It’s not difficult to spend too much time thinking about running when we have access to countless blogs, articles, and coaches, all cranking out free info.  We spend all this time pouring over running advice because we want to run faster or further, and improve.

But it is easy to forget that one of the best ways to improve your running might not have anything to do with running.

It might be through your diet.

We don’t talk much about diet and nutrition on Rock Creek Runner because,

  1. I think the ‘optimal’ diet is different for everyone
  2. I try to keep this a running blog and strictly a running blog

But over the past several years, I’ve come to realize how much diet and running go hand in hand.

I’ve come to realize that we shouldn’t be running to fight off the food we eat.  We should be eating food that enables us to be stronger runners.

From BBQ to Pan Seared Tofu

Farmers_Market_VeggiesI’ve never been much of a ‘meat guy,’ but I grew up loving BBQ and was never afraid of a big juicy burger.

I remember that before each long run while training for my first marathon, I would drop by the grocery store and pick up a frozen pepperoni pizza.  Which I would promptly devour after each run.  Every last bite.

There was nothing good about that pizza.  Nothing that was replenishing my weak and tired body.

Just a bunch of empty calories that left me feeling stuffed, tired, and lethargic.  That food wasn’t making me a better runner.

Soon after that marathon I started dating Katie, who pushed me to think more about what I was eating.  That ultimately led to me joining her as a vegetarian.

Don’t get me wrong, I still ate plenty of junk, but I found the increase in veggies and cleaner foods in my diet led to quicker post-run recovery, less of that awful stuffed feeling, and higher energy levels.

Fast forward to April 29, 2013, and I just finished up the 7 Day Vegan Challenge.

Never Stop Exploring, Your Diet

Even though I don’t really talk about diet on Rock Creek Runner, I’m not shy about talking about it elsewhere.

As many of you may know, I joined the No Meat Athlete team about a year ago, where I have written a few articles and now co-host the No Meat Athlete Radio podcast with the site’s founder, Matt Frazier.

Last week we had Leo Babauta of the incredibly popular Zen Habits on as a guest, where we discussed how to simplify healthy eating and the launch of his new (totally free) program, the 7 Day Vegan Challenge.

As I was reading up on Leo’s new program, I realized I had to take the challenge myself.  The past few years I’ve slowly improved my diet, but I still eat plenty of junk and have always been torn about the ethical and environmental impact of the food I eat.

It is easy to get stuck and comfortable with our diet, to quit trying to improve.  So Katie and I decided to do it.

We took the challenge for 7 days, planning out vegan meals and setting aside any non-vegan snacks.  We both fell short on at least one meal, but over the 7 days, we realized how much easier it is than we once thought.

I had no trouble finding vegan meals out at lunch or even at the ballpark.  Like with any diet, it just takes a little planning and research.

And we felt better.  We felt cleaner.  And we felt good about what we were eating.

Yesterday we went on our first 100% vegan grocery stopping trip, where we stocked our fridge and pantries for what we want to become a 100% vegan house.

Neither of us are committing to going completely vegan.  And I’m not sure we are ready for that.  But incorporating more plant based foods into our diet feels right and I know will improve my energy levels and running.

Finding Your Perfect Diet

No diet is perfect for everyone.  It takes time, bad recipes, and awkward potty breaks to really figure it out.

While going vegetarian or vegan might work really well for me, and so many other athletes like me, it might not work for you and your running.

It is important to find a diet that makes you feel good, gives you the strength and energy you need as an athlete, and feeds your desires without making you stress out all the time.

No matter how much you might want to eat a certain way, if it doesn’t fit your needs, you aren’t going to succeed.

Try these 6 steps to help find a diet that works for you:

1) Figure out which foods make you feel gross, and cut them out.  Seems simple enough, but it is something we often forget to do.  Hate the way those 5 Guys burgers and fries makes you feel?  Simple, don’t eat them.

2) Take a step back, and think of healthier alternatives for the same meal.  While cooking, it is easy to fall into the “obvious” trap.  Sausage, pepperoni, and large amounts of cheese might sound great on a pizza, but what if you took a step back and thought about a healthier alternative.  Throw on some peppers, spinach, and maybe sprinkle on a little goat cheese or feta instead of heaps of mozzarella.

3) Eat your greens.  Leafy greens are hands down one of the best foods you can put in your belly.  They are high in nutrients and low in all the bad stuff.  Eat more of them.  Throw that veggie burger on top of a nice salad instead of a bun.  Make taco salad instead of tacos.  Put a few kale leaves in your smoothie instead of another cup of strawberries.

4) Experiment.  No diet is right for everyone.  Don’t be afraid to try out challenges like the 7 Day Vegan or start juicing.  Experiment with eating less meat, but if that doesn’t feel right, experiment with eating less grains, or less oil, or any number of other diets that are helping athletes just like you.

5) Lose the box.  We all fall into the trap of processed foods.  They are often easier and cheaper than their fresh counterparts.  But they are never as good for you.  Cut out the processed food and your body will thank you.  So will your taste buds.

6) Treat Yourself.  Diets are intense.  If you are struggling your way through one, it probably wont stick for very long.  Don’t be afraid to treat yourself with something fun and maybe not that healthy.

Finding a diet that works well for your running doesn’t have to be all or nothing.  Start small by gradually incorporating the foods that work, and minimizing the ones that don’t.  You never know where that will lead you.

How do you use food to run stronger?

Photo Credit

Author Doug Hay is the founder of Rock Creek Runner, host of the Trail Talk podcast, and fanatical about everything trail running -- beards, plaid shirts, bruised toenails, and all. He and his wife live and run in beautiful Black Mountain, NC.

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One thought on “Finding A Diet That Works For Your Running

  1. Jim now has me on a no-cheese-on-weekdays diet; a big change from my daily toasted cheese sandwhich for lunch menu. It also means we have to be more creative with our dinners – it’s a learning process!

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