I often hear runners joke, “Why does work always get in the way of my running?!”
If only we could spend our days focused only on running, nutrition, and recovery! Eat. Sleep. Run. Repeat. That would be the life wouldn’t it?
Alas, reality kicks in and we find ourselves balancing running with family time, work, other hobbies and life’s daily stressors. Years ago, back in 2017 when I was about to start training for California International Marathon (CIM), I felt especially overwhelmed and fatigued. My goal in CIM was to PR and to qualify for Boston but I’d shoved nutrition to the back burner. I was constantly tired, coming out of an emotionally draining work environment and struggling to find the root cause of gastrointestinal distress I faced on a daily basis.
It is hard enough training for a marathon when everything seems to be going perfectly (is that ever really the case?!) but when dealing with feelings of being overwhelmed, unwell and fatigued, it was even more challenging. I decided it was time to uncover the root cause of my health ailments and so as I embarked on my training, I also sought out the help of a holistic sports nutritionist. And in doing so I was introduced to concepts that I’d never even heard of before – things that my doctors and health practitioners had failed to mention to me or even look into.
My thoughts at the time were “Nutrition is confusing and eating well is time consuming!” and “It’s normal to not feel well on a daily basis since I was told I was genetically unlucky.”
I was also told by medical personnel my IBS was something I just had to “deal with”. So I did. Food intolerances? Those are just a made up thing to go on a fad, gluten-free diet right? Meal prepping and planning? That is going to take forever and consume all of my free time. Blood work? My Dr. said my bloodwork was “normal.” I don’t need to question that or look further into those values. Right? I could not have been more wrong.
My holistic sports nutritionist helped me discover the root cause of feeling so unwell and fatigued. My gut was in desperate need of repairing. I had a severe gluten sensitivity along with other nutrient deficiencies, and my hemoglobin and iron were far too low for me as an athlete.
Long story short, when I made the decision to address the root causes of my ailments and take the time to learn how to prepare healing and nourishing foods, it changed my life and my running drastically improved. I got that PR AND my Boston Qualifying time, and have since qualified for Boston the past 3 years in a row. Accomplishing my goals has been fulfilling, however healing my body has been even more rewarding.
So we know proper nutrition and fueling strategies are key in ensuring our bodies are receiving adequate nutrients for powering us through our workouts, aiding in recovering and healing, and getting us through a busy work day. However, a busy schedule doesn’t have to mean sacrificing great nutrition and lifestyle habits that benefit and improve our running! A well laid out nutrition game plan and commitment to good lifestyle habits leads to consistency. And of course, consistency leads to success in achieving our goals.
One of the first and most important tools to utilize is planning and preparation. Consistency is easier to achieve when we as busy runners have quick and easy recipes, and tips to follow to support our routines. Let’s explore some useful tips along with some fast and easy, nutrient-dense recipes, to help even the busiest of runners stay fuelled and ready to tackle run workouts, while juggling a hectic work-life schedule:
1. Plan Your Meals for the Week
A weekly meal planner (such as this one here) is key to organizing meals, so you can plan ahead and know exactly what you have to prepare for the week. Find your template, or simply a blank sheet, and let’s get started.
- Choose one day per week as your “Meal-Planning Day”. Literally put this day into your training schedule – as a workout to be completed! This will help you get into the routine of sitting down once a week and sketching out what you’ll eat for the week.
- If you don’t already have a repository of fun recipes you enjoy, you might want to pause here and have some fun going through recipe books or the web for new dishes. Just pick one or two new ones for your upcoming week and allow the rest to be ones you’re comfortable with preparing. (If you’re not comfortable preparing any meals at all, you might want to consider using a meal prep or delivery service for most days, slowly adding on more days you prepare yourself as you do get more comfortable in the kitchen.)
- Jot down what your breakfast, lunch and dinner will be each, as well as any snacking you think you’ll need. Be sure to sandwich your workouts with good food before and after too! Use the next few points to help you land on good choices for your meals.
2. Choose 1-3 Breakfasts
Keep breakfast simple, yet nourishing. It’s ideal to start your day off on a positive note with a nutrient-dense breakfast. What foods your breakfast is composed of will vary depending on your individual requirements however my blanket recommendation is to consume a good portion of healthy fats as well as some protein to start the day. Very few runners are able to find optimal performance and health by skipping breakfast. Yes, intermittent fasting is trending right now, and for good reason – but as a generalization, runners training for performance need to start the day with nourishment, even if it’s just “BulletproofTM Coffee” (although for most it’ll be a combo of healthy fats, protein and some carbs).
Not only does breakfast need to nourish you, we want to keep it fast and simple. Here are some ideas for you to choose from (on top of any you already have). Personally my go-to breakfast is eggs with veggies, topped with avocado and pumpkin seeds, while my fellow Eat2Run sports nutritionist Sarah enjoys the exact same chocolate cherry breakfast smoothie every single day! You might like more variety – or you might be happy to have the same breakfast each morning. Either works just fine.
- Quinoa and Berries Breakfast Bowl (This is a great option if you have made a batch of quinoa for the week)
- Overnight Oats
- Fully Loaded Oatmeal
- Power Cookies
- Granola with almond milk or over full fat grass-fed yogurt with lots of berries
- Almond Berry Breakfast Smoothie
- Banana Oat Pancakes with lots of berries
- 2 egg scramble with spinach, mushrooms and green onions – served with half an avocado
- Egg Cups
- Scrambled Tofu
- Chocolate Cherry Breakfast Smoothie (see EAT2RUN recipe book)
- Paleo Coffee or Matcha (coffee or matcha tea blended with coconut oil and/or grass fed butter and collagen or whey isolate)
- Coconut Cacao Paleo Granola with almond milk and berries
- Fat Bomb Smoothie Bowl
Okay, now that your breakfast is all set, on to your meals – lunch and dinner!
3. Choose Quick and Easy Nutrient-Dense Meals (maximizing the use of leftovers)
When it comes to meals, I know you’re looking for recipes that can be constructed with little effort but are still nutrient-dense (rich in vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients). And allow for integration of leftovers. Since you will be loading up your fridge with lots of fresh veggies and produce (the most nutrient-dense foods available to us are leafy greens, veggies and fruits), it’ll be important to know how to utilize all of this fresh produce before they go bad. Been there, done that – hate it when that happens!
A weekly staple for me for lunches and dinners are my Nourish Bowls, which are inspired by the Power Bowls recipe in the Run Fast, Cook Fast, Eat Slow cookbook. I love these bowls because they are fast, nutrient-dense, and a great way to get creative with recipes and leftovers! Follow the steps below to create your own delicious meal to nourish yourself and fuel your running.
Step 1: Decide Your Base
- Mixed Greens: romaine, arugula, spinach, red lettuce
- Brown rice
- Sautéed greens: kale, spinach, bok choy, chard
Step 2: Build up Your Veggie Load
- Roasted veggies: sweet potato, cauliflower, beets, parsnips, brussels sprouts
- Steamed/stir-fry veggies: green beans, mushrooms, bell peppers, onion, carrots, broccoli, celery
- Grilled veggies: asparagus, zucchini, onion
- Fermented veggies: pickled onions, kimchi, red cabbage, sauerkraut (extra probiotic plus!)
Step 3: Add Your Protein
- Grass -fed beef/steak (left over burgers would be great here!)
- Turkey burgers
- Grilled chicken breasts/thighs
- Slow cooker/Instant Pot Pulled Pork
- Fried Egg (Even turn a bowl into a breakfast bowl! Breakfast-dinner is amazing!)
- Wild-Caught salmon/seafood (Leftover Miso Ginger Encrusted Salmon-YUM!)
- Beans, lentils, or chickpeas
Step 4: Top with Sauces and Healthy Fats
- Organic Soy Sauce/ Gluten-free Tamari/Coconut Aminos
- Fresh salsa
- Classic Hummus
- Cheesy Lemon Dressing
- Toasted/Raw Pumpkin Seeds
- Hemp Seeds / Hemp Hearts
- Almond Nut Sauce (see EAT2RUN recipe book)
- Miso Gravy (see EAT2RUN recipe book)
Additionally, here are some ideas for delicious recipes that will not only nourish your body and sustain your appetite, but also encourage the use of some ingredients in your fridge you may be wondering what to do with towards the end of your week:
- Nutrient-Dense Veggie-Rich Stir-Fry
- Miso Ginger Encrusted Salmon
- Bison Stroganoff (you can throw just about any veggie into this stroganoff!)
- Quick n Easy Taco Bowl
- Shepherd’s Pie
- Fish tacos with mango salsa (see EAT2RUN recipe book)
4. Grocery Shopping and Meal prepping:
Having the proper meal-prepping tools in your home, will ensure that the process is quicker and more efficient. Being prepared will ensure success to keep you on track, and you will be less likely to reach for less healthier options.
Tips for meal prepping:
- Keep certain staple ingredients in your pantry (See Grocery List). You will be cooking with a lot of the same spices and ingredients, so ensuring your pantry is pre-stocked is a game changer!
- On the day you choose to meal plan, use this same day to meal-prep. Cut up the veggies you need. Grill any proteins you choose for the week. Make large batches of staples such as rice, quinoa, or beans.
- Investing in an Instant Pot is highly recommended! For me, the Instant Pot cut down time in the kitchen and allowed me to diversify the number of healthy dishes I was having on a weekly basis.
- Invest in some good Tupperware (preferably glass to avoid toxins from plastics) to store your prepared food in for at home and on the go. Bonus if the Tupperware can handle being frozen for leftovers!
- Remember to be creative with your leftovers (see Nourish Bowls above and Eat the Rainbow Stirfry recipe). Even incorporate leftovers into your breakfasts! My favorite way to do that is to re-heat veggies from dinner before, such as stir-fry veggies, or a sweet potato, and turn it into a delicious egg hash or scramble.
- Certain foods freeze really well such as meat, soups/stews, and homemade baked goods/snacks. So, don’t forget about utilizing the freezer for future meals and snacks.
When I made the decision to become my own health advocate, and prioritized addressing my ailments and improving them through nutrition, it opened up a whole new world for me. I felt stronger, happier, more energetic and inspired to share how powerful the gift of nourishing myself can be. The human body continues to amaze me. Choosing to be grounded in a positive mindset and giving my body the proper nutrients and fuel to utilize for energy, healing and performance has made goals that I thought impossible become attainable.
Be prepared. Be consistent. Take a moment to slow down. Be mindful. Nourish yourself. And then go RUN HARD.
Kaydee Gregg, N.T.M.
Nutrition Therapist Master