I’d venture to say that if you ask a group of runners why they run, you’ll get answers that range from the motivational and sentimental (“to raise money for cancer,” “to beat my ____ addiction”) to ones a bit more funny and light-hearted (“to justify my eating habit!” or “so I can drink and not feel guilty!”). I think most runners I’ve met love eating, drinking, or both. And we’re not talking celery sticks and water here, folks…
In my next lifetime, I think instead of working in higher ed, I’ll go the nutritionist and dietitian route, since I’m always so amazed by food and people’s relationships with it (including my own). Some of my favorite books are food-related — think Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation or Pollan’s In Defense of Food — and there is an abundance of literature out there related to athletes and “performance nutrition” … lucky for me.
I read most anything food- or running-related that passes my screen, and this article — about the ABCs of sports nutrition — I found especially good. Sometimes it’s tough to know when to eat, what to eat, or how to eat (as strange as that sounds) when training for an endurance event, like a half or a marathon, and improper “fueling” can lead to many an illness, ache, pain, or sideline-guaranteeing injury … every athlete’s nightmare! It can be a bit intimidating to get into the nitty-gritty of nutrition though, since few people know how many grams of ____ nutrient are in our dietary mainstays, nor can we easily keep track of the myriad nutrients, vitamins, and minerals that are out there and know which ones should be “more” important to us and our diets.
Another tricky thing is figuring out what works for you, since nutrition and proper fueling depends so much on how an individual can “handle” the food. I’ve been a vegetarian for over two years, and besides not eating meat at all (nothing – red meat, fish, poultry, anything that lives in the sea, no animal-based broths, nothing), I also consume very little cheese or dairy products because it upsets my stomach about 80% of the time, and when it does, it’s not pretty. In addition to these circumstances, like many other runners, I have to be really careful when I consume sports drinks like Gatorade or ingest gels or gus because if I consume too much of either, or god forbid, together, I’m in the bathroom faster than you can ask, “where’d she go?????”
Clearly, this isn’t the case for all runners, and some have other issues to contend with, like soy or wheat allergies. Finding what works for you — maybe eating potatoes instead of pasta before a long run, for example, or preferring one type of sports drink or gel to another — is critical in order to a) enjoy your exercise dramatically more! and b) to perform to your best abilities.
Other good resources for food include Nancy Clark RD’s blog and the sports dietitian blog over at Runner’s World. I encourage you to check them out or even write-in your own diet- and nutrition-related inquiries!