Now that we’re a little past the annual fad diet craze, let’s have a serious discussion about good nutrition. While I’m gearing this toward runners, a lot of it applies to non-runners. Why? While runners have some unique needs, good nutrition is good nutrition.
To be clear, I’m not going to offer specific advice. I’m going to speak in generalities. This is because I am not a nutritionist or registered dietician and I won’t pretend to be a nutrition expert. If you want specific diet advice, see someone who is qualified and don’t get your advice off the internet.
What you will notice is that my advice in most things nutrition boils down to one basic sentence. Eat a wide variety of foods and get them from as close to nature as possible. Advice I received from a registered dietician and have also read in books by one of the most highly regarded sports nutritionists out there.
Of the many general topics I could offer some thoughts on, I’d like to focus on two topics that we just got inundated with during the annual New Year’s diet craze. These are restrictive diets and supplementation, two topics in the dieting world that, based on my study and my reading of books from nutritionists and dieticians, are problematic even while being very popular.
First, what are restrictive diets? These are the diets that encourage you to eliminate or significantly limit consumption of a specific type or category of food. The first thing that comes to mind for me are low carb diets, whether the “old fashioned” Atkins, the newer Paleo diet, or any of the others. Of course, there are others such as extremely low fat diets or those that want you to eliminate a food group, such as fruit or certain types of fruits.
While eliminating or significantly limiting junk food (and drink) would be beneficial for your health and your running performance, pretty much any other category or type of food should not be eliminated or significantly limited.
For runners specifically, you need to fuel your running. Fat can not fuel your running unless you plan on always running slowly. So you need carbs. Low carb diets can be particularly problematic for runners.
The concept of some of these diets, especially low carb, isn’t absolutely crazy. We have way too much added sugar in the processed foods we eat.
However, the answer to too much added sugar in processed food isn’t to restrict carbs. It’s to minimize or eliminate those harmful added sugars. Cut back on the processed, sweetened foods. Cut back especially on the sugary drinks. However, my daughter recently told me that some of her friends don’t want to eat too much fruit because fruit is loaded with sugar. This is not helpful.
Vitamin and mineral supplements are huge sellers, even though the evidence suggests they are of very little benefit. If you don’t have a specific need, a deficiency of some kind that is documented and understood, don’t bother.
Beyond that, though, I wanted to mention something I’ve been noticing gaining traction in the past few years. Nutrition patches that at least certain people promoting them suggest allow you to eat anything you want and remain healthy because the patch is ensuring you have the good nutrition covered.
These are a modern spin on the multivitamin phenomenon. Just pop a pill or stick a patch on your arm and you can eat anything you want because you just got all the good nutrition you need.
Time and time again, we learn and then forget the same lessons. These supplements are not complete nutrition.
Vitamin C is good for you but it’s in combination with other nutrients in citrus fruit that its benefit is by far the greatest. Its benefit is very limited in supplement form.
Vitamin D is the latest super supplement but we’re discovering that its benefit is also limited in supplement form and even in fortified foods. The real benefit tends to come in combination with other biological processes or byproducts when we get our Vitamin D naturally through safe exposure to sunlight.
The same story can be said of many other nutrients. They are very powerful in their natural form and with other nutrients they naturally tag along with. Their benefits are much more limited, if not completely eliminated, when they come in supplement form.
Going back to the key statement, eat a variety of foods. Keep them as close to how they look in nature as possible. To add a bit, eat when you’re hungry. Finish when you are satisfied, not stuffed. Do these things and you’re well on your path to a healthy diet.
For more specifics, talk with a registered dietician.