Better BBQ Options for Runners

sarah cuff Food for Runners, Training 2 Comments

I had a client exclaim to me just last week how she really wants to reach her racing weight, but not necessarily at the expense of never enjoying another barbecue (or birthday cake)!


I hear her. I get that. And I want you to know a balance does exist – a wonderful place where we can still go out and enjoy ourselves, sustain our energy, and attain our performance and racing weight goals.

There are essentially three options we have when going to a barbecue (or attending a wedding or birthday party, spending a day at the beach, or while on vacation), listed in order of relative difficulty to adhere to:

  1. Indulgence: Go ahead and indulge – eat and drink what ever you wish (possibly practicing portion sizing control).
  1. Healthier Options: Reach for (or bring with you to share) healthier versions of traditional fare (such as grilled chicken instead of fried chicken; quinoa salad instead of macaroni salad, etc.).
  1. Eat Clean: Eat totally clean (ensure you snack before and after, bring some of your own food, and choose only any veggies, lean proteins, complex carbs and fruits that are available).

It’s easy to say you’d have no trouble picking the last option, but we all know the reality of social situations – sometimes it feels pretty hard to say no, especially when you’re working out a ton and feel you may have “earned” some indulgence. Sometimes, it can be helpful to remember what happens AFTER the indulgence:

  1. Indulgence – You’ll likely feel yucky, low on energy, bloated, heavy, and resistant to running. If you force yourself out for your run, it’ll feel hard and you might even end up with a nagging twinge or pain somewhere. If you did practice portion control, chances are you still feel hungry. However, if you do get out for your run, you’ll be glad you did and will likely feel better post-run!
  1. Healthier Options – You’ll feel good, with good energy, and likely have a pretty average run. Some complaints may pop up here and there, but you’re more likely to feel like your normal self.
  1. Eat Clean – You’ll feel awesome, albeit maybe a bit left out (because eating so clean when everyone else around you is indulging can be difficult, often you’re the only one). But you’ll have great energy, feel light and lean, and have a strong workout.

So what to do? While it seems obvious that eating clean is the best thing for your running, there are always times when you’ll choose the indulgent route. Just remember that fully indulging is best kept to a minimum. For me, even 2 times per month feels like a lot. Any more than that and it might actually get in the way of my running performance goals.

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On the other hand, allowing yourself to attend a barbecue or social function without having to think or worry about food one bit is nice. Once in a while, so long as it’s not happening every weekend or multiple times during the week, it’s alright to let things slip a little. So what do these options look like in actual practice?

Here’s a chart to assist in figuring out what might be the best choice the next time you end up at a barbecue (click on the chart below to bring up larger version).Better BBQ Options As time goes by with a focus on eating to run, you’ll likely find yourself making healthier choices more naturally. As you become more aware how different foods make you feel and affect your running, the clean choice can actually become the easy choice. Often it just takes some planning, like making an effort to decide ahead of time which events warrant some indulgence, and which will require you to bring your own delicious, healthy goodies.

For example I pre-planned back in May that I’d eat clean for the next two months except for June 7th (birthday party and post-race celebrations), June 21st (anniversary and post-race celebrations) and July 27th to 30th (post-marathon celebrations and camping). So far, it’s worked like a charm, and I’ve had one of my strongest training seasons to date.

For runners trying to fuel their training healthfully, avoid injury and reach their racing weight, the healthier or clean option is obviously always the best choice. Your health and running performance will thank you.

Do you have any tips or tricks for staying healthy during barbecue season? Would love to hear them in the comments below!

Eat clean, run strong, be well… Cheers,


Sarah J Cuff, RHN

Image 2PS. Some clients who come to me are willing to cut out every single thing from their diet and start again from scratch. Others make it known that some items won’t be going anywhere – in this case, with Lesley Garlough, it was coffee and wine! Can you eat 2 run while keeping coffee and wine in the picture? Be successful in your running without giving either of these up? Find out how Lesley faired… Click here to read her story!

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  1. Pingback: Better BBQ Options for Runners | Eat 2 Run | Know What You Eat

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