Runners use food as fuel, and if you fuel your body with healthy and nutritious foods, you’ll find that you’ll feel better and run stronger. You don’t have to overhaul your entire diet overnight – just start with small changes. Try to see each meal you eat as a building block to a healthier eating plan.
You can use the USDA’s MyPlate guidelines to help you make smarter choices for all meals and snacks. Plug in your weight, height, gender, activity level, and age on the MyPlate Checklist Calculator and you’ll get a recommended food plan for your needs. Try to incorporate some of these healthy eating tips into your daily life:
1. Make half your plate veggies and fruits.
Vegetables and fruits are packed with nutrients that will benefit your overall health and help fuel your runs. Different vegetables and fruits supply different nutrients, so it’s important that you eat a variety of fruits and vegetables. A good rule of thumb is to eat a variety of different colored fruits and vegetables. Choose red, orange, and dark green vegetables such as red peppers, sweet potatoes, and broccoli.
2. Include whole grains.
Aim to make at least half your grains whole grains. Look for the words “100% whole grain” or “100% whole wheat” on the food label. Whole grains provide more nutrients, like fiber, than refined grains.
3. Don’t forget the dairy.
A cup of fat-free or low-fat milk with your meal is a great way to get your dairy requirements. You will get the same amount of calcium and other essential nutrients as whole milk but fewer calories. Don’t drink milk? Try a soy beverage (soymilk) as your drink or include low-fat yogurt in your meal or snack.
4. Add lean protein.
Choose protein foods such as lean beef and pork, chicken, or turkey, and eggs, nuts, beans, or tofu. Try to eat seafood, such as shrimp or fish, as your protein twice a week. Beans, such as lentils, black-eyed peas, lima beans, great northern beans, and chickpeas, are an easy protein to add to any meal. Try to choose entrees that feature beans, such as tacos, chili, bean soup, and bean salads.
5. Keep healthy foods close and convenient.
Try to stock your fridge and pantry with foods that make up a nutritious, heart-healthy diet, such as whole grains, fish, lean meats, vegetables and fruits. Keep cleaned baby carrots, celery sticks, and other cut-up vegetables in your refrigerator so you can grab them when you want a quick snack.
6. Avoid extra fat.
Using heavy gravies or sauces will add fat and calories to otherwise healthy choices. Instead of heaping on melted cheddar cheese on steamed broccoli, just sprinkle it with low-fat parmesan cheese or a squeeze of lemon.
7. Try new foods.
Keep it interesting by picking out new foods you’ve never tried before, like mango, lentils, quinoa, kale, or sardines. Browse this list of superfoods for runners to see if there’s something new you’d like to try. You may find a new favorite! Exchange fun and tasty recipes with friends or find them online.
8. Take your time when eating.
Savor your food. Eat slowly, enjoy the tastes and textures, and pay attention to how you feel. Be mindful. Eating very quickly may cause you to eat too much, especially when you’re feeling hungry.
9. Get creative in the kitchen.
Whether you’re making soup, a lasagna, or a stir-fry , find ways to make them healthier. Try using less meat and cheese, which can be higher in saturated fat and sodium, and adding in more veggies that add new flavors and textures to your meals. When you make pasta with a red spaghetti sauce, throw in onions, mushrooms and peppers. If you’re making a sandwich, use whole-grain bread and lots of fixings — lettuce, tomatoes, thinly-sliced cucumbers, and sprouts to add more nutrients and fiber to fill you up. Make your own pizza and load it up with lots of veggies.
10. Use smaller dishes.
Eating your food from smaller plates or bowls will help with portion control because you’ll be less likely to take big portions. You’ll feel satisfied that you finished your plate, but avoid overeating.
11. Take control of your food.
Eat at home more often so you know exactly what you’re eating and how it’s prepared. Bring a healthy lunch to work so you’re not tempted to grab fast food because you’re short on time. Be prepared with healthy snacks, like fruit, plain popcorn, or trail mix, at work so you don’t head to the vending machine for a sugar fix.
If you eat out, check and compare the nutrition information. Many restaurants now highlight the healthiest items on their menus. Choose options that are lower in calories, baked (not fried), saturated fat, and sodium.
12. Satisfy your sweet tooth in a healthy way.
Indulge in a naturally-sweet dessert dish—fruit! Serve a fresh fruit salad or a fruit parfait made with yogurt. Strawberries topped with fat-free Cool Whip are a delicious, low-cal sweet treat. For a warm, comforting dessert, try baked apples topped with cinnamon.