One of the biggest struggles for people who are trying to change bad habits and eat healthier, either to lose weight or simply for overall well being and improve running performance, is getting caught up in the trap of heading straight for the vending machine or fast food joint and picking up something nasty to eat. With some alterations in your routine, you can be on your way to a healthier, happier, and stronger runner.
“Eat and drink before you get hungry or thirsty” in ultra marathons is encouraged to stay well hydrated and fueled in order keep going. The same applies with everyday life. Don’t wait until you are starving before you eat something. Plan out what you are going to eat that day early in the day. If you are going to be in meetings all morning, make sure you eat a substantial breakfast and bring a snack. If you are going to be on the road all day traveling, pack a lunch. Lisa Martin, personal trainer( www.livingfitstudios.com), 3:29 marathon finisher, two time ironman, and recent ultra marathoner says that she tries never to have big swings in energy levels during the day and tries to eat every 2-3 hours, but with well balanced healthy options-nothing too heavy. “My go-to snacks include apple slices with peanut butter, an ounce of cheese with rice crackers, baby carrots with hummus, or greek yogurt with berries. Lunches might be a tuna sandwich, a big salad with avocado and nuts, or even left-overs from the night before. The secret is always balancing carbs (especially any simple ones)with protein and a little fat".
Sometimes you will know ahead of time when you are going to have a particularly busy day. This is when it’s important to plan out what you will eat the night before the busy day. Save some leftovers from dinner or pack a lunch the night before just in case you are too rushed in the morning. Dena Cyr, franchise owner of Operation Boot Camp and a veteran marathon runner tells her clients, “Do you plan for your food the way you plan for your busy day?” She says that most people answer, “no”. She never leaves her house without her cooler. She loves yogurt with almonds and berries, string cheese with Wasa crackers and a pear, and rice cakes with Naturally More peanut butter.
Not everyone has access to a microwave but with a little thought, this does not have to be an issue. Sometimes, leftovers can be eaten cold. If you don’t have leftovers, a sandwich or salad is easy to make. If you don’t mind eating the same lunch for a few days, make a pasta salad in advance.
Stock up your pantry and refrigerator with healthy snacks. I advise against eating frozen dinners such as Lean Cuisine. Frozen dinners have an exorbitant amount of salt and not enough calories leaving you hungry. The more you cook from scratch, the less that frozen meals will be appealing to you. The only reason that frozen dinners have any taste at all is because of the high sodium content. Using garlic, lemon juice, and herbs and spices, add a lot of flavor to home cooked meals. It’s not the salt that makes the dish delicious.
If you are extremely rushed or caught off guard with a busy day, reach for some healthy snacks before you walk out the door such as individual size hummus dip with carrots, sliced bell peppers, or cucumbers, individual size peanut butter with carrots or celery, “Tuna to Go,”, healthy bars, granola clusters, homemade trail mix, and any kind of fruit. Be careful with granola bars or energy bars. Some of them are no healthier than eating a Snickers Bar.
Speaking of Snickers bars, if you crave a little chocolate in the middle of the day, no worries. Buy a bag of bite size dark chocolates such as Hershey Kisses or Dove chocolates. Be sure to buy dark chocolate, not milk chocolate, and keep it in the freezer. You are less likely to snack on them at home if they are in a freezer (especially a freezer in the garage or basement) and you will eat the piece slower if it’s a little frozen. Eating slower can translate into enjoying that one piece and not reaching for a second piece. Bring one or two chocolates with you for the day and pull one out when you get the urge to go through the drivethru of Steak and Shake for that 700 calorie milkshake.
If a day pops up and you are completely unprepared foodwise, finding it necessary to eat out, think carefully about what types of restaurants are in the vicinity of where you are that day. Picking up a salad at a fast food joint is not the worst thing in the world-just don’t make it a habit. When you eat out regularly, it’s a lot easier to slip back into bad patterns of eating. If you are required to eat in a restaurant for lunch, request condiments and salad dressing on the side. Usually, the calorie intake jumps way up when you are not in charge of the amount that you use on sandwiches and salads.
Just like running and exercising almost everyday is a habit, making healthy food choices can become a habit as well, and it doesn’t have to be given a ton of thought. As you plan out your run for the following day regarding how many miles, what type of run (speedwork, hill repeats, tempo workout, easy paced run) and about what time you plan on running, the same can happen with your eating. Your running routine is a part of who you are each day. Make your eating routine a part of who you are as well and you will be surprised by how simple it can be. Mary Klingman, runner, fitness instructor, and nutrition consultant, says, “Making healthy choices comes down to two things: planning and purpose. I know I will be successful when I consciously decide, in advance, when, what, and why I will eat and train on any given day” . Ashley Walsh, owner of Primitive Training, ultra marathoner and 2 time 100 miler finisher, and blogger(www.ultrachicksunite.com), says that she genuinely views food as fuel to get her to (and through) her next workout. “I am keenly aware of the fact that an unwise choice in food consumption can make or break a training session”.
Ami Roach, finisher of 29 marathons with a 3:32 PR and a weight loss of 130 lbs six years ago, sums it up quite well by saying, “For a healthy lunch or snack I always keep it simple with three rules in mind. One, always have protein -it helps you run stronger, harder, and longer. Two, have something crunchy-it always seems to satisfy hunger . Third, have a little something sweet to keep you happy”. Ami is proof that with hard work and dedication, anything is possible.