Run to Eat or Eat to Run

Do you run to eat or eat to run?  I admit to doing a lot of the first and not enough of the second.  I mean who doesn't like to reward a good half marathon with a giant bacon cheeseburger or a huge platter of Mexican food?

You just burned 1500+ calories, so why not?  And I agree... why not?  At least after a race... but if I reward myself like that on every run, then eventually I'm going to regret it!  I run to get healthy and stay healthy, so I really should be thinking more carefully about my food choices.  I don't care how far you run, if you're shovin' yourself full of fast food and processed junk, you're not going to be healthy.  I also want to set a good and healthy example for my kids.
I'm an average gal, and as much as I'd love to cut out all processed foods, until I have my own farm and a personal chef, I just don't see that in the time clock or the budget.  I would, however, like to minimize processed foods, and I'd like to get pretty close to eliminating restaurant food as well (besides, it should be nice on the budget).  For the record, though, I really don't eat out that much... maybe once or twice a week at most.

The main bonus of being a runner is that carbs are fuel.  All those pastas and breads that your diet books told you not to eat... well, you need them to have good performance running.  (Now, I don't claim to be a nutritionist, although I wish I were... so get out your salt shakers when I start talking about this stuff...)  Especially in distance running, carbs are your friend.  Really, can the news get much better than that?

Other than the carbs, nothing about a runner's diet should be striking. 

I like this article from the October 2009 issue of Runner's World, by Mark Bittman:

THE RUNNER'S PANTRY LIST

Grains

You can't have too many varieties. I think quinoa (keen-wa) is the grain of the future--great-tasting and easy to cook. Bulgur cooks in a flash and is delicious for breakfast; oats are a staple; a few kinds of rice add flexibility. Pasta is a grain, but it's highly processed, so reserve it for treats.

Beans

Buy an assortment of dried and canned. If you can find frozen beans, grab 'em. Use beans for snacks, sides, as a base for meals. High in carbs and protein, low in fat, cheap, and versatile, beans are a cornerstone of the modern kitchen.

Olive Oil

Extra-virgin is preferable, easy to find, and much less expensive than it used to be. Use it for everything. Don't worry about country of origin; producers ship bulk oil everywhere, so labeling isn't worth much. If it tastes good, and costs around $10 a liter, use it. You may also want peanut, grapeseed, canola, or corn; look for cold-pressed--not chemically extracted. And it doesn't hurt to have some butter once in a while, either.

Long-Keeping Vegetables and Fruits

Carrots, celery, lemons, and limes keep at least a week. Potatoes (white and sweet), onions, garlic, and dried chiles keep even longer. Frozen vegetables like spinach, peas, and corn keep more or less forever.

Fresh Herbs

You can't have them all, but buy one every week or so to add spirit to your cooking. Cilantro and mint are easy to find; in the summer basil, dill, and rosemary are abundant. Even parsley--so often taken for granted--can make a huge difference when chopped and added in real quantity to salads, grains dishes, and sauces.

Spices

Buy the ones you like; they keep at least a year. Fanatics buy whole spices, and toast and grind them as they need them, and this really is ideal, but in general preground spices are fine.

Vinegar

Sherry vinegar is the most versatile and best for the money; balsamic is popular and sweeter. Good cider, rice, and wine vinegars, are also fine standbys.

Soy Sauce

Look for brands (such as Kikkoman) that contain only soy, wheat, salt, water, and bacteria; that's how real soy sauce is made, and it's great stuff.

Parmesan

From Italy, please. It's the easiest way to add complex flavor to pasta and rice dishes, and much more.

Dried Fruit and Nuts

There's nothing better for snacking, and they're useful for cooking. Store nuts in the freezer (they keep longer). Don't forget about nut butters.

Eggs

Fast, inexpensive, and protein-packed.

Bacon

Store it in the freezer and use it for beans, grains, and vegetable dishes. An ounce or two goes a long way.

Canned Tomatoes

Indispensable. Wonderful for sauce, but you can add them to any soup or stew you like. Prechopped tomatoes make life a little easier.

Sweeteners

Sugar is fine in moderation, but maple syrup and honey are far more flavorful.

Dried Mushrooms

Especially porcini and shiitakes. Soak them in hot water until soft, then add them to anything.

Mmmmmmm.... Carbs, carbs, protein, and carbs.  I have to admit I will definitely be skipping the last item on this list... I cannot stand mushrooms (or olives or raisons).  I've gotten over a lot of the things I didn't like as a kid, but I just can't seem to get over those.  I need to get better about the beans and herbs.  I love rice, and usually have plenty of fruits and veggies on hand (since I'm in a veggie co-op), and I think soy sauce is a great thing for seasoning... The thing I wish I could give up is the extreme amount of processed sugars I eat.  OK, I just love anything with sugar.  I am a sweet tooth.  Remember this:

Yeah, well, that scene actually looks good to me.  See, I have a serious sugar problem.  The other thing I cannot get enough of is steak.  Yes, I know it's high fat, but I'll gladly use my iron-deficiency as the reason I crave it.  Yum.  I probably eat too much protein altogether...

Some other food items that many runners agree are staples:  bananas, peanut butter (or almond butter), smoothies (with lots of antioxident-rich berries), Greek yogurt, and yes, dark chocolate (in moderation, of course - or at least that's what they say).

With so many yummy choices out there for runner's, it seems that if I'd just keep my pantry stocked with the right stuff, I'd have plenty of choices for snacks that don't involve twizzlers and Swedish fish.  If only...  baby steps...

I'm still looking for a good Runner-oriented, healthy cookbook... I'll let you know when I find one that's worthy or actually purchasing!