Part of the joy in endurance running is that the athlete is afforded more calories than their couch dwelling counterparts. However, when a well-meaning non-runner says to me, “you get to eat whatever you want though, right?” I have to sadly answer no and explain how I believed that lie once too.
I began running with hopes that I could eventually eat junk food all day long and pay no penance for it. It took me just a few stomach churning runs to realize that I was wrong. For most runners, their performance is directly related to their diet.
“Junk in, junk out,” is the phrase nutritionist Diane Greenleaf likes to use as a reminder for how our body works. She pointed out that while training does lead to more calories being burned, it doesn’t replace the fact that the body needs nutrients. And it’s no surprise that our tasty junk food isn’t chock-full of vitamins.
Greenleaf continued to clarify that the body needs more than just calories for fuel while training.
“Due to the demand on the body, you’ll need more protein, vitamin C, fluid, electrolytes. When training for a marathon, you always run a fine line of over-training and/or injury, and good nutrition can supply the body with the nutrients it needs to decrease this risk.”
While their are some anomalies among runners and the occasional story will tell of how an endurance runner fueled all their runs on drive-thru meals, chances are slim that this type of diet will really work for the majority. Greenleaf, who is a runner herself and deals with many performance athletes, has found a typical trend among the diets of her clients.
“I think most runners and other athletes find the quality of their performance is based on what they eat. If you want to get better, the body seems to gravitate towards eating better.”
Eating better can be a gray area. What does this mean? According to Greenleaf eating well includes eating more fruits and vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains. These tips seem to be the general rule for all health conscience eaters, however, Greenleaf added extra input specifically for athletes.
“I think most athletes eat a higher carbohydrate diet than the average sedentary person. Carbohydrates are our major source of fuel so many will eat cereal, oatmeal, toast with some protein at breakfast, snack on fruit, low-fat yogurt, and nuts between meals and before workouts. Lunch and dinner is usually lean protein, veggies, and some whole grain starches.”
There seems to be lots of food on the “approved” list for the runner’s diet, while it may not be limitless, the reward of a strong performance and great health is much longer lasting than the joy that comes before the indigestion of a diet full of junk.
So, no, the professional opinion doesn’t give a green light to go pick up a cheeseburger meal every day. But it’s pretty clear to see why. That type of food is junk and as one who has suffered one to many junk fueled runs, I can strongly agree that nothing but junk came out.