Nutrition on the Run
by Colleen Cooke, MS, RD
Today, our busy lifestyles are filled with hectic work schedules, family commitments and social outings. Fitting in a run or workout can be a challenge-and so can eating healthfully. Yet it can be done; but like your training schedule, it takes planning.
When training for a marathon, or any other race, do you randomly choose your daily workout schedule and hope it works? Most likely you have scheduled training runs of different lengths and intensities that combine to achieve your racing goals. The same holds true with nutrition: with a little planning, healthy nutrition goals can be reached. By taking an extra 5-10 minutes each day to create a basic meal plan, you not only eat better but you also feel and perform better.
As a runner it is important for you to consume a diet filled with complex carbohydrates from whole grains; lean protein from skinless poultry, red meat, beans, fish or tofu; fruits and vegetables; low-fat dairy products; and quality fats found in olive oil, nuts, avocados and flaxseed. In a perfect world, you would sit down to three balanced meals a day, have easy access to healthy snacks when hungry and not have to eat in your car or at your desk. However, life is constantly on the move and you need to keep up. So here are some "on-the-run" nutrition tips to guide your way to a high-energy day. (These nutrition tips also work well if you spend a lot of time in airports.)
Get a Jump on Breakfast
Each night after dinner, take a moment to map out the following day's eating plan. Prepare healthy breakfast items to grab if you know you will be rushing out the door in the morning. Good choices would be a pre-bottled fruit smoothie (preferably with protein added), whole-wheat bagel with low-fat cream cheese or all-natural peanut butter, a small bag of dried fruit and unsalted nut mix, a glass of nonfat milk (chocolate milk is also okay), whole wheat tortilla/all-natural peanut butter/banana roll-up or one slice of leftover cheese or veggie pizza. Preparing these items at home is not only healthier but also saves money.
If preparing food at home is not convenient or you find yourself short on time, stop at a bagel or smoothie shop for your breakfast-on-the-go. Egg whites or an egg substitute with tomato on a whole-wheat bagel and a small OJ is a great choice. Or try a smoothie made with milk, soymilk or fruit juice and frozen fruit with added protein powder. Be aware, however, that some smoothies (especially a 32-ounce size) can range in calories from 450-1200!
If you find yourself at the drive-thru, there are still healthy choices you can make. Try a plain egg McMuffin and a small juice (440 kcals, 12g fat, 18g protein, 62g carbs, 2g fiber and 845mg sodium) or scrambled eggs with one serving of hotcakes (no butter) and a small juice (510 kcals, 15g fat, 21g protein, 84g carbs, 0g fiber and 815mg sodium). Avoid fried breakfast items, sausage, bacon, croissants and other high-fat pastries. Also, make sure your morning cup of coffee contains nonfat milk/creamer and no extra flavoring because your "innocent" 12-ounce coffee can quickly turn into higher calories and added fat grams.
When at your favorite fast-food restaurant, take a moment to ask for their menu's nutrition information and calculate the nutrient content of your chosen breakfast-you might be surprised.
The Lunch Crunch
It's lunchtime and you're crunched for time. Again, your healthiest option is to pack a lunch from home to bring to the office. Make sure to pack some type of whole grain (whole-wheat bread, pita or tortilla; leftover brown rice; whole wheat pasta; or cooked kashi), a lean protein (turkey, ham, roast beef, chicken, tuna packed in water or soy-based meat substitute), fruit and/or veggies (fresh is best, but canned fruit in its own juice travels well; assorted chopped vegetables also travel well) and a low-fat/nonfat dairy product such as yogurt or milk.
Time more valuable than money? Then head to your nearest deli or sandwich shop and select sandwiches made on whole-grain bread and fill them with lean protein, lots of veggies and mustard. Avoid added fats found in mayonnaise or salad dressings; instead, choose a monounsaturated fat like avocado.
At the drive-thru, stick with bean burritos, small hamburgers (no special sauces), grilled chicken breast sandwiches and green salads with low-fat dressing on the side (one serving of Newman's Own Creamy Caesar dressing at McDonald's adds 190 kcals and 18 grams of fat!). Avoid "value-sized" or "super-sized" meals, double-deckers, added bacon, special sauces, fried items and salad dressings-all of which can result in super-sized waistlines! Depending on your daily caloric needs, choose water, nonfat milk or 100 percent juice to drink.
Part of Your Program
So the next time you plan your running schedule, include a plan to make healthy food choices-especially when you're on the go. With a little preparation, you don't have to settle for fast food. Of course, in a crunch, you still have a few healthy options at the drive-thru. And if you spend more time in your car than at a desk, consider keeping a small cooler with ice packs in your car filled with fruit, veggies, lean deli sandwich slices, yogurt and low-fat cheese. These healthy snacks can also be quick to grab when you need fuel for your run.
Colleen Cooke, M.S., R.D., is a freelance writer and sports nutritionist residing in San Luis Obispo, California. She is a competitive age-group triathlete and has completed several Ironmans. She has been a Run America Club member since 2000.