health · nutrition · running · wellness

marathon training nutrition: grocery cart additions + pizza recipe

It’s no secret now that nutrition is an essential player in running performance and recovery, thank goodness. Food is not only delicious, but it’s fuel and one of the shiniest tools in the recovery toolbox (can’t forget rest, sleep and easy runs too though!). As my own training starts to ramp up – I’m aiming for the Philly Marathon this fall – I’m geeking out even more than usual on the latest and greatest research on training, racing and recovery nutrition to help me get through this training cycle feeling strong and ready to race. Here are a couple things that are going to be frequenting my grocery cart this summer/fall.

Whole milk yogurt
This is not a new one for me – I’ve been on team full fat dairy for a while. But, it’s going to be continuously present in my diet during training for a few different reasons beyond the fact that it’s creamy and delicious and I really like it. When my mileage increases during marathon training, my menstrual cycle tends to get a little nutty. I can skip a cycle completely or go longer time periods between cycles if I’m not careful, which is NO BUENO. This is not a sign that training is going well, it’s a sign that the body is either undernourished and/or going through too much stress. Every body reacts to training differently, and I’ve learned over time that mine has a bit of a lower threshold. This means being on top of my nutrition, eating enough to support my training and taking regular rest days are a priority. Whole milk yogurt not only has a good amount of protein to help promote muscle recovery after runs, but is also energy dense and a good source of fat. I wrote about this previously, but research has found regular consumption of full fat dairy products can help support a regular menstrual cycle and may promote fertility. And I haven’t even gotten into the probiotics! So many benefits, so little time.

whole milk greek yogurt, museli, berries, almond butter

Tart cherry juice
To be honest, tart cherry juice isn’t something I’ve tried before during training or in general, really. It’s expensive! And I’d rather eat cherries. But,  fresh cherry season is short and the research on juice is compelling enough for me to want to give it a whirl. Plus, drinking a concentrated juice seems a bit easier than eating 45-50 cherries every day (my intestines are shuddering at the thought). I found a great review article summarizing recent research, and findings are fairly consistent that drinking 8-12 ounces of tart cherry juice twice per day can help reduce pre- and post- race muscle soreness and reduce inflammatory markers in the body. One study of half marathoners found intake of the juice twice a day in the seven days before the race and two days after the race not only helped reduce soreness, but may even boost performance. Similar results were found in a study on cyclists. Like so many topics, more research is always needed before any general recommendations are made, but I think it’s worth a try. I’ll probably start with having 8 ounces, twice per day 4-5 days before a key long run or workout, and then continue for two days afterwards to see how I feel and maybe repeat that a couple of times. If all is well, it might become part of my race week plan.

Pizza dough
And obviously, other pizza-making essentials like cheese, pesto or tomato sauce and veggies. Pizza is probably my favorite pre-race or run fuel and one of my favorite recovery meals, and I love making my own with some good dough and lots of toppings. I’ve said this many times before, but carbohydrates are friends not foes in general, and especially when you’re an endurance athlete. There is a time and a place for cauliflower pizza, and marathon training isn’t really one of them (for the most part!). Pizza is a great way to get in some quality carbs via the dough, some protein with the cheese and if you like to add meat or sausage, and antioxidants with a variety of veggie toppings. I like making mine at home because of the unlimited freedom and flexibility on toppings, but also because a super greasy NYC pizza may not sit as well the night before a race or big training run. I also find pizza to be consistently great at satisfying crazy marathon-training hunger, which sometimes is not an easy thing to do. Ok, I’m hungry for pizza now, so I’ll leave you with the recipe for my favorite combo of all time.

the below pizza, plus red wine for good measure

 Veggie Ricotta Pesto Pizza (serves 1)

 Ingredients

  • One fist-sized portion of thawed, room temperature pre-made pizza dough (whatever you like – whole grain, plain, etc.)
  • ¼ cup whole milk ricotta cheese
  • 1-2 tbsp basil pesto
  • 1 cup chopped kale or baby spinach
  • 3-5 medium/large shitake mushrooms, de-stemmed
  • 1 plum tomato, sliced
  • 1 tbsp grated parmesan cheese
  • Olive oil cooking spray

Instructions
Set pizza dough out on counter 1-2 hours before cooking. When ready to start prep, heat oven to 425° F and spray a cookie sheet with cooking spray. Begin kneading pizza dough with hands or use a rolling pin (I find it easier to do this by hand) and form a large circle. Place on cookie sheet. Spread pesto evenly onto dough, followed by ricotta. The ricotta can be added in little dollops throughout the dough rather than spread evenly. The add spinach or kale, followed by sliced tomato and mushrooms. Sprinkle parmesan cheese on top. Place in oven and bake for 20 minutes, or until crust is slightly browned. Let sit for a few minutes after removing from oven, slice and enjoy!

 

health · nutrition · running · wellness

how I became a more intuitive eater during injury

Seven months can be considered a really short or really long amount of time, depending on how you look at it. That’s about how long I went without running to allow for the dramatic duo (partially torn plantar fascia, followed by a metatarsal stress fracture) of injuries to heal, and it actually seemed to go by somewhat quickly. After the initial pity party, I tried to focus on other things like starting my own part-time private practice and a little travel, and it helped to keep busy with some non-running and some running related things. I also had a lot more time to think and kind of just be, and one thing I’ve gained a bit of insight on is my intuitive eating habits.

the best tiramisu in rome

I’ve been a proponent of the intuitive eating philosophy for the past few years, both personally and professionally. I haven’t always been an intuitive eater myself, especially when I was more strongly rooted in a somewhat disordered and diet culture, but have found it to be quite liberating after having a more rigid approach to my own nutrition. Intuitive eating is NOT just listening to hunger and fullness cues, but in this post I’m going to focus on those two aspects of the philosophy.

Since I’m also a pretty serious (relatively to me, not because I’m winning anything ever) runner and almost always training for a marathon for the past ten or so years, hunger is a constant. And for me, listening to and honoring hunger cues when I’m almost always hungry became a fairly easy thing to do. In fact, I think I relied on the assumption that I’d probably be really hungry when planning my meals and snacks so much that it may have become not so intuitive, if that makes sense. So when the injuries hit and my activity level changed, especially once I was in a boot, my hunger levels changed too. They were no longer the status quo but varied more from day to day, which is completely NORMAL, but not something I had been used to. At first I was reluctant to stray from the habitual meals and snacks I had been eating – intuitive or not, I’m a creature of habit – but after having a few snacks that had typically satisfied me just enough before made me feel a bit over-full, I realized I wasn’t being the most intuitive.

Just as I tell my patients and clients all the time, the body is so great at adjusting its needs based on changes to activity level, daily living and body functions in general, if we listen to it. Quieting the external noise that’s trying to influence us otherwise is pretty difficult in this day and age. It took me a while to trust my hunger cues when they happened or my lack of hunger cues when I typically experienced them before, as well as varying levels of fullness. Here are a few things that helped me get there:

Being busy
This might sound kind of weird, but being busy with my full time job, part-time private practice and dog-momming helped me avoid overthinking whether or not I was hungry at certain times of the day. I started to trust myself and my varying appetite in a more fluid way, and became more comfortable honoring hunger and fullness cues that were different than what I was used to because I didn’t have a whole lot of time to analyze them. I’m not sure I’d recommend this, but I’m just trying to be honest about my experience.

one of the sources of my busy-ness plus a quinoa salad

Trusting the process
Des Linden says this about training, and it’s also true in this instance! Without having such a hardcore activity dictating my hunger and fullness cues so predictably, I was able to really hone in on what my body needed to function optimally every day for all of it’s other activities (i.e., keeping me alive and well!). The, “I’m hungry because I had a hard workout this morning” became “I’m hungry because my body must be going through some stuff today and needs energy,” and with those thoughts came a lot more intuition on just how special and smart the body is. Trusting the process, in this case, was trusting my body to help me understand when and how to nourish it and being comfortable with the fact that this looks different every day.

Letting go
I think letting go of what my typical appetite has been for so long was key, but also letting go of the idea that my body would remain the exact same size throughout the injury. When you’re not participating in such a rigorous physical activity like running on a regular basis after doing it for a long time, the body is bound to change. It’s natural and more than ok. I think Amelia Boone said this in a podcast interview before, but it’s not a bad thing to let the body get a little soft when recovering from an injury. It’s also not a bad thing to just do nothing as opposed to killing yourself with cross training. Though I did enjoy some cross training activities and it helped me feel a bit of the endorphin high that we as runners love so much, it’s not my favorite and I prefer running to anything else. So if more rest and less cross training = better healing and faster return to running, that is really important and I’d probably do more of it next time.

I think this whole process is sort of coming full circle now as I start to get into regular training and my hunger levels are once again changing. I feel a bit more confident trusting that my body knows what it’s doing and that increases in hunger now make just as much sense as decreases before. I’m also embracing how unique this experience can be from day to day. My insights from the past several months are also a great testament to another thing I always tell patients and clients – intuitive eating isn’t something you can or should nail perfectly every time. Rather, it’s a tool we have within us to always use and learn from, and it’s changing constantly because it’s supposed to. And just like everyone else, I need a refresher on that sometimes too.

 

dogs · health · nutrition · running · wellness

day in the life, monday edition

Usually during initial sessions with patients and clients, I’ll have them take me through a “typical day” or “yesterday.” What they’re eating, what they’re doing, from the time they wake up until the time they go to bed. I find this to be helpful not just in getting an idea of their food intake, but to spark a conversation about daily habits, emotions that come up and some common challenges. Oftentimes when starting their recall, people will say something along the lines of, “well I know I should have done this, but…” or “this was bad, but…” and get all judgy with themselves. This is human nature today, but also probably partly due to the assumption that I’m judging them too, which I’m not! It’s not my job to judge and that’s not why I ask those questions, but moreso because it’s a good way to start to get to know someone and figure out how I can best help.

Anyways, I thought I’d turn the tables on myself today. There’s something appealing about reading others’ “day in the life” type posts, so here goes one of mine.

Morning (4:52 a.m.)
Peanut wakes me up either by licking my ear, pawing at my eyeball (gently), walking on my back or all of the above. She is so consistent that I haven’t used an alarm clock in months. I give her a belly rub and then we get up. I put my running clothes on, eat some banana with peanut butter and we head out for our morning walk. Now that it’s light and warm out, we probably walk for about 20 minutes with lots of stops and sniffs and attempts to eat gross old food off of the ground. When we get home, Peanut gets breakfast and I head out for my run.

the cutest girl

Recently I started working with Mary, and it’s so nice to have a (really smart and super nice) coach to think about and plan my running schedule for me with some goals in mind. Right now we’re still focusing on easy runs and building a base, but I can’t wait to start doing workouts, long runs and marathon training again! This morning was an easy 6 miles mostly on the bridle path in Central Park (i.e., my happy place), and felt amazing. It took probably about a month post-injury for my runs to start feeling even a little bit good, but I knew that going in and kept telling myself the out of shape feeling was only temporary. It was really helpful!

When I get home I do some stretching and planks while Peanut goes crazy trying to lick all of the sweat off me. It’s hilarious and a highly recommended strategy to get through planking. Then I start brewing coffee, shower and eat breakfast. I’m a big fan of the substantial breakfast – a hearty amount of carbs, protein and fat to refuel from the run and to keep me satisfied for much of the morning. Breakfast is the meal my patients and clients skimp on most often, and once we work on beefing them up a bit there is a noticeable difference in energy levels throughout the day. This often translates to better running performance and recovery too!

Sprouted grain toast, whole milk Greek yogurt with pear and honey, peanut butter with blueberries, hemp & chia seeds with some dried coconut flakes.

Once I finish two very big mugs of coffee (very into Linden + True coffee at the moment), get dressed and snuggle Peanut, we head out for a quick pee break and then I go to work.

I love my job, (and my other job) and my work schedule is different every day depending on patient appointments, groups I have in the evenings (like yoga, Pilates, cooking classes, etc.), meetings, and other patient needs like phone calls and visits during chemotherapy. Today it’s a mix of sending and answering emails, calling a few patients and visiting one during treatment. I don’t know if it’s because my mornings are busy or my breakfast is super satisfying, but I usually don’t get hungry for a mid-morning snack. I’m almost always ready for lunch on the early side, though, and hit up the hospital cafeteria between 11:00 a.m. and 12:00 p.m.

I think we have a pretty decent cafeteria, and usually end up getting some sort of salad bar situation of greens, a grain, protein like chicken, tuna, tofu or hard boiled egg, with steamed vegetables and/or potato from the hot bar. When I remember, I also bring half an avocado and sometimes leftover roasted veggies from home. Even though I encourage people to try not to eat in front of their computers/technology, I’m usually scarfing this down at my desk while reading studies or patient charts. Shrug emoji.

greens, tofu, cauliflower, carrots, roasted potatoes, avocado, brussels sprouts

Afternoon
My afternoon is pretty similar to the morning, but with more emails because I’m planning an employee wellness event this week and I want everything to run smoothly. Patients are my number one priority, but I’m also involved in our employee wellness initiatives and it’s really fun. This week’s events have a “game” theme, and my inner 6 year old is excited to play things like connect four and taboo. I get hungry around 2:00 p.m. so have some grapes and Babybell cheese, which hit the spot. I’m a big fan of afternoon snacks and they are definitely key on preventing “hanger” in the late afternoon/early evening. I don’t have any groups tonight, so I can head home for the day in a few hours. When I do have groups, I go home in the late afternoon to take Peanut out and feed her, and then I come back to work. It’s kind of exhausting, but this is life as a single dog mom.

Coming home to a dog is probably the best thing ever, and Peanut is always really excited to see me. After I adopted her, it probably took a good 3-4 months for her to get up the courage to greet me when I got home because she was so fearful. Now she goes nuts and I’m never not grateful for that. When I get home, I quickly change into running/yoga clothes (because comfort, not because I’m actually doing those things), eat a random Brazil nut and we head out the door to the park. It’s super hot outside, so we do an abbreviated park walk. We say hi to some of our usual dog friends and doormen along our route (Peanut really likes this one doorman and it’s so cute), but she gets tired and I have to carry her most of the way home. Sometimes she refuses to walk home because she wants to stay at the park, but this time I think she’s pooped from the heat. When we get home it’s time for her dinner and then mine. Lately I’ve been making big, hearty salads on the weekends for quick dinners during the week that don’t involve much cooking since my evenings have been pretty busy. Tonight it’s a twist on a Run Fast Eat Slow farro and kale salad with my own tahini dressing and a hard boiled egg. So good. I love tahini.

she’s into it

Evening
After dinner, we watch the news and I start getting ready for a client. I just have one follow-up tonight, so I prep a bit and then get on the phone. My typical follow-ups are between 30-45 minutes long, and this one is closer to 45 minutes because I love my client(s) and there is a lot to catch up on. After our call I’ll draft a recap and goals we talked about.

I have a bit of time to wind down before bed and decide to stretch and foam roll for a few minutes and then choose to try and finish the book I’m reading, A Gentleman in Moscow, over watching an episode of Queer Eye. It’s a tough decision, but the book is so good. I started reading it after Des Linden recommended it on a podcast and then during this live NYRR event I went to a few weeks ago. She’s awesome, so I figured her book recommendations would be too. A while ago I made a self-enforced rule of “no social media before 7:00 a.m. or after 7:00 p.m.” – it’s really great and helps me feel more productive and present. I snack on some dark chocolate with raspberries, which is my absolute favorite. Around 8:00 p.m. Peanut and I head out for our last walk of the day, usually a quick one around the block or so, and it’s uneventful. She gets spooked by a ton of different things – trash bags, people dining outdoors, trucks unloading things, any sort of noise, etc. – but this walk was quieter and Peanut happier. I’m hungry when we get home so I have some yogurt (been digging this vanilla flavor lately and it was on sale at Whole Foods!) and give Peanut a spoonful when I’m done because she loves yogurt and is the cutest girl.

We end the night with some journaling, which I try to do on most nights, and then get into bed to actually try and finish my book. Peanut usually sleeps above my pillow so that’s where she settles. Both pairs of our eyes are closed by 9:00 p.m. because we know that pre-5:00 a.m. wake-up is coming soon.

 

 

health · nutrition · wellness

letting go of “normal” mealtimes

If I had a nickel for every time a patient or client said things like, “but I shouldn’t eat after XXPM right?” or, “I was really hungry but it was only XX o’clock so I waited a while to eat,” or, “but I always eat breakfast/lunch/dinner at XX time!” I would have a lot of nickels. Maybe even enough for a student loan payment. While it’s really common and totally ok to have a routine when it comes to mealtimes, it’s also important recognize that mealtimes are pretty arbitrary. As are the “rules” we have in our heads about when we  should or shouldn’t be eating.

kale farro salad from Run Fast Eat Slow, Peanut approved

Some of these rules stem from diet culture, which encourages micromanaging not only food choices, but meal and snack times as well. This takes us further and further away from cravings and internal hunger and fullness cues. Getting so caught up in external cues happens to pretty much everyone at some time or another, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t challenge this thinking. Like I said in my last post, physical hunger is the body’s way of telling you it’s time to eat. And the body doesn’t care if it’s 10:00 a.m., 4:00 p.m., 9:00 p.m. or 6:00 a.m. It just cares that it’s getting a steady source of energy and nutrients when it needs them to fuel all of its amazing activities. Our overworked brains complicate this beautiful simplicity so much! Let’s challenge that. The next time you:

Ignore physical hunger cues because it’s not a “mealtime.” Ask yourself where this mealtime rule came from. Maybe an old rule from childhood, a newer rule from a diet, or a routine you’ve gotten into. Why are you prioritizing this rule instead of your body’s hunger? What will happen to you if you break the rule? Probably nothing terrible, right? An example here could be having less then satisfying breakfast or a big morning workout and feeling meal hungry* for lunch at say, 10:30 a.m., but ignoring this hunger and waiting until your usual lunch time of noon or 1:00 p.m. to eat. You’d most likely be famished, which absolutely affects food choices, how much you eat and messes with blood sugar. By scrapping the rules and eating at 10:30 a.m., not only are you stabilizing blood sugar and giving your body some energy, but preventing a serious case of “hangry” that can effect every part of your day – work, relationships, workouts, emotions, etc.

Force yourself to stop eating by a certain time of day. The most common rule I hear is the “no eating after XXPM” one, but no rules like this mean much and often stem from diet culture. This rule can also be a sneaky way to restrict food intake and result in restrict-binge cycles too. If you find yourself resisting hunger after a certain time in the evening, ask yourself where this rule came from. And, what do you think will happen to you if you do eat after a certain time? Nighttime snacking doesn’t inherently cause weight gain, which I think is a popular concern, nor is it wrong or “bad.” In fact, it’s often necessary if you’re experiencing physical hunger cues that need to be satisfied. If nighttime hunger is intense, though, that’s often a clue to take a look at your nutrition from earlier in the day as you may not be eating enough.

lunch bagel sandwich eaten at 10:30 a.m. because … hungry

Eat because it’s a certain time of day that you associate with a mealtime, even though you’re not hungry. Part of letting go of some food rules also involves recognizing a lack of hunger around typical meal and snack times. This can happen too! And is a bit easier to accept as we let go of other mealtime rules and know that it’s ok to eat regardless of what the clock says. In cases like this, take a step back and tell yourself that your meal will be there when you are hungry. And when that happens, it’s time to eat!

Sidenote: I know work and life schedules can get tricky in terms of mealtimes, but I’m speaking in general terms here with the understanding that sometimes, it’s not possible to eat exactly right when you’re feeling hungry. That’s why snacks and planning are important too! And that’s probably a whole different post, so stay tuned. 🙂

*meal hungry: when you know a snack just won’t cut it and you’re ready for a meal

health · nutrition · running · wellness

sports nutrition FAQ: why am I so hungry all the time?

This time of year is awesome. A lot of runners and triathletes are finalizing fall racing plans and gearing up for a summer full of training (including me, yay!). I don’t know about other areas, but Central Park is almost buzzing with excited, sweaty athletes and it’s just so fun and motivating.

This is also the time of year when sports nutrition questions tend to arise, both from beginners and seasoned veterans. One common question I get a lot is about the increase in hunger levels most athletes experience as they ramp up training (otherwise known as “runger” or “swimger”), and what to do about it. The answer may seem simple – eat! – but our relationships with food and the dieting culture tend to complicate things. It doesn’t have to be this way, though, so read on for my thoughts on how to successfully honor your runger and fuel your training.

out of this world pizza

But first, why am I so hungry ALL THE TIME?
Running uses up a lot of energy! It’s also fairly stressful on the body, and in order to repair broken down muscle fibers, replenish glycogen stores and general energy (i.e., calories), we need all the nutrients – protein, carbohydrates, fat, vitamins/minerals, antioxidants, etc. In fact, the body demands these nutrients in higher quantities and this manifests in the physical feeling of hunger.

Another reason why endurance athletes feel increased levels of hunger, often of the insatiable variety, is because they’re not eating enough in general and/or not refueling within a reasonable time period after a longer or harder effort. Dehydration can also come into play here, especially in warmer conditions, and exacerbate runger even more.

Eating more in a world that wants you to eat less
Often when I start working with athletes (especially female athletes) I find they aren’t eating enough, and this can be for a few different reasons. One, diet culture encourages us to ignore physical cues of hunger in favor of diets and whatever rules they require you to abide by. Doing this for a long time period makes it really hard to trust and honor hunger and fullness cues. Two, the amount of food required to fuel endurance sports training can be a lot and often causes people to question the quantity of foods they’re eating. We can also tie this back to diet culture, with arbitrary rules on portion sizes and meal timing, like “don’t eat after 7:00 p.m.” or “limit lean protein to X ounces.” Or else? Three, if the athlete is restricting various foods or food groups due to any underlying disordered eating and desire to control body size or composition, it’s quite hard to eat enough and fuel the body appropriately.

Below I’m going to list some strategies I use with my athletes to help them optimize fueling during training and overcome some of the challenges I mentioned above. But! It’s really important to note that if you have disordered eating thoughts and behaviors, you’re not alone and there is support for you via specialized dietitians (like me!) and therapists.

post-run oats!

Take a look at your fueling routine
Inadequate refueling after training can leave the body feeling depleted and constantly hungry. An example here could be finishing a track workout or long run and rushing to get ready for work and out the door before having breakfast, or running errands, showering, laying on the ground in a pool of sweat or getting “just one more thing” done before having a snack or meeting friends for a meal. This not only messes with our blood sugar and creates the HANGRY effect, but causes us to miss a really important window for refueling that can set the pace for the rest of the day.

The body is VERY efficient at utilizing carbohydrates to replenish glycogen stores and protein to rebuild damaged muscles in the 30-60 minute window after a hard run. If we miss this window, we’re more likely to feel sluggish, sore and constantly hungry because the body isn’t getting what it needs. To fix this, it’s often helpful to have a snack at the ready when you finish your run, especially if it’s not time to have a meal yet. Quick and palatable ideas:

  • Fruit smoothie with Greek yogurt (try making it the night before or morning of your workout)
  • Peanut butter sandwich or peanut butter toast
  • Yogurt with fruit
  • The tried and true chocolate milk

Honor your hunger
Let’s put a big emphasis on this one! Diet culture and the disordered eating mind both teach us to ignore hunger cues and micromanage when and what we eat. But think of it this way – if you have the physiological urge to pee, would you ignore it and second guess yourself (like, “do I really need to pee?“)? No, because that’s crazy, right? Hunger is another physiological urge our body has when it wants us to do something, and in this case, that something is to eat! And when you’re training hard, it’s completely normal for the body to urge you to eat a bit more and a bit more often. It’s also important to know that the body does not work on a 24 hour clock, and hunger may not correspond perfectly with hard workouts. For example, your appetite may be low to normal on your long run day, but two days later on a rest day you’re ravenous. That hunger should be honored and not questioned (e.g., “it’s a rest day, so shouldn’t I not be eating as much?”) because your body is always looking out for you, and it wants to be adequately fueled. Letting go of food “rules” is also helpful to hone in on your hunger and fullness cues, but it’s easier said than done if you’ve had these rules in place for a long time. This is another reason that working with a sports dietitian can be so helpful.

recovery salmon bowl

Focus on nutrient-dense foods
Fat, fiber and protein are the most satiating nutrients, and are super important to help satisfy serious hunger. “Diet” foods, “fat free” foods, and meals or snacks missing some of these nutrients are probably not going to cut it and can result in constant hunger and sub-par workouts. Making some swaps or additions to what you’re eating can make a big difference, like:

  • Replace fat free yogurts with whole milk yogurt
  • Sprinkle nuts and seeds in salads or grain bowls
  • Slather avocado or nut butter on toast instead of jam
  • Use olive oil and lemon juice as a salad dressing base instead of a bottled “fat free” version
  • Eat the real cookies, ice cream and cakes
  • Add cheese to your piece of fruit for a snack
  • Have whole eggs instead of just the whites
  • Eat your burger with a bun and not a lettuce wrap

Eat carbohydrates with every meal
If I could shout this from the rooftops! You guys, carbohydrates are not the enemy. When you’re training hard for endurance events, carbohydrates are your best friend and your body’s preferred source of fuel. And you need quite a bit of them! Having a complex carbohydrate source at every meal – bread, rice, pasta, quinoa, potatoes, farro, oats – is something to embrace, not be afraid of. Not only will they aid in recovery, bu they help prepare your body for the next big effort. And because carbohydrates are typically a good source of fiber (if choosing the whole grain versions), they’re also really filing and important to help quell that crazy runger once and for all. Or at least until your next meal or snack. 🙂

health · nutrition · running · wellness

healthy vs. too healthy

I recently listened to a podcast interview with an elite runner, and a lot of the conversation focused on health, nutrition and body image. I love that this is a topic of discussion so often lately, and that disordered eating, amenorrhea and RED-S are no longer seen as the elephant in a room full of athletes. More athletes, especially female athletes, are talking about their experiences with these issues and seeking help and information instead of quietly feeling shame, and that’s awesome. But, the primary reason I’m still thinking about this podcast and what prompted me to write this post is because some of the things this runner said raised a red flag in my dietitian with a large focus on the above brain.

carbs are a wonderful thing

With athletes, it can be such a slippery slope between wanting to fuel the body well for performance and recovery and developing disordered eating behaviors. Athletes can also experience RED-S without the disordered eating component, but with women especially I think it is often more common than not. The pressure to look a certain way can also be intense and greatly affect individuals who are more susceptible to disordered eating or are already engaging in some behaviors. All of these different factors can lead to a very skewed version of what they define as being “healthy,” and this isn’t exclusive to elite athletes. Or athletes period. I’ve said in previous posts how prevalent disordered eating is among women, and we need to keep talking about it in the right way.

What is healthy eating?
If I were to ask 20 separate people this question, chances are I’d have 20 different answers. That’s because we all have our own definition of what healthy eating means to us, and that’s ok! And it’s also ok to want to eat healthy foods. The problem stems from when an individual becomes hyper-focused on health and exhibits behaviors aligned with disordered eating. In some cases, this could also be termed orthorexia, which is now fairly well-known as describing one with an obsessive preoccupation with being “healthy.” In other words, being “too healthy” can actually be quite damaging to one’s health. Problematic behaviors here include fear, rigidity and/or avoidance of certain foods and food groups, chronic dieting, excessive exercising, guilt and shame when certain foods are eaten, intense preoccupation with food and exercise and use of compensatory measures to “make up for” food consumed like exercise, restricting or purging and poor or distorted body image (more here). So many of these behaviors are normalized in today’s society and quite often considered part of being “healthy,” and it’s enraging. Heck, Runner’s World recently posted (and then deleted) a Tweet linking to an article all about “how many miles you would have to run to burn off X foods.” That is most certainly not healthy.

the gelato of my dreams

Ok so really, what is healthy eating?
Like I said above, it’s always going to be a bit different for everyone. But, there are some general characteristics that I promote with my patients and clients that I think are important because they help differentiate a more balanced way of thinking from a more disordered, harmful way of thinking. One of the most important ones is flexibility, and it’s just how it sounds:

  • Eating plenty of “whole foods” like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean proteins, dairy, legumes, nuts, etc., but also enjoying “fun foods” like cookies, French fries, cake, pizza, ice cream, etc. when you want them without guilt or shame.
  • Enjoying “whole foods” without rigidity or moral superiority, and avoidance of labeling foods as “good” or “bad,” “clean” or “dirty,” “healthy” or “unhealthy.”
  • Eating at restaurants without stress and being able to choose whatever sounds good to you on the menu.
  • Letting hunger and fullness cues dictate when and how much you eat, rather than external cues like level physical activity engaged in, calories, previous meals eaten or numbers on a scale
  • Taking days off from exercise (planned or unplanned) without stress or anxiety

It doesn’t matter if you’re an elite athlete, recreational runner or not an athlete at all, flexibility is extremely important. That said, I think most of us can relate to not being this flexible at some point in our lives (myself included!), because individual relationships with food are complex. Today’s society also makes it so hard to have this sort of approach to eating without second guessing ourselves because of what so and so said on X TV show, celebrity magazine, social media or podcast, for example. On that note…

Just because someone has an interest in nutrition and eats food doesn’t mean they are qualified to give nutrition advice
But it happens every day, and not only does it contribute to an incredible amount of confusion and misinformation about nutrition and health, but it can also be so triggering to people with disordered eating. Even as a dietitian I can’t stop this from happening (if only!), but do consider staying up to date on nutrition-related research, communicating it in a useful way and a lot of myth-busting an essential part of my job. It’s also my job to recognize and address these unhealthy, disordered behaviors in individuals and to help them change. And often that starts with simply talking about this stuff openly, frequently and keeping the conversation going.

health · running · wellness

do good, feel good (Boston!)

Oh man. What a game changer this race was.

des right after mile 22-ish

Even almost two weeks later, just thinking about Boston gives me all the feels. Most people probably know who Des Linden is by now (FINALLY!), and that she’s the first American woman to win the Boston Marathon in 33 years. And her story of helping a sister out during the race has also been widely reported. But why does this mean so much? Here are a few thoughts.

Do good, feel good. Feel good, do good
I just finished reading Gretchen Rubin’s “The Happiness Project” and this is a common theme throughout the book. It also ties in nicely with happened between Des, Shalane and Molly in Boston. I think it’s safe to say they all felt pumped at the beginning of the race, despite the weather, because they all had a decent chance of being the first American to win Boston in a good long time. When Des started to feel physically crappy, she seemed to channel her race excitement to help her teammates and hopefully get an American win. First she helped Shalane catch up to the lead pack after a bathroom break, then she helped Molly surge and continue to run with the lead woman at the time. She felt good and excited, though not physically, and she did good. And then she did start to feel good, and we all know how the race so triumphantly (and tearfully) ended. Doing good, in this case, helping people and being pretty selfless in a very individual sport helped Des feel good. And then she went on to do something great. The results could have been completely different had she let her heavy legs affect her mentally and succumbed to the desire to drop out of the race. Can you imagine now if that had happened?

pre-marathon cheering carbo loading

We can’t forget how to translate this to other areas of life. Basically every area of life, really. Doing good helps you feel good. And feeling good helps you do more good. It’s a beautiful, simple cycle, and makes so much sense. It’s also absolutely contagious – help someone else feel good, and they are more likely to want to do the same.

Being at the “top” is not exclusive
I probably could have used a Shalane or Des in my life a long time ago, because I was one who never expected women to help me and I didn’t think much about helping them. Especially when it came to career or sport-related things where the end goal was to be the best. Because duh, you have to beat them all. Helping other women would have been a direct hit on that end goal. And dammit, women can be so catty. In my past pre-dietitian career, the majority of people I worked with were women and the culture was the sort of cutthroat, eat or be eaten type. I can’t tell you how many times I was stabbed in the back, thrown under the bus, gossiped about or ridiculed by other women for really petty reasons because they wanted to win (whatever that meant to them – accolades, a promotion, etc.). Or how many times I gave it right back, thinking that’s the way it had to be. Cattiness feeds off of cattiness, I tell you, and being at the “top” seemed like anything but all inclusive.

And sports can be the same way, especially individual sports like running and gymnastics, both of which I’ve been heavily involved in. I can remember gymnastics meets where I was on top of the podium, totally ecstatic and celebrating anyone and everyone. And I can remember the ones when I wasn’t, too busy sulking to really congratulate my teammates who may have done better than me. That intense, selfish competitiveness followed me once I started running more seriously too. Even though I will never win things as a runner, let’s be clear here, I still tended to have an “all bets are off” mentality once the gun goes off. I can even remember running part of the NYC Marathon one year with a good running buddy and not being able to fathom slowing down for her when she wanted to get a drink from a water station because omg that could screw up my time. What?? Thank goodness we live and we learn. And for the record, I don’t even remember my time for that race!

my sister crushed the BAA 5K this year, Peanut and I were expert cheerleaders

Shalane talked a lot about how being at the top should be inclusive after she won New York and it really rang true to me. Her support for other runners, people she competes directly against, is unwavering and so positive. There has been such great momentum in women’s distance running since the 2016 Olympics and then Shalane’s NYC win, and I’m not sure if would be the same if everyone had their eyes only on the prize. I think what is so clear now is that you can have your eyes on the prize and support one another, and to me if feels so incredibly refreshing. What has happened over the past 6 months is the best example that it doesn’t have to be lonely at the top, and in fact it’s so much better when it’s not.