“Seize the moment. Remember all those women on the ‘Titanic’ that waved off the dessert cart.” –Erma Bombeck
Anyone that knows me knows that I love to run. They are also well aware that I love dessert, especially ice cream. Baskin Robbins, Sweet Cece’s, McDonald’s dipped cone, Ben and Jerry’s ……doesn’t matter, I love it all. One of my biggest disappointments this year was that Chick-Fil-A didn’t bring back the banana pudding milkshake in April. Looking forward to rewarding myself with one after the Country Music marathon is what got me through my training runs. I can also tell you that once on a Saturday run with a friend, we spent several miles talking about a caramel cake from our favorite bakery. She went home after the run, but not me. I drove immediately to the bakery and spent 40 bucks on a caramel cake, just because I couldn’t get the delicious thought of it out of my head. Oh, and having kids, that makes it worse. I am constantly tempted by things like Halloween candy, free cookies at the grocery store, and unfinished cupcakes. As I have gotten older (I am 36 as of this month), I have had to face the harsh realization that staying in my clothes takes more exercise and less sugar, thanks to an aging metabolism.
Part of my quest to become a better, faster runner has not only included speed work and cross training, it has required me to learn more about my diet and nutrition. I wanted to find out more about what foods I needed to cut back on and what foods I needed to eat more of. While I knew I needed a substantial amount of calories, I wanted them to be the right calories. It is a misconception that because I (or anyone) run a ton of miles, that I can eat whatever I want. (Sad, but true.) Fortunately at the infusion company I work for, we have a Registered Dietitian that works with our patients. Between reading on my own and talking with her, I learned a great deal and I thought I would share it. The first thing that I loved when talking with her is that her motto was “Everything in Moderation”. I knew that I would like what she had to teach me!
The first thing that the Registered Dietitian, Ashley Harley, MS, RD, LDN, made sure I knew was that runners and any avid exercisers need a diet that consists of both carbohydrates and protein. Low-carb diets, although the most popular “fad diets”, are not the best option. Ashley also explained that as far as sugar goes, well sadly, there are no real health benefits there. (Thanks Ashley for reminding me!) She went on to explain that carbohydrates are the #1 fuel for our bodies. Carbohydrates give us energy. If we do not eat enough carbohydrates, then our body will first break down fat stores and then protein (a very inefficient process) for energy. However, it is important to focus on eating the right kind of carbohydrates. You want to stay away from simple carbohydrates which include high sugar snacks, desserts, and “white” starchy foods (bread, rice, potatoes, etc.). These types of carbohydrates are processed quickly and lead to highs and lows of energy levels. However, complex carbohydrates contain fiber and are packed with nutrients and include fruits, vegetables, and “brown” starchy foods (whole wheats, brown rice, sweet potatoes, etc.). A good rule of thumb is to look at nutrition facts labels and try to find foods that will provide at least 3-5g of fiber per serving and choose fruits and vegetables with color (broccoli, carrots, bananas, apples, oranges, strawberries, blueberries, spinach). Some foods are called whole wheat but then contain very little fiber. High fiber foods give your body that steady energy level that is needed for distance training. There is always a time and place for your desserts, but that time is not before a long run or strenuous exercise.
Protein is important for muscle recovery and development. When anyone does any type of prolonged, strenuous activity, muscle is broken down and your body needs the building blocks to rebuild it. Ashley says consuming a high protein meal or snack after a long run and throughout the day is important. Ideas for doing this are nuts, peanut butter, eggs, meats, poultry, fish, Greek yogurt, milk, cheese, and beans. My marathon morning meal actually consists of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on whole wheat bread and a banana. Bananas are a great power food prior to a race or strenuous exercise because the high levels of potassium help prevent muscle cramping.
Let’s talk energy drinks! It is important to realize that many of the energy drinks have high amounts of sugar so that is definitely something to pay attention to. Those energy drinks may make you feel like you could run a marathon, but when that sugar high wears off at mile 5, you are in for a big let down! That also brings me to a very key factor in health and exercise, water! Most people, runners or not, don’t drink enough water. Ashley explained that the optimal amount of daily water intake should be at least 64 ounces of water for a healthy adult each day. If you are an avid runner or exerciser, you want to strive for about half of your body weight in ounces of water due to the excess fluid you lose from perspiration. (So if you weigh 150 pounds, you should aim for 75 ounces of water.) Adequate water intake will help decrease muscle cramping as well.
As a busy working mom, my kid’s needs always come first and we are always in a hurry. I have had to learn ways to make good nutrition faster and more convenient. This is another area in which Ashley has given me some amazing tips. For example, I had a million excuses why I didn’t have enough time to make smoothies in the morning. However, she suggested that I put all of the ingredients in the blender at night and stick the whole thing in the fridge so that all I had to do in the morning was blend! Smoothies are a great way to pack protein, fiber, and nutrients into a fast, “rush out the door” meal. I also keep lunch meat and hard boiled eggs in the fridge so I have high protein snacks to grab on the go. In addition, I have finally found protein bars with little amounts of sugar that I can keep in my purse and in my car. Two of my favorites are Think Thin and Power Crunch. (They are some of the only ones that do not taste like chalk to me!)
I mentioned that I often eat PB and J and a banana before a long run or a big race. Another topic Ashley and I discussed is the types of things I should be eating after a big run that will optimize my recovery. Here is what I learned. Since glycogen levels (your stored sugar) in the muscles are low after an intense workout, a good combination of carbohydrates and protein are both key. Some of the foods on this list are yogurt, fruit smoothies, protein and power bars, whole grain bagels, eggs, protein shakes, and another good option is lowfat chocolate milk(or regular milk but that’s not as fun). After the Nashville Half Marathon last weekend, I lucked into the most amazing recovery treat! My family and I went to have a bagel and I grabbed a bottle of chocolate milk. I went to drink it and it was frozen, it tasted almost like a Frosty and it was heavenly! I will definitely be freezing some chocolate milk at home this weekend!
Incorporating Ashley’s tips into my life have been so helpful and I hope they will be for others as well. I try not to over-complicate it, and just eat healthy. I still believe in moderation of everything and I always will. I will never be the type to eliminate sweets 100% or the type to never splurge. I believe in living. I am learning my limits and it still takes willpower, I just try to make good decisions most of the time. I know when I eat too much of the wrong things I feel sluggish and that makes me want to eat better. However I also know that life is short and dessert makes me happy… so eat dessert (in moderation of course) and enjoy it, I definitely am!
If you would like any additional information or have questions about Ashley Harley’s nutritional counseling services, contact her at:
(615) 708-0569 or HarleyNutritionInfo@gmail.com