“When you eat like crap, you feel like crap”
I enjoy running. I also enjoy eating. Luckily for me, the two go together nicely. Back in the day, I used running as an excuse to eat anything and as much as I wanted. I’ve since grown wiser about what I eat and realized how important it is to optimizing daily workouts and my performance on race days, and just feeling good and balanced.
Don’t get me wrong, my diet is far from perfect. I get cravings and indulge in #TreatYoSelf moments probably more often than I should. I also know how out of control a runner’s appetite can get and how tough that is to fight, regardless of everything we know about eating smart and portion control.
Rather than strive for perfection, I strive for balance via the 80/20 rule: Try to eat well 80% of the time, allow yourself some wiggle room 20% of the time. A lot of that boils down to trying my best to make good choices when hunger pangs and sugar cravings strike rather than go hungry and end up overdoing it later. With that, I’ve found there are a lot of yummy foods offer extra benefits that we runners need, from those that give a steady release of energy (crucial on high mileage days) to those that help prevent muscle soreness (imperative for recovery).
Whether you’re looking to improve running speed or distance, or just get started with your first mile, the right foods can help you achieve those goals and make the miles much more enjoyable. Here are a few of my favorite foods for runners.
Both on race day and typical running days, bananas are great because they’re one of the easiest carbs for your body to digest. That means fuel without a heavy feeling in your stomach. Bonus, they’re high in potassium, which is great for preventing side stitches and sore muscles.
They’re tasty and one of the most antioxidant-rich fruits out there. Plus, they’re a smart treat when you’re craving something sweet after a run. Studies have shown cherries can help reduce muscle soreness and strength loss after tough workouts.
The closest thing to a nutritionally complete food, eggs are packed with protein and amino acids to aid in muscle repair and recovery. And don’t feel like you have to skip the yolks – there’s a lot of nutritional value in them and most of the protein – plus, they’re not bad for you as thought to be back in the day.
Another great source of protein, low-fat Greek yogurt also provides the kick of calcium every runner needs for strong bones and stress fracture prevention. Word of warning: Not all Greek yogurt is created equal. Check labels and choose the highest protein/lowest calorie and sugar ratio.
Let’s face it, most of us love carbs. And as runners, we need them too. The key is to choose smart carbs that offer additional value. Regular or even mildly-sweetened oatmeal (not the highly sweetened, full-of-added-sugar kind) is a great choice for a pre-run breakfast, because it’s high in carbs and fiber. But it’s also low on the glycemic index, which means it gives energy that lasts.
Logging all those miles in the wind, rain, snow or gym, the last thing runners want to worry about is getting bogged down by illness. Incorporate oranges into a healthy eating plan and get a giant dose of Vitamin C, the immune system’s best bud. Oranges have also been shown to aid in digestive health and reduce muscle soreness – something all runners would agree is of major value.
Especially if you’re looking to increase endurance, peanut butter is great food for runners. It’s full of fiber and protein to give a slow, sustained release of energy, and it provides heart-healthy fat. Like with Greek yogurt, watch labels. Reduced fat options might sound like a better choice, but you’ll often find them to be higher in sugar – not a smart tradeoff.
As vegetables go, spinach is one of the top for protein. It’s one of the most nutrient-dense foods, packing a ton of vitamins and minerals. Spinach also offers anti-inflammatory properties which can aid in the relief of inflammation from tough workouts, as well as conditions such as asthma, arthritis and migraines. And because it’s so low in calories, feel free to pile it on!
Another carb that offers additional benefits, sweet potatoes are a great source of fiber, potassium and iron. They’re delicious, easy to prepare and almost feel like a “cheat” or comfort food, satisfying that need. Bonus, they offer a good dose of Vitamins A and C to support a healthy immune system.
Are they a fruit? Are they a vegetable? Not important, all you need to know is they’re full of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals that runners need, most notable is B6. Studies have shown a lack of vitamin B6 can lead to an inability to store muscle glycogen. Best of all, they’re low in calories and so delish, they can spice up a ton of different foods or be eaten solo as a light, tasty snack.
Fellow runners, what are some of your favorite foods? Comment or tweet me, @runlikeagirl311.