Regular readers will know that I love to talk about food and nutrition just as much as I love to eat. I am a firm believer in no-fuss nutrition that includes both unproccessed foods (vegetables, fruits, nuts/seeds, lean meats, etc.) and the occasional indulgence. I am not a proponent of restrictive diets or eliminating food groups unless in the case of an allergy/intolerance.
On the Rise.Run.Retreat, we had the privilege of discussing nutrition for female runners with a registered dietitian and marathoner, Jamie Sheahan. Jamie’s conversation with us affirmed many of my ideas about nutrition for runners and taught me new, valuable information. Along with getting to know the other women and running the Leaf Peeper Half Marathon, her talk was a highlight of the weekend for me.
Fatigue, Irritability, and Runger are NOT Normal
If you are exhausted from training, hungry all of the time, or irritable – you need to look at your nutrition. The first thing Jamie emphasized was that training should not leave you completely drained, yet most female runners expect to feel this way because they often do feel this way when training.
According to the nutritionist, the most common culprit is undereating both in terms of overall calories and carbohydrates. Low calorie and low carbohydrate diets are not for runners. While you should always speak to your doctor or a nutritionist if you feel exhausted or hungry all of the time, the simple solution is to eat more nutrient-dense food such as whole grains, lean meats, and fruits/vegetables. Don’t be afraid of calories or carbs.
Prioritize Vitamin D and Calcium
Since I deal with PCOS and endometriosis, which impact estrogen levels and thus can affect bone density, it is extra important that I include calcium- and vitamin D-rich foods in my diet for bone health. Regardless of your hormonal health, female runners need to prioritize calcium and vitamin D in their diets.
I am minorly sensitive to lactose, which means that high-lactose foods such as milk, certain cheeses, and cream do not sit well with my stomach. Jamie even covered this in her talk and discussed how fermented dairy (hooray for yogurt!) and dark green vegetables provide calcium for everyone – especially anyone who doesn’t want to or can’t drink milk.
I try to eat a yogurt every day for the calcium, protein, and probiotics. The retreat was no exception! I ate Stonyfield organic whole milk yogurt each morning (except race day morning), which is what I swear saved my stomach from rebelling against me after long flights and eating ice cream the day before a race.
After the retreat, I decided to reincorporate roasted broccoli and massaged or cooked kale to my diet for more calcium. Too much cruciferous vegetables in the past have wrecked havoc my stomach, but cauliflower seems to be the main culprit (as does portion size because I can eat my roasted vegetables by the bowl full).
Healthy fat plays an important role in the runner’s diet, but did you know that the type of healthy fat matters? Jamie discussed with us the importance of the proper ratio of omega-3 to omega-3 fatty acids and how eating fish 1-3 times per week can help us achieve this balance.
Interestingly enough, I set my half marathon PR during Lent this year – which means I was eating fish at least once a week (on the day of my long runs and then the night before the race). Yes, my training, mindset, and Ryan’s support most certainly contributed to breaking 1:40 in the half marathon, but nutrition matters as well. Correlation does not indicate causation, but I can’t help but wonder if fish as part of my regular diet contributed to better recovery after my long runs.
In addition to omega-3 fatty acids, fish is also rich in vitamin D. My goal is to include fish at least once a week in our meal plan and choose fatty fishes such as trout, steelhead, tuna, or salmon.
Don’t Be Too Strict About Your Diet
Jamie began her presentation with an icebreaker: what’s your favorite “vice” food? (Burgers and beer here!) Her point was that a diet aimed towards overall health and optimal athletic performance should include treats in moderation. Food is for pleasure and companionship just as much as for fuel.
From a nutritionist and a runner’s perspective, Jamie strongly discouraged eating a gluten-free diet unless you have celiacs disease or a diagnosed gluten intolerance. Trendy diets are often focused on weight loss through restriction of a food group, but restricting an entire food group unless you have an allergy can lead to nutritional deficiencies. Plus, let’s be honest: bread, pasta, baked goods, beer – all of those gluten-filled foods taste good!
Recover Better with Turmeric
Indian food tastes delicious, but did you know that it can also improve your recovery during hard training cycles? Turmeric is a spice commonly used in Indian cuisines and is anti-inflammatory – meaning that it naturally reduces inflammation in your muscles and boosts recovery.
Try this pumpkin curry or this lentil curry and add turmeric in as one of the spices (while turmeric is part of Garam Masala, there is not quite enough in Garam for the full benefits of the spice). And don’t skimp on the black pepper – pepper increases the bioavailability of turmeric’s anti-inflammatory compounds.
Jamie spoke at the Rise.Run.Retreat. If you are interested in learning more, you can contact her here: http://edgevt.com/nutrition/.
What’s your “vice” food?
Do you feel hungry all the time when training hard?
What’s your favorite type of fish to eat?