Health-conscious and goal-oriented, many runners often have a long list of well-intended diet resolutions – like giving up all dessert or forgoing fat. But large, sweeping goals are often unrealistic and impossible to achieve, leaving you feeling overwhelmed and defeated before you even begin.
‘When you decide to train for a marathon, you wouldn’t run all those kilometres right off the bat,’ says registered dietician Keri Gans, author of The Small Change Diet. ‘In the same way, hitting short-term nutrition goals will help you achieve the long-term ones.’
The more empowering route?
Make smaller, more manageable changes that will keep you motivated and reshape the way you approach food.
Research shows that breakfast eaters keep off more weight than those who skip the meal. But many morning foods, like cereal, are high in carbs and not much else – which won’t keep hunger at bay for long.
Make sure your breakfast includes lean protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats. Fat helps you feel satisfied, while carbs provide quick energy to jump-start your body after a night long fast. Protein helps build and repair muscle and is slow-digesting, so it keeps you full.
The average person eats about 230g of meat daily, which is roughly 45% more than the USDA recommends. Eating too much fatty meat increases your saturated fat intake and increases your risk for heart disease.
‘By going meatless one day a week, you can cut back on saturated fat while incorporating other nutrient-dense, plant-based protein sources into your diet,’ says registered dietician Marissa Lippert, ‘including edamame, tofu, nuts, beans, and quinoa.’ The last two are particularly runner-friendly since they also contain slow-releasing complex carbohydrates that supply energy for runs.
Runners who don’t meet their daily fruit and vegetable quota are missing out big time. These nutrient-rich foods provide your body with plant chemicals that keep your cells healthy and reduce inflammation, says Dr Kristine Clark, registered dietician and director of sports nutrition at Penn State University.
By literally filling half your plate with fruits and vegetables, you leave less room for higher-kilojoule options. Plus, they’re rich in fibre, which helps lower cholesterol, control blood sugar, and fill you up so you’re less likely to overeat.
A study published last year in The Journal of Nutrition found that many people aren’t getting enough calcium, a nutrient essential for keeping bones strong and reducing fracture risk. Since milk is a rich source, try ways of getting more of it: Include a glass of fat-free milk as part of your postrun recovery snack, stir fat-free milk into soups, or use powdered varieties for a calcium boost that won’t alter the dish’s flavour.
‘Mix it into spaghetti sauce or add a half cup to smoothies,’ says Clark. Sneak in more nondairy sources, too, such as dark greens, canned salmon with the bones (they’re edible and provide the bulk of the calcium), tofu, and fortified fruit juices and soy milk.
Diversifying your picks beyond standard iceberg can help you supercharge your salad. Dark, leafy greens such as spinach and Swiss chard contain fibre, calcium, vitamin C, and iron, which helps power aerobic activity.
Spinach provides folate and calcium, while watercress contains beta-carotene, which may help protect against heart disease and cancer. ‘These greens add variety to your diet, and studies show that a more varied diet decreases mortality,’ says sports nutritionist Cassie Dimmick.
Low-fat versions of your favourite foods, such as cookies and potato chips, may appear healthier than their full-fat counterparts, but they’re often high in added sugars and sodium. Low-fat claims tempt people into eating more kilojoules, and also lead many to increase their view of an appropriate serving size.
‘Runners need to get back to eating smaller amounts of real food,’ says Dimmick. ‘One rich piece of dark chocolate can satisfy a craving a lot better than three low-fat brownies.’
It’s okay to indulge, but runners can do it in a way that will provide their bodies with performance-boosting nutrients. Go for fruit-based desserts, which are naturally sweet and have immune-boosting antioxidants, says Dimmick.
Try a baked apple with cinnamon and top with a spoonful of plain Greek yoghurt. Or melt one tablespoon of semi-sweet dark chocolate chips and drizzle over strawberries. You’ll benefit from the inflammation-reducing antioxidants in both foods.5 Tips To Reduce Kilojoules