By Rick Platt
“You are what you eat” is a common saying indicating the importance of nutrition to health. For runners that could be changed to “You race what you eat.” Without optimum eating habits, runners (or walkers, triathletes, cyclists or swimmers) won’t have the energy to do their best workouts, won’t recover as quickly from those workouts to strengthen the body, and won’t have the endurance to run their best race on event day.
Over and over people are advised by government dietary guidelines and nutritional experts to eat more fruits, vegetables and grains, yet the American diet continues to be substandard from a health standpoint. One of the problems with putting theory into practice is the overwhelming number of food choices that are available. Supermarkets have thousands of products, 90% of which may be of dubious nutritional value. Ingredient lists, sometimes in small, hard-to-read type, can have dozens of items, many with obscure chemical names. What’s OK to buy? Which items should be avoided?
This article will give detailed dietary advice with specific, easy-to-follow recommendations for each meal of the day, drinks and desserts. As a competitive runner, I have been very interested in optimum nutrition since my college days. Starting with a degree from the College of William & Mary in chemistry, along with numerous courses in biology, biochemistry and sports medicine, I have since read Consumer Reports for 40 years, subscribed to the Nutrition Action Health Letter (published by the Center for Science in the Public Interest) for 20 years, and read the Washington Post’s Health & Science section every Tuesday for many years. All three are strongly recommended for unbiased and accurate advice on health and nutrition. In addition, I routinely read the full ingredients list before buying anything, and thanks to the CSPI’s “Chemical Cuisine” guidelines for food additives, I know which food additives are OK and which should be avoided.
Future articles will expand on the science and research justifying these nutritional recommendations, but this article will simply give an overview of suggested foods to buy, along with a list of items you should avoid. Although there are numerous other good choices out there, you can’t go wrong with the following suggestions. Combined with daily exercise, they are good for a long and healthy lifetime.
My criteria for food choices are health, taste, cost and convenience. The breakfast cereal choices are particularly good for digestibility less than two hours before a workout.
Breakfast – Quaker Oats Old Fashioned Oatmeal, Country Choice Organic Multi Grain Hot Cereal, Post Shredded Wheat Original, Post Great Grains Whole Grain Cereal with raisins, dates & pecans, Cheerios (regular flavor). Add a sliced banana, raisins, 1% milk, and fruit in season (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, white or red seedless grapes) or canned pineapple chunks or peach slices (in their own juice, no sugar added). Glass of orange juice (can be diluted a bit).
Alternatives – Scrambled eggs or omelet with mushrooms, tomatoes, green pepper and cheese, along with whole wheat toast and fruit preserves. Whole grain pancakes with honey and fruit. These choices are not as quick to digest before a workout.
Lunch – One or two slices of 100% whole wheat or whole grain bread (Arnold, Pepperidge Farm, Ezekiel 4:9) with Smucker’s All-Natural Peanut Butter), large glass of 1% milk and a banana (or an apple or orange). Daisy 2% low-fat cottage cheese, with raisins, topped with fruit (see breakfast choices). Drink choices include 100% juice products, slightly diluted, immediately after the workout, and later a 50-50 combination of Silk chocolate soy milk and 1% regular milk. Add several handfuls of nuts or seeds (Planters unsalted dry roasted peanuts, Trader Joe’s dry roasted & unsalted almonds or raw sunflower seeds) and a few dried plums (prunes).
The lunch choices are ideal for quick recovery after your main workout, including an ideal combination of protein, carbs and minerals.
Dinner – A combination of one or two protein sources, grains and vegetables. Protein sources include fish or shellfish (tuna, tilapia, flounder, salmon, scallops, etc.), all-natural boneless breast of chicken, tofu or hard-boiled eggs. Grains include Comet or Mahatma long-grained brown rice, Goya lentils or split peas. Starches include baked Yukon or white potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams. Vegetables include fresh carrot and celery sticks, fresh or frozen vegetables like broccoli, zucchini or yellow squash, peas, spinach, lima beans, green beans, Brussels sprouts, Swiss chard, tomatoes, cabbage or collards. Use canola oil when cooking the fish or chicken, or for adding substance and flavor to the vegetables or grain casseroles, and top with a bit of natural cheese. Eat with slice of toasted whole wheat bread.
Drinks – V-8 V-Fusion (regular flavors, but not Light or tea versions), Dole, Northland, Old Orchard, Welch’s or Trader Joe’s 100% juice combinations (acai, pomegranate, cranberry, blueberry, pineapple, etc.).
Desserts – If you have a late-evening sweet tooth, the following can satisfy those cravings, and are OK in moderation. Breyer’s or Harris Teeter all-natural ice cream, Dannon vanilla yogurt (32 ounce containers) with fresh fruit and raisins, Hershey’s Kisses (dark is healthier, but milk chocolate tastes better), Silk chocolate soy milk-1% milk combo.
Items to avoid – Artificial sweeteners (saccharin, aspartame, Acesulfame-K, sucralose), artificial colors and food dyes, artificial flavors (vanillin is OK), partially (trans fat) or fully hydrogenated oils, palm oil, palm kernel oil, margarine, excessive salt, sodium nitrite and nitrate, “energy” drinks with high caffeine, nutritional supplements, MSG, Olestra, diet soda, any “light,” reduced-fat, low-calorie or “diet” processed-food items, any juice “cocktails” or juice “drinks”, which are not 100% juice.
Food bargains – The best nutrition for the price comes from oatmeal, brown rice, lentils, split peas, potatoes, sweet potatoes, broccoli, squash, bananas, apples and oranges.
If you’re cost-conscious – Combining coupons or double coupons, drug store and supermarket 2-for-1 deals and other sales, can halve or less the price of breakfast cereals, Planters peanuts, Sun-Maid raisins, V-8 Fusion and other juices, giving prices of under $2 for large sizes of cereals, raisins or nuts, and under $2.50 for 64-ounce juice bottles.
Rick Platt, long-time president of the Colonial Road Runners, has been a serious competitive runner for over 40 years. He is also a personal running coach, from beginners to age-group standouts, and includes nutritional advice as part of that coaching. For questions on running, or suggestions for future articles in the Health Journal, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 757-229-7375.