Keeping It Real

MOST READERS to my columns will probably notice that all my nutritional recommendations are fairly basic, focusing on whole foods. I’m a huge advocate of reaching for a real food over its processed counterpart – think mashed avocado with cilantro and lime versus store-bought guacamole filled with ingredients other than avocado – and I’m also a believer in avoiding processed / packaged foods as much as possible. And while I know, at times, this is not always possible, I think striving to eat cleaner is something we can all work on.

As runners our nutrition plays an integral part in our training. And when we fuel our body with sub-par ingredients, the result can be sub-par runs. You wouldn’t throw on baggy cotton sweat pants in 28 degree heat and expect to run a PB, would you? The same logic works for the fuel you use to fill up your tanks. Prepare for and sustain your runs with appropriate and quality fuels and you can expect better results. And while eating this way can seem quite simple when it comes to building your main meals, the snacks and sports supplements many of us are often reaching for out of convenience are filled with artificial ingredients.

As a general rule of thumb, if you’re going to buy packaged foods, then you should start to familiarise yourself with the ingredient list. If there are multiple ingredients you know you wouldn’t find in your kitchen as stand-alones, or you see many words you can not pronounce, see if you can find a cleaner alternative. For example, yoghurt can have an ingredient list as simple as milk and bacteria, or a list much longer that includes added thickeners, sweeteners, colorings, etc. You want to choose the former.

Choose products that are free from ingredients such as:

Artificial colourings, which are chemical compounds made from coal-tar derivatives to enhance colour. Keep an eye out for ingredients such as Blue No. 1, Green No. 3, and so on.

Artificial flavouring, created from cheap chemical mixtures that mimic natural flavours. Sometimes these are simply labelled as “artificial flavours,” but can also be the ingredients that sound like they’re more likely to be found in a chem lab than a kitchen, such as butyl laurate or methyl propionate.

Additives and Preservatives, compounds typically added to ingredients to preserve fats and prevent them from becoming rancid. These often sound familiar and innocuous, such as sodium nitrite or calcium sorbate.

Refined Sugars, such as high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup and maltodextrin or dextrose (corn derived commercially produced sugar) Sugar is most certainly found in nature and natural products, but HFCS is highly processed and a far cry from the natural alternative. Artificial Sweeteners, such as aspartame, sucralose, acesulfame found in sweeteners like Equal and Stevia. Again, you may recognize these ingredients and they may sound familiar but familiarity doesn’t mean they weren’t born in a lab.

In regards to general health, many of these ingredients have been linked to everything from hormonal imbalance, to skin / allergic reactions, to metabolic malfunction. In sports products, ingredients like maltodextrin can have more specific and immediate effects, such as GI distress; not something you want to encounter 8K into your long run.

While eating on-the-go and grabbing quick and easy foods can almost be an inevitability in our daily lives, try to, literally, think outside the box for foods you can grab. My favorite fast and easy food to take on the run is fruit, nature’s original energy bar. Apples and oranges are super resilient to living in the bottom of purses and berries are easy finger foods when thrown in a tupperware in the car. Pre-portioning raw nuts and seeds into individual bags is also an easy option. Also, consider batch cooking for grab and go options. You can pre-make muffins, breads, small sweet potatoes or energy bites, which can be individually wrapped and stashed in your refrigerator or freezer until you’re ready to go. And if you make them at home, you’ll know exactly what goes in the batter or dough and, therefore, exactly what fuel you’re using to fill up your tank.


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