The second principle that will dramatically influence your running ability is eating. I can spend all day talking about nutrition but I don’t want to bore you with that. Instead I want to focus on what factors influence food choices and how those food choices influence your running success.
I was sitting in a conference a few years ago and I heard the follow quote,
“Proper diet can’t make an average athlete elite, but a poor diet makes an elite athlete average.”
Physiological and Biological Influences: Things that fall under this category are hunger and appetite, taste and food preference, fat-free mass and resting metabolic rate, and macronutrient balance (i.e. depleted glycogen stores following and during exercise). All of these influence what we eat and how much we eat. It is important to listen to your body and eat foods that you enjoy but do not overindulge. Do not think that you have to eat a certain food because you have been told that it is good for you. There are many options out there so find some that you are willing to eat. Nutrition is not about diets it is about a lifestyle.
Lifestyle, Beliefs and Knowledge: Things that fall under this category are your lifestyle, health beliefs, nutrition knowledge and motives for participating in running. I am always being told by people that they are too busy to eat or forget to eat throughout the day. Understand your lifestyle and plan accordingly. If you want to be a good runner you need to be continuously replenishing nutrients in your body so it can function properly. Know your lifestyle and find a way to incorporate nutrition. Health beliefs and nutrition knowledge seem to run together. Educate yourself but know where to get accurate information. You will hear countless things through the media that aren’t true. You will read countless sensational headlines that are made to persuade you to buy a product instead of educating with facts. Talk to dietitians. Talk to people who have actually studied nutrition. Do not get nutrition advice from a personal trainer. Personal trainer certifications require the most basic nutrition knowledge. You probably know as much as a certified personal trainer. Lastly, know your motivation. If you want to be the best you can be then you need to fuel your body properly. You cannot fuel properly until you have been properly educated. At ISP we are constantly talking with our athletes about performance nutrition, pre-competition nutrition, recovery nutrition and individual needs for different circumstances. Prepare properly, fuel properly during competition and recover properly and you will be successful.
Psychological: Psychological aspects include body image, weight control and hedonic hunger. Body image has always been an issue with runners and, at its core, has little to do with food. Most people with low body image or eating disorders will use food, or limiting food intake, as a coping mechanism because it is something that they can control. Weight control can only be attained properly with education. If you understand nutrition you can fuel properly, maintain the proper weight and improve your chances of having a good body image. Having some type of support system is extremely helpful to maintain a healthy body image. Find a running group to support you but be careful because a lot of information shared in those groups is inaccurate. This goes back to what I said about seeking nutrition information from the right sources. Running groups are great for support but not the best for advice. What is hedonic hunger? Hedonic hunger is the drive to obtain pleasure in the absence of an energy deficit. Particular foods may have a high hedonic rating or individuals may have increased susceptibility to environmental food cues. “Diets” try to target certain foods and influences that have a high hedonic rating but fail to address the underlying issue of eating. The best way to treat hedonic hunger is to know what triggers the eating. Triggers can be environmental like smells, certain settings like parties or sporting events and people and customs that surround you. Eating foods high in fiber and nutrient dense food will help you eat less and feel more satiated.
Social: Social factors can be religious or cultural. Other influences involve marketing, meal patterns, availability of food and social facilitation. Some religions will dictate food choices. This is fine. Replacing foods that you cannot consume because of a religious belief can easily be done. Make smart substitutions. Cultural influence might be harder to deal with. It is okay to be strong and help your friends and family substitute unhealthy traditions with new, healthy choices. Don’t give in because it is only a couple times a year. We all need to be healthier. Meal patterns and availability of food is a real issue for a lot of people. If healthy choices are not available, healthy choices will not be made. It seems simple but it is true. Preparation is important. Always have healthy options available that fit your meal patterns. To do this you need to take a minute to realize what your patterns are and then adapt accordingly. The theory that you have to eat six times a day is false. Eating six times a day is helpful to limit calories per meal for some people but is not realistic for others. Understand your situation then plan your meals to meet your nutrient requirements.
Economic: Simply put this is your income and the cost of food. Food can be expensive but does not have to be. Low-income people tend to eat more fast food than more affluent people. This is not because they like it more. It is cheap and nobody has taught them how to shop wisely. Income should not be a barrier to good health. We need to educate all people how to eat healthy on a budget. If you have money you need to be careful you are not spending too much on food because you will eat the food you buy. Having too much food around makes us glutinous. The best way to avoid that is to buy what you need and make sure you are making good choices. It is important to remember that food choice is dynamic and may vary depending on time, location and changing situations in which runners make food choices.