Downing Donuts and Crunching Carrots: Runners balancing their nutrition

In case you needed an excuse to hit up Krispy Kreme, today is National Buy a Donut Day; please runners, by all means indulge, let’s just make sure it’s of the 100% whole wheat vareity. ;)
runner eating donuts
Let’s talk runner eats. I’m the first person to shout from the rooftops, “I run so I can eat like a Sumo-(wo)man and not look like one!” As runners we do carry license to do some damage when it comes to the grinding; but, at the same time we recognize that we are fueling those miles. If we want quality miles, then we should do our body the justice of giving it QUALITY fuel, right?

It all comes back to balance and moderation, isn’t it the truth with everything? Enter easy days and hard workout days. So while we can wolf down a pizza the size of our head, polish off the Entemenn’s coffee cake, that’s not ALL we eat, and we most of us don’t do that every day. Though no judgement if you do, trust me I’ve got runner friends who eat cleaner than a pro-body builder competing for a show and then I’ve got friends who eat their weight in Big Macs.

I’ve done a couple article on various nutrition topics for runners:
Going Gluten Free
Setting a Pre-Race Eating Plan
When to Eat High and Low on the Glycemic Index
Running and GI Issues
Post-Run 30 Minute Refuel Window

That last one is probably the one I’d force down all of your throats…it’s SUPER important for your muscle recovery to get that food into you system and start the refuel RIGHT after you run.
runner eating pizza
Today let’s talk about balance here. Food should be enjoyed, it should be loved, you can spoon with your Pop-Tarts at night if you need to. BUT I like this quote from one of my favorite sports nutritionists, Krista Austin, Ph.D., “Eating for performance.” Used in context she was referencing how Dathan Ritzenhein’s go-to pre-race meal is plain, white rice. It’s bland, but he knows it sits well in his stomach and because it is a non-complex carb it gets broken down quickly and is energy readily on tap for when he goes out to race.

Is it his favorite, most taste-bud tantalizing meal? Probably not, but he’s eating for PERFORMANCE. There are times and places when taste isn’t the prime objective; it CAN be the second you cross the finish line and take yourself out to a celebratory dinner, right?

The point is this, every runner is different and how much ‘junk’ they can get away with really varies. Krista Austin notes, “We can hope that going back to the old adage of ‘what you put in the fuel tank of the car is what you put out’, comes into play and if we put a higher quality of food in the body we should be supporting training better and enhancing the ability to create training adaptations…[but], I know many an Olympic athlete etc, in the sport of running that eat horribly and still get the job done (although yet to medal so maybe this is why?)-in fact they are the guys on top!”
fresh carrot
As a personal observation I would say that the people on top are the ones who know WHEN to indulge and when to ratchet down and be a little more strict in what goes in. The periods when they are in really heavy training they make sure to get in the QUALITY foods first (fruits, veggies, whole grains, adequate protein) but then if they need to make up for all their expenditure they will dig into the higher calorie ‘fun’ foods because, let’s be honest, if you run 20+ miles you freaking earned the right to! Conversely, when they are tapering and getting close to race day, they make a conscious effort to make sure they aren’t eating like they are running 3-times more miles per week.

The ‘junk’ food, and that’s not the best term but the foods that we logically know aren’t the ‘best’ options, are hard-earned and one of (I think) the perks of being a distance runner. The thing is though, those foods are not to be eating INSTEAD of the good stuff. Think of a house, set the foundation as the QUALITY eats and then if you’ve got room for an attic, by all means fill it with pizza, Pop-Tarts, and yes, donuts. ;)

1) What are some of the ways you ensure you get in enough QUALITY into your runner diet?

2) What are some of the foods that you fill your ‘attic’ with? Do you probably fill more than just the attic, maybe the second story too?? ;)

3) In ‘eating for performance’, what are some pre-race day foods that work for you?
I’ve done oatmeal, Powerbars, but will admit to some Pop-Tarts too. :P

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21 thoughts on “Downing Donuts and Crunching Carrots: Runners balancing their nutrition

  1. Timing woman – I was just scoffing down a post-breakfast chocolate frog. I have 5 days until my thesis is due, and my normally clean diet is just subway and diet coke right now. Disgusting.

    Rice is my go-to before a race as well. It sits right. Very little does. A banana can go a long way as well. And when I can – chocolate. And more chocolate.

    • hahaha…uh oh, did that runner guilt kick in?? ;) ugh, wat the heck is with u trying to get all smart-like and bothering with all the thesis stuff anyways?? ;) JK!! i’m so proud of u girl, seriously, home stretch and u’re ALMOST free of the beast!! lol

      oh yea, u kno they make chocolate Pop-Tarts, right?? ;)

  2. Love this post Cait!! I was just thinking about this actually. It’s something that really is constantly rolling around in my head. How to get more “quality” foods into my meals. Even my snacks!
    If I could fill my attic with yumminess it would definitely be blueberry cake donuts….fresh ones. Oh my word I haven’t had one of those in a long time. :)

  3. My attic is definitely full. But to balance it I have good staple meals and am a bit of a creature of habit. Its usually afternoon tea or dessert when I indulge. Ice cream is my thing. And before you ask nope I’ve never tried ice cream on a pop tart ;). But come to think of it, that would totally work!

    I love that running gives me a bit of room to enjoy my food as much as I do. If I was ever going to try and run competitively or go the marathon distance YES I would clean up my diet (or make better energy choices) a little but so long as I am a recreational runner I certainly wouldn’t get precious on my diet. I have had some great runs after an Indian feast or a Sunday afternoon beer!

  4. My prerace breakfast is always some chia seeds with water and a clif builder bar. And my attic is definitely filled with chips and desserts. I go crazy for that stuff, but I try to avoid sweets especially leading up to a race.

  5. What about just plain ol’ training runs? I run early morning as well, should I be eating before them? Will it really affect me if I don’t? I would hate to wake up even earlier…

    • great questions! i think it’s a personal thing, i am SO like u and would rather be able to sleep and roll out, so i don’t eat before. but i do eat a big snack before i go to bed. :)

  6. I used to be able to eat almost anything before running and a race…but the past few months I’ve had to dramatically decrease fats & protein because they have been giving me issues at mile 2-3, so annoying! :)
    Now I have toast with jam.
    my patients are always bringing me in the best homemade baked goods…it’s so amazing, but getting bad at the same time! hehe!
    I hope you’re having a wonderful Halloween Cait!
    xoxo!

      • I have a question about the whole ratio of 60:20:20 or 40:30:30 of carbs protein and fat… Where do the fruits and veggies fit in here? …I know it sounds silly but I really want to know

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