How can you begin to figure out which nutrition strategy is best for you individually?
You will have to test different strategies to find one that works best for you. I think it’s most important to work with a good running coach who will let you try different strategies. They might line you up with a simple strategy first. For example, all runners who start working with me in any of my programs start on carb cycling first, because I find that across the board for running, carb cycling and intermittent fasting are the best ways to improve performance and healthy weight loss for runners. But, not everyone thrives on that. Do most runners? In my experience, yes, but there are certain cases where there need to be tweaks, and I allow my runners to add in things or exclude other things. Just know that this is all around a testing process!
Still, I’ve organized four key principles from every run nutrition strategy (listed here), plus some action items to help ensure that you are using the nutrition strategy that is best for you!
PRINCIPLE ONE: Good nutrition is focused on eating mindfully.
The goal of every nutrition strategy is to teach you, first, to pay attention to what you’re eating, and second, to focus on eating high-quality foods. It’s about YOU taking the extra effort to be mindful about what you’re eating.
You eat for a lot of different reasons. You might eat for comfort or because you’re stressed or sad. But are you eating with the intention of improving your health or refueling after a run or getting the necessary energy pre- or post-workout? Every nutrition strategy is intentioned to help you be mindful about what you’re eating and why.
ACTION: Be mindful of what you’re eating and why (so that you’re eating for the right reasons.) For a lot of runners, this means that you’re eating to increase and maintain your energy levels.
PRINCIPLE TWO: Good nutrition is focused on high-quality, whole foods.
Every nutrition strategy I’ve talked about (vegan, vegetarian, paleo) has a focus on whole food nutrition. Though one strategy says you eat beans for protein and another says you eat animal protein, both strategies agree that you want to eat food in it’s most whole form.
AND you want to eat the highest-quality foods. This means you need to eat clean vegetables and fruits, high-quality protein (either from beans or animal meat that is possibly local, sustainable, and grass-fed), and high-quality carbs (either from vegetables or rice).
But the goal is: eat food that is the least processed as possible. You want high-quality, nutrient dense food: beans, dark green vegetables, lean and high-quality meats. If you have the ability to buy locally, do it! The fewer places your food has to travel and the less time it takes to reach your plate, the higher the nutrient quality. And if you actually have the opportunity to talk to the farmer who produced your food, you will be more confident in your food choices, too.
ACTION: Eat whole, high-quality foods from every category.
PRINCIPLE THREE: Good nutrition focuses on eliminating processed foods.
None of the nutrition strategies I’ve mentioned (vegan, vegetarian, paleo) will encourage Oreos or breakfast cereal to fuel your body. (For those of you who are more macro-focused, you can still have an occasional bowl of cereal or piece of toast! The goal here is to minimize processed foods and increase whole foods in your diet!)
Now, I know that some of you have to eat on-the-go, so you sometimes need quick foods. What are some healthy, go-to things? Overall, when you need quick food and it’s something that comes from a box, look at what the food is made from. Read the label. If you can understand the ingredient list, it’s likely a better option than a boxed product loaded with High Fructose Corn Syrup. Of course, if you have access to both a banana and a chewy bar, absolutely eat the banana! But if your options are only a Lara bar and a chewy bar, read the label, and you’ll find that the Lara bar has ingredients you can pronounce and the chewy bar has extra things you might not recognize.
Can you find healthy foods that are pre-packaged? Yes! Just reference PRINCIPLES ONE and TWO: be mindful of the foods you’re eating and focus on whole foods as much as you can. Read your labels!
ACTION: Minimize or eliminate processed foods from your diet as much as possible. If eliminating lots of foods from your diet sounds too scary, maybe think, “How can I take my nutrition from where it is now to the next level? Where can I make room in my diet for some better options?”
PRINCIPLE FOUR: Good nutrition focuses on food that will promote regular exercise and optimize physical fitness.
Maybe you started running first. You got into a good routine and then you thought, “Oh I wonder if my runs would improve if I changed my nutrition? Would it give me more energy?” This is great! I love that you dove head-first into running and then considered the whole body. Or maybe you started eating healthier first. You noticed increased energy and realized how good it felt, so now you want to start exercising.
However it happened for you, you want these two things (nutrition and exercise) to be working hand-in-hand with each other. Whatever activity you’re doing (whether it’s race training or something else) should be fueling your ambition to eat better and driving you to want to increase your performance or healthy weight loss or improve your recovery.
ACTION: Consider whether the physical activity you’re doing drives you to a healthier relationship with food and vice versa. Focus on these questions: “Is my food enhancing my performance? Does it enhance my enjoyment of running? (Or does this make me feel obsessed, in an unhealthy way?)”
So what are some take-aways moving forward? What kinds of action steps can you take?
We’ve talked about the four principles: you want to be mindful of what you’re eating, you want to eat whole, high-quality foods, you want foods that help control your appetite and food intake, you want to eliminate processed foods (as much as possible). But how can you implement these principles into everyday life?
First, download the Coach Jasmin Run Guide! This is the guide I share with my runners to help them optimize their training. You will get a basic structure for runs, some of my favorite core routines, and along with that, I’ve paired a breakfast, lunch, and dinner menu with each training day for FIVE days! It’s a five-day meal plan with whole foods you can easily try out with your race training! If you’re looking to add more whole foods into your diet, this is a great way to begin! (As you know, my runners follow carb cycling and intermittent fasting when they start working with me, so these meals will be more paleo-friendly, with some bean options!) And the foods are really good! I share recipes and links to my blog with pictures and instructions.
If you need the structure, download the Five-Day Run Guide, test out the plan, and notice whether it makes a difference in your race training.
Second (and I think this is really important!) test yourself all the time! If you’re starting a running program for the first time and you really want to tackle a good nutrition strategy, you might feel bombarded with options. You think, “Should I try paleo? Should I try a vegan diet? Should I try this or that?” The one thing I tell my clients, before they start doing anything more second-level (like paleo, Whole30, or vegan): start focusing on eating more real food and eliminating the processed food. Don’t feel like you have to jump into one of these strategies right away, because what might happen is that you dive in, maybe you don’t enjoy it, and then you jump out and think, “I can never do that again.”
Take baby steps toward progress! You’ll have more success.
Overall, if you’re starting this nutrition journey for the first time, focus on eating real food and eliminating processed foods.
If you’re more high-level, if you’re already eating whole foods and eliminating processed foods, give one of these nutrition strategies a try! I have found that my runners often thrive on carb cycling, so if you want to try that out, download the Five-Day RunGuide and test it for yourself! After a few weeks, self-evaluate: “How is my body responding?”
Third, always ask yourself: “How is this working for me?
Try my Five-Day Run Guide or test one of the other nutrition strategies. Give yourself 1-3 weeks to test any strategy, and at the end, ask yourself, “How is this working for me? Has my performance increased at all? Have I gotten leaner? Do I have more energy? Does this feel sustainable for me long-term?”
Because here’s the deal: if you start eating vegan and your performance improves BUT you don’t enjoy it or your energy dips, it’s probably not something that your body will thrive with long-term. And I don’t think you should stick with a strategy that doesn’t work. You can always try something different instead.
Hopefully these tips are helpful for you guys!
If you’re asking yourself the question right now, “What is the best running nutrition strategy for me?” My response is: There isn’t one right answer!
All the best food strategies have a few key principles: they focus on helping your body thrive by eating whole foods and eliminating processed foods. And then, overall, your goal as an athlete is to self-evaluate. Give yourself structure if you know you need it- download my Five-Day Run Guide to try a carb cycling plan and see how your body thrives. And then continually ask yourself the question, “How is this working for me? Is my performance increasing? Is my energy increasing? Does this feel sustainable long-term? Am I happy with these eating choices? Do I feel more self-control?” Continually self-evaluate to see which of these plans will help you thrive the best in the long-run.
And again as a reminder, if you want more helpful tips like these, I’m always reaching out to the Resilient Runners Community. Join for free! And ask me anything about running, strength training, or nutrition!
Download my Five-Day Run Guide! It’s a great resource to get some basic structure for implementing really good nutrition strategies for running a marathon.
Join my Facebook group for Resilient Runners! It’s a free run community where I support you and answer any of the questions that you have about running, nutrition, strength-training- anything related to running (and business)!