Learn How to Improve your Diet This Week
How healthy is your diet? If you sat down to evaluate it, would there be areas you could improve on?
Of course there is.
Especially for runners.
I used to think I could eat whatever I wanted, since presumably, I would run it off. In my 20’s that may have been true, but as I approach my late 30’s, not so much.
But it’s not just a weight thing. The quality of our diets has a huge impact on our brains. According to one study,
“Diet, exercise and other aspects of our daily interaction with the environment have the potential to alter our brain health and mental function.”We know that various foods contribute to, or detract from our cognitive functions. The effect of our diet on our brain is highly connected.
Quality of your Diet
Now that I’m feeding my two year old son, I have been more conscious of what we feed him. Finding healthy, high quality foods that you can trick a toddler into eating, is a totally different post. BUT, as I have been on this quest, I’ve realized how a few small changes in the way I think about things can also improve everyones diet.
For runners, this has a direct impact on your race performance. Knowing the brain controls the body, and the body obviously needs the best, and correct types of calories, why not spend some time improving the quality of our diets?
Matt Fitzgerald has a chapter in his book Racing Weight, about how to improve the quality of your diet. I like his approach because it’s simple. No complicated diet restrictions, just a lot of common sense. Most educated adults know what constitutes a high quality diet, yet we’re often too lazy to do it.
Here are his five main ways how to improve your diet, and how I am trying to do this with the Freeburg family food. This isn’t meant to be a total nutrition guide, just some tips to improve your food en route to becoming a stronger runner living a happier life.
Eat More Fruits and Vegetables
Sadly, only 13.1% of American adults eat enough fruits and only 8.9% eat enough vegetables. That’s kind of scary. Eating more fruits and vegetables boosts key nutrients and reduces risk of heat disease (leading cause of death in America), stroke and some cancers. Here are four ways to eat more.
- Buy Them. Step one is getting them home! Put them in your cart before anything else. The more you buy, they more likely you are to eat them.
- Drink Them. You can almost get your minimum serving in the morning with breakfast through one of these amazing smoothies. All servings after that should make you feel like a super hero.
- Make power salads. Make a power salad with greens, veggies, crunchy bits, protein and dressing. Eat it before your meal to fill up on veggies.
- Make veggies taste good. Figure out your favorite way to eat vegetables and keep doing that. I prefer raw veggies, but also enjoy them sauteed. Steamed veggies make me gag a little. Maybe a healthy dip like hummus is for you. Whatever, figure it out and eat more.
For us, this means greens in everything (smoothies, eggs, pizza, pasta, salad, etc). Also raw carrots, broccoli, peppers, cucumbers, etc are great. Sautéed spinach with garlic and butter is tasty, and grilled sweet potatoes or zucchini is amazing. Fresh berries, peaches and bananas get eaten for snacks, and avocados go on sandwiches, salads, or for guacamole.
Eat Lean, High Quality Protein
Lean protein is anything 90% or more lean. Meat or eggs that say free-range or grass-fed, is important and worth the extra money.
I haven’t always thought this.
For years, I mocked this idea. I thought it was an expensive scam. I could have written this episode of Portlandia.
According to The Mayo Clinic, it’s worth the few extra bucks. Grass-fed beef may have a host of health benefits, such as;
- Less total fat
- More heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids
- More conjugated linoleic acid, a type of fat that’s thought to reduce heart disease and cancer risks
- More antioxidant vitamins, such as vitamin E
Free range or organic chicken has less fat and higher doses of omega-3’s. Eating higher quality meats and proteins is just a matter of buying and preparing it. I have also learned to eat fatty fish like salmon and tuna, because it has incredibly high omega-3 & 6 fatty acids.
Eat Nuts and Seeds Daily
One 30 year study that followed 120,000 people, found that daily servings of nuts and seeds lead to longer lives and leaner body types. Nuts and seeds need to be part of a high quality diet, and you should eat them.
They make excellent snacks, are easily portable and satiate hunger. When I’m traveling, I make my own bag. Go to the bulk section and get one scoop of however many you want to try. Some nuts are better than others for this, so experiment without committing to a whole bag.
Nut butters, which my son loves, also works for this, assuming it is low (or better, no) sugar. It tastes great on veggies too.
Eat the Whole Grains
There is a lot of controversy surrounding grains. Runners need carbohydrates for optimal performance, and Fitzgerald, notes that whole grains are one of the best ways to get that.
To keep it simple, eat grains that are brown. Whole wheat, brown rice, brown pasta, etc. Whole grains have more fiber and minerals than refined grains, which is an important distinction.
Bread is probably the one area most people can easily improve. High quality bread is organic, whole grain, with little to no added sugar or other junk. We love Dave’s Killer bread! It’s packed with fiber, protein and no artificial anything. The downside is you may need to buy it in a health food store, which is annoying.
Full Fat Dairy
In Racing Weight, Fitzgerald says,
…there is no difference between the long-term effects of whole milk dairy and low-fat dairy… all forms of dairy tend to limit long-term weight gain.
As the grandson of a former dairy farmer, I love full fat dairy. It tastes like pure perfection. Since we buy whole milk for my son, that’s what I drink now too. It tastes just as good as I remember.
Assuming you’re not lactose intolerant, cheese, cottage cheese, milk and yogurt, can be part of a high quality diet. Dairy products containing added sugar (ice cream, flavored yogurt, Strawberry Quick), is what you want to stay away from.
What to Avoid
Speaking of what to avoid… it’s a long list, but generally think sugar, fried foods, refined grains, fatty meat… you know, everything that tastes amazing, but makes you feel terrible.
But, isn’t it crazy expensive to eat like this?
Sometimes, when I talk about eating healthy, people say, “but it costs so much more to eat healthy!” It definitely costs more to eat a diet consisting of high quality foods, but so what?!
Think of this…
Cheap white bread costs about 99 cents. A loaf of high quality bread costs maybe $4. In my family, we eat about a loaf a week. That comes out to $13 more per month. I spend more than that on my family subscription to Spotify.
Many of us don’t think twice about spending money on frivolous things we don’t need, yet won’t spend an extra few bucks to get high quality food.
Food allows our bodies and brains to help us accomplish what we want in life. Why not give it the best fuel to reach optimal performance? I bet if we spent time looking over our household budgets, we could find things to eliminate, and make up the cost of buying higher quality food.
Pick One Thing
What one change can you make this week to improve the overall quality of your diet? A complete overhaul may seen daunting. Pick one thing from the above and plan to implement it this week.