One of the simplest pieces of nutrition advice is to eat more vegetables. Vegetables offer the nutrients necessary for both overall health and for running – and yet so many of us avoid eating vegetables or don’t eat as many vegetables as we should be. You should be eating 6-9 servings of vegetables and fruit a day, with more of those servings coming from vegetables rather than fruit.
I can go through the basic, cliched tips on how to eat more vegetables – eat a salad each day, snack on carrot stick, make a smoothie. – but we have all heard those so many times. I don’t know about you, but a salad of romaine, tomatoes, cucumber, and a sad sprinkle of cheese has me reaching for a burger and fries faster than Usain Bolt can run a 100m sprint. I’m also not about to tell you to adopt a Paleo diet and rely solely on vegetables for carbs – because our bodies need more carbohydrates than vegetables alone can offer.
Today I want to offer you creative and realistic tips on how to eat more vegetables while also satisfying a runner’s appetite.
A Hungry Runner’s Guide to Eating More Vegetables
1. Don’t Worry about What You “Should” and “Shouldn’t” Eat
Spinach causes kidney stones, nightshades like eggplant lead to inflammation, and potatoes are bad for you – that’s just a whole lot of nonsense (unless you are eating several pounds of spinach or only eating your potatoes fried with a side of gravy). If you like spinach, eat spinach, if you like kale, eat kale. Nutritional variety is important, but you can still get that variety from eating the 4-6 vegetables you really like.
The same with preparation. You read how cooking broccoli depletes most of the nutrients. I am not a registered dietician, so I cannot tell you if this is true. However, if roasting broccoli is what gets you to eat broccoli (especially since roasting it makes it easier to digest), then roast your broccoli and enjoy it. The vegetables you do eat are always more nutritious than the vegetables you don’t eat.
Confession: I prefer russet and red potatoes to sweet potatoes, so that’s what I eat instead unless I am craving a sweet potato. Despite their bad reputation, a medium russet potato provides 38 grams of carbohydrate, 3 grams of fiber, 10% of daily iron, 12% of daily magnesium, 25% of daily potassium, 37% of daily vitamin B6, and 20% of daily vitamin C. That’s not to mention that they are easy to digest – great for the night before a long run!
Recipe to Try: Potato and Parsnip Soup
2. Sneak Vegetables into Breakfast
Eating vegetables at breakfast jumpstarts your day with nutrients – and means one less serving of veggies that you have to squeeze into lunch and dinner. If you eat eggs at breakfast, it’s easy to incorporate vegetables: scramble greens in with your eggs, make a hash, or put zucchini in your omelet.
If you prefer a sweeter breakfast, you can still add vegetables by being creative. You can stir in pumpkin or squash puree or added shredded vegetables. I personally enjoy shredded carrots or shredded zucchini in my oatmeal. I cook the vegetables separately in the microwave or in the pot with my oatmeal. With a pinch of salt and a sprinkle of cinnamon, these sweeter vegetables blend in well with the overall flavor of my beloved bowl of oatmeal.
3. When in doubt, roast them up.
Personal preference does account for taste, but roasting with olive oil, salt, and other seasonings is one of most palatable methods for preparing vegetables. Roasting releases the naturally occurring sugars (most vegetables have a couple grams)
If your stomach is sensitive to high amounts of fiber, roasting also makes vegetables easier to digest. This is especially true for fibrous vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, and eggplant. Other vegetables, such as potatoes, beets, and squash, need to be cooked in order to be edible. The only vegetables you can’t roast are most greens.
Most importantly, roasting is an easy and time-saving method for preparing vegetables. You can roast up a large batch at once as part of meal preparation for the week. On a work night (or long run night when you are too tired to stand in the kitchen), you can literally pop the vegetables in the oven with your protein of choice, set a timer, and then do other things while they cook.
Recipe to Try: Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Butternut Squash (my most popular recipe!)
4. Puree them into a sauce.
Pureeing vegetables and making them into a sauce may be more time-consuming, but this method will appease any picky eaters in your house – and trick you into eating vegetables when your appetite is all wonky after a hard training run.
5. Shop seasonally and locally.
Not only is it more sustainable to purchase seasonal vegetables (rather than those shipped from abroad), but seasonal vegetables taste better since they are fresher and grow naturally that time of year. Most local produce at your grocery store or farmer’s market are seasonal, so you can support local farmers as well as enjoy fresher, delicious vegetables.
Currently, the seasonal vegetables for October include butternut squash, acorn squash, beets, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, parsnips, shallots, potatoes, and sweet potatoes.
Recipe to Try: Warm Acorn Squash and Wild Rice Salad
How do you eat more vegetables?
Which vegetables are your favorites right now?
What are your plans this weekend?