This week’s blog post is another guest post by nutritional therapist Frances Bavin. In it she tackles the subject of nutrient density, shifting the focus from foods you should avoid — which is how dietary recommendations are so often oriented — to foods you should eat. Some of these foods may surprise you!
Are you supplying your body with the right nutrients?
If you answered yes to the questions in Part 1 last week you probably are, but this week I’m going to be more specific. Think about what you eat in three different categories:
Energy food – carbohydrates like grains if you are able to tolerate them (rice and buckwheat can often be easier than gluten containing grains like wheat, rye and barley), and starchy vegetables like sweet potato, squash, root vegetables and pumpkin.
Recovery food – Protein (meat, fish, eggs, nuts, beans and dairy). Again, not everyone tolerates eggs, nuts, beans and dairy so be aware that you may be one of these people. If you are going to have some dairy then do make sure you are eating good quality cheese and natural unsweetened yoghurt (homemade is even better). Whilst there are some obvious benefits to milk, namely calcium content and being an easy option, I wouldn’t recommend people drink a lot of pasteurized milk (perhaps another article in itself!).
Protection food – a wide variety of fruit and veg. Go for non-starchy vegetables and the less-sweet fruits like berries, apples and pears (see more below)
On a normal day, you want half of your plate (roughly) to be protection foods, and then a quarter each of recovery and energy. Just before a race you would look to change the ratios more towards a third of each. You must also add into this some fats which provide the more steady, underlying energy. If you have days where you are not training, and are reasonably inactive, you can replace a lot of your starchy carbs for fats. Think avocadoes, coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, butter, oily fish etc.
Make sure you have some of these nutrient-dense foods in your diet on a regular basis:
Colourful Vegetables and Fruit – dark berries, currants, kale, carrots, tomatoes etc. All these colours are from the different phytonutrients they contain. Don’t worry about which does what, just know that the bigger variety you can get in your diet, the better. I love getting my organic fruit and veg box delivered and feeling like the harvest festival is going on in my kitchen. Eat as fresh as you can and don’t store in the fridge for weeks. If you are lucky enough to have a garden, or even a big windowsill, grow whatever you can.
Organ meats – not everyone’s favourite but surprisingly easy to hide in other food if you find it a bit gross. The advantage here is their nutrient density — a whole array including B12 and a good balance of fat-soluble vitamins — which far outweighs that of the muscle meats we usually eat and pretty much every other food. They can really help with the extra needs of runners and is particularly good after a hard day of exercise. Chicken liver pate is one of the easy ways in, and combined with some onions, butter and bit of mustard it not only tastes great but is really good for you and can help with recovery. Heart can also be chopped into small pieces and put into a stew with some other red meat and you hardly notice it, it just has the texture of very tender meat and is actually one of the best food sources of coQ10 that there is. If you are vegetarian, you can still get a lot of what you need from eggs and a well balanced diet and some supplementation, you just need to be careful that you are. (Some more information on this slightly contentious issue from the Weston A Price Foundations’s standpoint).
Bone broth/stock – getting into the habit of cooking a big pot of stock every week can really benefit your own bones, joints and cartilage and heal your digestive tract, not to mention make your cooking taste better. Again, it’s a fairly simple thing to make, particularly if you have a slow cooker. Here’s a video tutorial with more information on the benefits as well:
Eggs – the perfect breakfast and fast food. Please don’t feel the need to just eat the whites though, the best bit is the yolk which is easier to digest for most people and contains more nutrients (particularly choline, vitamin A, D, B12 and iron). If you feel you may have an intolerance to eggs, it may be worth just trying the yolk on it’s own without the white.
Seaweed – tasty, full of minerals and easy to add to your meals, seaweed is a rich source of iodine which can be lacking in our diets elsewhere and is essential for our thyroids. Use nori sheets to wrap veg and scrambled egg in, sprinkle dulse flakes over your food as seasoning or use fresh and shredded in soups or fish dishes. Barleygrass, wheatgrass, spirulina and chlorella are also good options. In all cases, just do a bit of homework on how clean the waters are where the plant is sourced.
Fermented foods – preferably made yourself as a lot of shop-bought options have been pasteurised, fermented foods can provide your digestive system with regular exposure to good bacteria. Fermented foods can be found in many different cultures and include the vegetable variety (Kim Chi and sauerkraut), dairy forms (yoghurt, kefir) and drinks like kombucha. Sauerkraut is one of these I make regularly which I find very easy.
If you have any questions, please post them below, and stay tuned for the final part of this series next week!
Frances Bavin works as a nutritional therapist in Edinburgh, Scotland, seeing a wide variety of clients with various health issues as well as athletes needing help with sports nutrition.
Frances trained at The College of Naturopathic Medicine and uses a naturopathic/functional medicine approach. She is also the chapter leader of the Weston A. Price Foundation in Edinburgh. Her mission with each client is to help them take control of their own health and to positively enjoy being a healthy person and getting the most out of their life.
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About the Author
Jae Gruenke, GCFP, is a running technique expert and Feldenkrais Practitioner. Known as a “running form guru,” she is the Founder and CEO of The Balanced Runner™ in New York City and The Balanced Runner UK. She has helped runners from beginner to Olympian improve their form to become pain-free, economical, and fast.