How to Know what Food to Eat

sarah cuff Food for Runners Leave a Comment

I’m sure my weekly blog is not the only dietary advice you come across. You might also read Runner’s World and various other magazines, books and blogs offering the latest on nutrition along with a few recipes.

But there’s lots of conflicting and sometimes confusing information out there. Go vegetarian… Avoid dairy… Do the gluten-free thing… Why not try Paleo… Holistic… Traditional… Or maybe a combo (organic gluten-free raw vegan anyone?). For the record, I’ve tried combining Paleo and vegan… It, um, didn’t work.

So how do you know what food to eat?

For starters, you’re in the right place. Educate yourself through this blog and other blogs, books, magazine columns – soak it up when and where you can. Knowledge is power. But take what you hear and read with a grain of salt. Ask yourself if it resonates with you and your values. If it doesn’t, ask yourself if there’s anything you can learn from it anyway.

There came a point in time where I wanted to know what the absolute best diet was that we should all be eating to make us feel, look and perform our best.

Now I understand such a thing doesn’t exist. There is no one absolute best diet for everyone. We are all so darn unique. Exactly what and how I eat is not how you should be eating (even if we do share the commonality of being runners).

When I dabbled in the world of figure competitions, you can bet I believed everyone should be eating oatmeal with Splenda, egg whites, tuna salad, chicken breasts, and white fish with broccoli (for the record – I am going to state right now, with absolute certainty, that no one need ever consume artificial sweeteners). When I ate vegan, I encouraged everyone around me to also give up the consumption of animal products.

My mind liked to have single focuses. Without knowing it, I didn’t want to be open. I didn’t want to see the signs or listen to my intuition. Instead, I wanted there to be one truth.

Now, as a nutritional practitioner, I know well that what one person can thrive off of, another person will wilt under. What one runner ends up running a personal best off of might result in a disastrous situation for another.

If I tell you that bananas are the best food ever for runners but you know bananas just don’t sit well with you, listen to your body. Don’t eat bananas. If I sing the praises of chia seeds, but you just don’t feel well after eating them… Don’t eat chia seeds.

On the flip side, if you find that having chocolate milk or a beer right after your run helps you to recover better than having a recovery shake does, then have your drink of choice!

(Ha… It was really hard for me to write that as I advocate neither chocolate milk nor beer as optimal post-run recovery strategies… However, I strongly believe we know what’s best for ourselves.)

Always listen to what your body is trying to tell you at this moment.

There’s a few things that are pretty consistent for runners. You usually want to go into a run with carbs in your body in order to have energy. You’ll need to consume carbs on the run when running long distances for optimal performance. It’s best to re-fuel with a recovery shake containing carbs and a bit of protein post-run. But the specifics and what to eat beyond ‘before/during/after’ need to be individualized.

As a runner and nutritionist I offer you blanket advice on this blog. It’s knowledge you can take to help you grow your nutritional data bank. But ultimately, I don’t want you to follow any advice that I, or anyone else, might offer up if it just doesn’t feel right to you. If your mind is open but your intuition is telling you no… The answer is no.

You might want to take a shortcut and ask a nutritional practitioner to help you figure out what your ideal diet looks like. I have personally found this helpful in the past and now I help clients do this daily. However, when it comes down to it, you know yourself best and even with the help of professionals… The key to what level of health and performance we operate at is ultimately in our own hands. 

Educate yourself, keep an open mind and always listen to your intuition. That is how to learn what food is best for you to eat. And know that it will change over the years… Be adaptable.

Next week I’m going to share with you why I think sorghum flour + arrowroot powder + brown rice flour is the best mix ever… For any runner who requires or wants more gluten-free options (including kickbutt pizza crust), this one’s for you. And for anyone wondering how the heck to get a runners beach body, well, that one is coming your way the week after.

Until then… Happy running 🙂


Sarah J Cuff, RHN

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