Coach Mike Mead

June 2011

Food for Thought, Part Deux

As we approach the summer months of running, the usual running tips deal with the heat and humidity. One important tip is proper hydration. Along that line, I think it is important to hash over tips on eating during the warm, summer months.

It’s been at least a couple of years since I wrote about diet. As I’ve stated many times before when I’m discussing issues outside my expertise, like this writing, please seek out a professional for more detailed advice. I am not a licensed dietician!

The tendency during the summer -- because it is so blasted hot -- is to eat lighter like salads or fruits, or foods that do not require a whole lot of prep time. I like the warm months for the abundance in fresh fruits and vegetables at a reasonable price. Most nights I am satisfied with a plate piled with a variety of steamed vegetables.

But most runners, and for that matter the majority of sedentary folks, need to remember the basic dietary concept of moderation. Along with that is consuming a variety of foods that provide adequate sources of carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins, minerals, fiber, hydration, etc.

I believe the majority of runners these days are fairly mindful of what they eat, but I have observed that they are either too extreme in their food intake or don’t care. The extreme eaters only eat certain “healthy” foods and end up leaving out certain necessary foods that effect training and performance. These “health nuts” avoid important fats and carbs and end up sabotaging their training efforts with injuries and illness.

The other extreme-type of runner is someone who eats whatever they want, but eats too much junk food, or limits intake of important foods and pays for it in similar fashion with subpar performances and training. While I’ve professed to be in this group (“run 8 miles a day and eat whatever you want”) I do watch what I eat and try to cover all of the recommended food groups.

In our fast-paced society, we rely too much on other folks preparing our food. If we take control and spend a little time preparing more of our own meals it will not take that much longer and we can actually save some money!

So, what follows are some suggestions to consider regarding a runner’s food intake during the summer months – heck not just the summer, but all the time – to aid in maximizing your training and racing.

• Eat fruits and vegetables. I’m surprised at the number of runners who do not eat fruits and vegetables on a daily basis. To be specific, eat at least FIVE servings combined per day. The experts are going to say more and I agree, particular during the summer months when fruits and vegetables are plentiful. A good source for vitamins and minerals!

• Drink a variety of liquids. We need water to live. During the summer, water is a necessity, but so are a few additional things like sodium and electrolytes. Don’t limit your intake to only water. Drink fruit juice, smoothies, flavored beverages and sports drinks as a source for vitamins, electrolytes and sodium. Do not depend too much on your precious bottled water either, I’ve read recent reports where there is a rise in tooth decay among folks who drink bottled water since the fluoride is in the tap water. Second, have a daily beverage with caffeine to boost training and performance. Many runners avoid caffeine these days, but a little may give you that boost you need when you may be dragging from the summer heat. I recommend avoiding hot beverages in the summer before training or racing since it raises your core body temperature.

• Avoid fried and processed foods. The current generation has been raised on fast and processed foods. This might just answer the question to that show tune, “What’s the problem with kids today?” The typical diet I observe young runners consume is made up of pizza, fries, tacos, burgers and chicken wings. Gizzards and wings were the last two things we’d consider eating on a chicken when I was growing up. And what the hell is a chicken finger? I grew up on a farm and we didn’t have chickens with fingers. Bottom line, most of what is cooked these days is either fried or processed. Folks think chicken is healthier than eating beef or pork, but if you’re deep-frying processed chicken you might as well eat a stick of butter instead. Processed foods contain far too much sodium. Runners will sweat out some of that salt on a hot summer run, but you only sweat so much!

• Know what you are eating. It’s funny how fussy some people are when it comes to eating. I know some who hardly eat any fruits and vegetables but they’ll eat anything fried or processed that comes out of a box (like chicken fingers which contain beaks and feet -- yum!) and is made by a company that also makes paint. Become educated and read the labels on ingredients and content.

Diet is all about moderation, variety and a little discipline. If you want to be a faster runner, be a smarter eater! Stay cool and good luck!