“Runners are do-ers and they tend to perform many tasks at one time,” says Liz Applegate, Runner’s World nutrition writer. “They often work through lunch because no matter what time they run, it cuts into their workday.”
In fact, according to a survey by the American Dietetic Association, seven out of 10 Americans eat lunch at their desks and carry on working while eating. The same can be said of many South Africans. But while simultaneous munching and mouse-clicking may seem efficient, it rarely leads to healthy eating.
“Overeating and unbalanced nutrition are the biggest problems with eating at your desk,” says sports nutritionist Lisa Dorfman. ”You eat a whole bag of chips. Then because you’re so full, you don’t eat the apple or low-fat cheese.” This kind of mindless eating when you’re focused more on what you’re doing instead of what you’re inhaling can add up to too many kilojoules and too little nutrition.
For some, lunchtime is the only opportunity to work out, making desktop dining a must. And to refuel properly after a morning run, or to fuel up sufficiently for an evening run, most runners find it necessary to strap on the old feedbag at some point during the workday.
Ideally, those foods you do eat at your desk should be thoughtfully prepared at home. Homemade foods tend to be lower in sodium and fat than vending machine fare, and it’s much easier to control your portion sizes.
Stock up on yoghurt, fruit, nuts, raw vegetables, high-fibre crackers and microwavable soups. And don’t forget the leftovers from the night before.
“Even when you want to bring food from home, it isn’t always convenient, and you don’t want to sacrifice nutrition because of that,” says Applegate. So if you find yourself grabbing a sandwich at a local deli on your way into work, take the extra few minutes to figure out just what you’re getting.
“You need to know what’s in your sandwich so you can balance the rest of the day’s nutrition around it,” says Dorfman. “Most athletes I speak to have no idea what’s in those wraps and sandwiches.” Dorfman advises adding condiments yourself, and selecting only one fat source for the meal: Cheese, mayonnaise, oil or meat.
Tailoring your desktop dining to your dietary needs also depends on your workout routine.
Morning runners are often pressed for time after their workouts, so they need to be prepared to refuel once they make it into the office with something like egg on a roll.
Midday runners need a 1200-kilojoule snack about two hours before a run to avoid crashing. Keep this snack low in fat, moderate in protein and high in carbs (about 60 percent of kilojoules). Convenient desktop options include yoghurt or oatmeal topped with dried fruit.
“Lunchtime runners also need to know where they will get their recovery meal,” says Applegate. “Their muscles are trying to rebuild glycogen stores, so a tuna salad low in mayonnaise, a turkey sandwich or bean soup are ideal.” But because the duration of a lunchtime run is typically under an hour, you don’t need to eat a huge amount of food to replenish what was lost.
In South Africa look out for health food chains like Kauai and even Nando’s for a great snack. Try and avoid the common fast food outlets crammed with pies and boerewors rolls.
A post-work run after a long day can be tough to get through, and poor nutrition at the office will only make it more difficult. Lunch will be a distant memory, so you’ll need a mini-meal two to three hours before leaving work. Applegate suggests dried fruit, nuts, string cheese with low-fat biscuits, or a banana with a whole-grain muffin. “Microwave popcorn is something I usually keep on hand for afternoon snacks,” says Applegate.
Staying hydrated throughout the day is also crucial. Down 400ml of water two hours before a run to top off your fluid stores.
Desktop dining will rarely be gourmet or glamorous. But having a plan to provide your body with the nutrition and energy it deserves – and avoiding the doughnut cart – is accomplishment enough. Just be careful to keep the crumbs out of the keyboard.
Desktop Dining – A Working Lunch
Work, run, eat, sleep, live – it’s amazing we fit it all in, much less do it well. Sports nutritionist Lisa Dorfman says good nutrition just takes a little planning. Here are the best desktop lunches for runners no matter when you work out.
Come midday, early-bird runners need a lunch with a four-to-one ratio of carbohydrates to protein to continue recovering from their morning run.
RECOMMENDED MEAL: A baguette with smoked chicken, lettuce, tomatoes and mustard followed with a carton of orange juice.
You need to pace your fuel intake throughout the morning so that you’re not too full to run, but have enough energy to go the distance at noon.
PRE-RUN MEAL (10am): An energy bar or a large handful of pretzels and 450ml of sports drink.
POST-RUN MEAL: A wholewheat sandwich with low-fat cheese and some chicken.
Late-day runners should break their lunch down into three mini-meals during the day so they don’t leave for their run feeling stuffed or sluggish.
MORNING MEAL (10am): Yoghurt or an apple with low-fat cheese.
NOON MEAL: One half of a smoked chicken wrap, light on the vegetables and mayonnaise.
AFTERNOON MEAL (2pm): One small fruit smoothie, an energy bar, a drinkable yoghurt shake or a low-fat meal-replacement shake.