more.
Fats are good to eat any time of day, except right before a race. You should include a mix of fats in your diet, such as monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and saturated fats.
- Olive oil
- Coconut oil
- Dark meat of the chicken with the skin on
- Red meat
In terms of a runner, protein is a re-conditioner, re-shaper and re-builder. Muscle breaks down as you run, protein builds it back in the manner in which you need it the most to keep fueled.
Protein should be eaten within 20 minutes after working out for best results. This helps the body to send glycogen back to the muscles for recovery. Protein sources can be found in protein powder (such as whey), barley, soy, quinoa, eggs, dairy, pork, beans, beef, chicken and fish.
FINDING CARBS IN FRUITS AND VEGGIES
Other forms of carbs include vegetables and fruit, which also contain minerals and vitamins, are anti-inflammatory and contain antioxidants. The anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits help to limit injuries and ease soreness in the muscles. For those with abdominal issues, raw veggies and fruit should be limited to 24 to 48 hours before intense workouts. Cooked fruits and veggies might help to alleviate abdominal problems they can cause.
Fruits and veggies that contain carbs include red bell peppers, sweet potatoes, kale, cherries, plums, peaches, raspberries, strawberries and blueberries. Beetroot juice has also proved to be a great enhancer of athletic performance.
HOW TO CHANGE YOUR FOOD MINDSET
It’s really not that hard to change your eating habits when you are getting great results! New foods introduced into your diet should be tested before you compete in a race in order to see the effects they have on our body. The following are examples of clean eating to try:
BEFORE A RACE
- 1/4 to a 1/2 cup oatmeal, 100% maple syrup or honey optional
- A handful of cashews with an orange or tangerine
- Half of a 100% whole wheat bagel topped with honey
- Slice of 100% whole wheat bread topped with natural almond butter
- Banana, with 100% nut butter optional
- Cashews or whole-roasted pumpkin seeds
- Low-fat yogurt, with fruit or granola optional
DURING A RACE
- Grapes (when frozen, they travel well)
- Applesauce – 100% natural (squeeze packets are convenient)
- Medjool dates
- Cashews, whole-roasted and unsalted
- Honey in a baggie (cut corner to eat)
AFTER A RACE
- Oatmeal breakfast bowls
- Arugula salad with scallops and lemon and a slice of 100% whole wheat toast
- Kale bowl with quinoa, egg and crushed cashews
- Roasted sweet potato bowl with whole grain rice, grilled chicken and spinach
- Granola with yogurt and berries
- Bagel with banana slices and 100% natural nut butter
- Avocado egg toast made with 100% whole grain bread and a hard-boiled egg
WHAT YOU SHOULD BE EATING AND WHY
Runners need to add in just the right amount of unsaturated fats, proteins and complex carbs. Sometimes it’s easier when you get a bit of inspiration, check out this list of clean eating foods:
HEALTHY, UNSATURATED FATS
- Chia, also a source of fiber and protein
- Olive oil
- Coconut oil
- Vegetarian protein powder
- Greek yogurt, can often contain over 20 grams of protein (watch out – additives, like sugar)
- Organic tofu
- Bison or buffalo
- Lean steak
- Brussels sprouts
- Green beans
- Leafy greens which include cabbage, arugula, kale and spinach
- Berries, including blueberries, strawberries and raspberries
- Medjool dates
- Beans, including soybeans, lentils and black beans (legumes – contain healthy fat and protein)
- Corn tortillas, organic
- Quinoa (also contains protein)
- 100% natural whole grain bread
- Whole grain rice
FOODS TO AVOID
Clean eating involves knowing what you should eat to fuel your body and what you should avoid as well. Keep track of how much sodium you are eating, it is recommended that we use 3/4 to 1 teaspoon daily. Avoid foods that contain preservatives or additives. Don’t eat processed foods or foods with ingredients you cannot pronounce. Avoid saturated and trans fats. Replace refined sugar with natural sweeteners, like agave nectar, 100% natural maple syrup and honey.
Helpful ways to stay on track with clean eating are to prepare a grocery list before going shopping and know what you will be making for meals. Then you will be sure to purchase the correct ingredients. Walk past pre-packaged foods when shopping. Also, make sure you have had something to eat before you step foot in the store to avoid impulse buying.
For those with busy schedules, a great idea is to prepare meals ahead of time. This will ensure you are practicing clean eating. Portion out snacks, such as fruit, nuts, seeds and vegetables, so you have something to take on the go.
Featured image from CleanEatingMag.com