Healthy food rules for runners

Healthy Lifestyles Corner

Greene County News

XENIA — Americans eat more doughnuts, soda and chips than real food. While you should continue to eat the foods you like, eat them moderately and concentrate the majority of your diet on foods that are naturally low in calories. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking about foods as “good” or “bad”— nothing is evil, or is going to hurt you in moderation.

Make it Happen: So how do you find the right proportion? For some, it means eating loads offruits, vegetables, grains and nuts during the day, and saving meat, processed foods and desserts for dinner. Or maybe you’ll find you need a tiny bit of dessert after another meal, or you get less hungry if you have high-protein eggs or other meat with breakfast and not dinner. The key is to experiment until you find what works best for you.

Think plants first

You can’t go wrong relying on vegetables, fruits, nuts and beans. In general, they contain far fewer calories per ounce than anything else, along with nutrients that runners need. Iron, for example, which helps runners sustain energy and fights fatigue, is found in spinach, green peas, broccoli, kidney beans and chickpeas—all of which also provide more protein per calorie than animal products.

Even those plant foods that are relatively high in fat and calories, like avocados and nuts, contain the sort of fat that should be in our diets, and minimal saturated fat, the unhealthy kind that’s been linked to increases in the risk of heart disease.

Make it Happen: Set goals that are going to help you cut back on animal products, processed foods, and junk foods—as well as help you load up on vegetables, fruits, nuts, and beans. Here are a few easy changes to incorporate into your routine: Try adding a salad to dinner every night, or going completely vegetarian once a week. Perhaps keep a bag of nuts and dried fruit in your desk drawer at work so you aren’t tempted to reach for a bag of chips or an energy bar.

Start shopping and start cooking

It’s impossible to eat well if you don’t shop; it’s nearly impossible to eat well if you don’t cook.

We’re not talking about shopping in farmer’s markets or cooking four-star meals. You should be shopping like your grandmother, which means buying ingredients that are fresh (vegetables) or naturally long-keeping (grains and beans), and cooking simply.

Make it Happen: Start shopping regularly—twice a week is great, but once a week will do to keep your kitchen stocked. You may not have time to cook seven nights a week; but if you cook none now, one would be a good start, and if you cook three now, try to make it five.

Buy and make extra

Once you’re shopping regularly, start buying and cooking in bulk. It takes just a little more time to roast or grill three pounds of vegetables than one pound.

Make it Happen: Wash, prepare, and cook vegetables, beans, and grains in large quantities that will last all week. It also helps to plan for leftovers; if a recipe is for four and you’re only two, that’s perfect; or double recipes and freeze the remainder for a future meal.

Don’t set goals you can’t reach

It’s just like running: If you’ve run a 50-minute 10K, you wouldn’t shoot for 35 minutes the next time around. If you set realistic targets and reach them easily, you’re likely to move closer to your ultimate goal than if you set an unrealistic one, try to reach it all at once, and fail.

Make it Happen: If you’re incredibly motivated, you might cut your consumption of animal products and processed and junk foods by two-thirds. For many, that’s a huge adjustment. If you are intrigued about gradually changing your diet, you might try this: Each day, eat one more piece of fruit and one more vegetable than you do now, and one less serving of processed foods than you do now; each day, eat one more serving of whole grains than you do now; and each week, eat one less serving of animal products than you do now. Take it from there.

Ultimately, animal products are treats

USDA data shows we eat 225 pounds of meat and cheese per person every year—that’s up 79 pounds per person just since the 1950s. That’s way more than is good for our health. If we reduce our intake by 10 percent, that’d be a terrific first step.

Make it Happen: Meat is flavorful, so think of it as a seasoning rather than the anchor of your meal. Use bacon to flavor beans and rice instead of eating a quarter pound of it at breakfast; make vegetable sauce for pasta with some meat, rather than a meat sauce; have that huge steak four times a year—not 20.

Don’t worry about nutrients

Many runners are hyper-vigilant about getting a certain amount of carbs and protein in every meal.

They forget that carbs are in everything; if you eat plenty of whole grains, beans, and greens, you’re getting enough. Same goes for protein. If you’re seriously training, you’ll want to eat some extra complex carbohydrates before most runs to make sure your energy levels are high. And throughout the day, get an extra serving or two of protein to repair your muscles from workouts.

Make it Happen: Oatmeal is a great source of complex carbohydrates, and a bowl before a run works well—but any whole grain will do the trick. If you eat two servings of concentrated protein a day, you’ll be fine even if you’re training hard: That could be in the form of eight ounces of animal products or one serving of lean meat, fish or poultry, and one of tofu, or for that matter, peanut butter or beans. Remember, “protein” is not synonymous with “meat” or even with “animal products.” Per calorie, lentils have nearly the same amount of protein as ground beef.

Don’t confuse energy bars with real food

A heavy dose of simple carbohydrates has its place in a runner’s diet: namely, during a run. But for recovery, eat real food consisting of protein and complex carbohydrates. While energy bars can be useful in a pinch, most runners mistakenly eat them in addition to—not in place of—an actual meal.

Make it Happen: On runs over an hour or so, make sure you have a sports drink like Gatorade or a gel out on the route to keep your energy up. Postrun, skip the 350-calorie protein bar in favor of real food—a slice of whole-grain bread smeared with your favorite nut butter and topped with sliced banana is nearly as simple and much better tasting.

This Week’s 5K Training Tip – 6 Weeks from Race Day

You’re now six weeks from Race Day, Saturday, April 1. During this week of training, you should still be doing a combination of walking and jogging to continue to build your endurance and strength. Training Tip brought to you by On your chosen training days (3-5 days are recommended), always start with a brisk five-minute warm-up walk, then:

Day 1: Jog 1/2 mile (or 5 minutes); Walk 1/4 mile (or 3 minutes); Jog 3/4 mile (or 8 minutes); Walk 1/4 mile (or 3 minutes); Jog 1/2 mile (or 5 minutes).

Day 2: Jog 1 mile (or 10 minutes); Walk 1/4 mile (or 3 minutes); Jog 1 mile (or 10 minutes).

Day 3: Jog 2-1/4 miles (or 25 minutes) with no walking.

To register for the April 1 Spring Has Sprung Healthy Families 5K Run/Walk at the Xenia YMCA go to or print and mail a registration form with your payment by visiting For further questions or should you be interested in helping to sponsor this event, please call 937-374-5683 or email [email protected]

Healthy Lifestyles Corner

Greene County News

Story courtesy of Greene County Public Health, adapted from

Story courtesy of Greene County Public Health, adapted from