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Proper nutrition is one of the most vital components of being the best version of ourselves and achieving our goals as runners. Whether you’re training for your first 5K, first marathon, or looking to score a BQ, being appropriately nourished and having the right relationship with food is essential to our success. As a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, I have seen athletes with amazing diligence to every part of their training plan: the cross training, early morning long runs, stretching, consistent mileage increase – all to be brought down by some consequence of inadequate nutrition. As a runner and with runners I have the privilege of counseling, I stress the importance of being what I like to call a food-positive runner. What is a food-positive runner?
The best way to describe it is to think of a “body-positive runner”, which we’ve all seen. You know what I’m talking about – that runner who loves their body and knows its worth. The one who promotes the importance of accepting yourself and is continually encouraging others with positive affirmations about how every single body is different and there isn’t one “perfect” way to look. Now think that, except with food. A food-positive runner loves their food and knows its worth in their training. A food-positive runner promotes the importance of accepting each person’s unique likes and dislikes of certain foods and encourages others to eat for themselves and their goals, not for the “perfect” way to eat.
Here are my top three reasons to commit to being a food-positive runner:
- To be a better, well-nourished runner. This should be obvious, right? We all know we need to eat X amount of carbs before long runs and to make sure there’s enough protein and water in our daily diets or we won’t perform well. But on top of the “big” nutrients, there are actually over 30 vitamins and minerals necessary to fuel our bodies as runners. Some of the biggest ones for athletes are:
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids: these help counter inflammation, something a runner’s body knows very well!
- Iron: both women AND runners are at higher risks of being iron deficient – not good! Iron is necessary to form our red blood cells and provide proper oxygen to our muscles.
- Calcium: stress fractures are no joke – they can keep you out of the game for weeks or even months. Calcium strengthens our bones and helps keep fractures at bay.
- Magnesium: ever get those annoying muscle cramps or spasms at night? Low magnesium is often the cause! Magnesium is essential to bone and muscle health, as well as for converting the food we eat into energy.Runners at every level should be diligent to include all types of fruits, vegetables, legumes, breads, healthy fats, and rich protein sources in their weekly diets. Being a food-positive runner means committing to eating a variety of foods to ensure we are fueling our bodies with ALL the essentials needed to sustain our physical demands. Don’t get stuck eating the same protein bar for breakfast every morning. Add some colorful fruits as well! Always having chicken with sweet potatoes for dinner? Mix it up with a new lentil side dish! Get creative and have some fun adding variety to your plates!
- To keep us healthy – physically and emotionally. Did you know that female runners are more susceptible to developing disordered eating patterns than the average non-runner? Disordered eating is a term used to describe any eating behaviors or patterns that have similarities to traditional eating disorders, but not enough to have an official diagnosis. These behaviors/patterns can be anything from continually restricting foods to loss of control and over-eating, from ignoring hunger cues to secretive eating and weight obsession. These patterns can persist over months or years, and in some cases, can progress into traditional eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia.Running by nature is a solitary, competitive activity, and studies show that isolation along with competition is a natural breeding ground for the development of disordered eating. Being a food-positive runner means committing to being properly nourished with the same vigor that we commit to a training plan. It means not ignoring our bodies when they tell us we’re hungry or obsessively weighing ourselves throughout each day. It means viewing food as fuel and conducive to our goals, not as an enemy or a means of punishing ourselves. It means being gracious with ourselves and finding joy in the balance of steel cut oatmeal with bananas for breakfast and a burger with fries for dinner, much how we balance tempo workouts with rest days. And most importantly, it means keeping our physical and emotional wellness, in addition to our desire to be healthy runners, above any pressure from society to look or eat a certain way.
- To be a positive influence on our community. The running community is tight knit community – a VERY tight knit community. I know I can see someone’s speed workout on Instagram and think “Oh man, I want to be like her and try that!” We like seeing what other runners do to prevent injuries or get faster. We like seeing their routines for strength training or hear about why they like the brand of shoes that they just bought. We trust one another one and feel kindred to one another based on the simple fact that we’re both runners. Being a food-positive runner means striving to better our runner community through the promotion of encouraging messages such “All food fits” and “Fuel your body”. It means we don’t judge each other’s eating habits or promote any type of dangerous behaviors. Being a food-positive runner means we value our community’s overall health and wellness, as both runners and women.
We are all in this together and we all want the other to be the best woman and runner she can be. Commit today to be a food-positive runner and make our community that much better of a place.