Monday, April 02, 2007

We all know that it's not always easy to make healthy food choices

Women work full time making sure everyone else’s needs are met—our kids, spouses, parents, friends and neighbors—leaving little time to cook and prepare foods for ourselves. Half of the challenge is knowing your dietary needs and finding a healthy eating program to match it.

Here are ten strategies to get you started on your journey.

1. Eat enough calories, but not too much! Many women simply don’t eat enough, or they overeat to compensate for their perceived needs in response to training, stress and living on the run. Getting enough calories is necessary for strength, endurance and stamina. Getting too much puts on unnecessary weight and can lead to injuries. Contributing factors are typically excess carbohydrates, protein or lean products prepared with too much oil or fats. To meet your minimal calorie needs, start with your weight and multiply this number by 10 calories per pound. If you attempt lower calorie diets than this, you can slow your metabolism down and make it even more difficult to manage your weight. About 25 percent of women require at least 15-20 calories per pound to stay healthy, prevent injury and avoid illness and infections. Start with 10 calories per pound, monitor your weight and health and add calories as your training progresses.

2. Eat consistently, not erratically! Women are notorious for eating inconsistently— juggling work, training and family responsibilities, skipping meals in lieu of training, eating late night snacks to squelch hunger pangs, etc. Make sure you stick to a regular eating schedule, preferably 3-5 meals daily, with approximately the same nutrient balance at your meal times. Save the majority of your carbohydrates for the last few meals to replenish muscle glycogen stores and for faster digestion before bedtime when compared with protein and fats. Do NOT eat your last meal with 2 hours or less before bedtime or it can impact your eating, food choices the next day and weight over time.

3. Choose wisely—go nutrient dense! Eating on-the-fly, or on-the-run, especially when you’ve skipped a meal or two, typically leads to filling up with empty calorie food choices—soda, candy, chips, fast-food, sugary snacks, cereal or candy bars. Filling up on empty food leads to vitamin and mineral deficiencies, in addition to a lack of energy, endurance and speed. To prevent impulsive eating, be prepared. Choose nutrient dense snacks and foods chock full of vitamins, minerals and fiber such as whole grains, cereals and pretzels, beans, bean soups and dips, fresh fruit, dried fruit, nutritious sport bars, breakfast bars and small boxes of high fiber cereal. You can also stop for a smoothie or sub instead of skipping meals and grabbing for the first food in sight.
4. Get complex about your carbohydrates! Complex carbohydrates in whole-wheat pasta, brown rice, high fiber cereal, seven-grain bread or crackers, fresh vegetables and fruits, beans, peas and corn are the best energy source for long distance running. Eat at least 3 ounces or approximately 240 calories of whole grains daily, up to 6 ounces and more for longer and more strenuous training days to get essential B vitamins, minerals such as magnesium and iron, and phytonutrients—plant compounds with ergogenic properties to keep energy levels high and illness at bay especially when the mileage picks up.

5. "Meat" your protein needs! Protein is essential for your health and for keeping injury at bay while training. Protein is also essential for recovering from your tougher and longer workouts. Getting enough daily calories allows protein to be used for the essential functions and to spare stored carbohydrates and glycogen for running. Get at least half of your weight in protein grams— you’ll need more when your training becomes harder and longer. There are about 7 grams of protein for every ounce of animal protein and beans, 3-5 grams for every ½ cup of plant-based sources like veggies and grains and 8 grams for each cup of low fat dairy. Sport bars can add 10-22 grams, while drinks can boost your daily diet two-fold. Be careful not to overdo protein. Too much can ruin even your best training with side effects such as dehydration and muscle heaviness. To play it safe, do not exceed your needs with more than 1 gram of protein per pound of your body weight per day unless you have special health needs.

6. Color your diet! A palate of dietary colors ensures a variety of vitamins and minerals. Get at least 5 colors in your food daily, vegetable, fruit and whole grain colors to ensure adequate vitamin, mineral and fiber intake. More than 90 percent of the runners that I see in practice are deficient in key vitamins and minerals required for fast running. Keep the major minerals in mind, especially iron, calcium, sodium, magnesium and potassium for proper muscle contraction, to prevent cramping and hyponatremia (low sodium levels in the blood, also known as over hydration).

7. Drink, drink, drink! Be prepared to drink 16-20 ounces of water or sport drink 1 to 2 hours before your longer training sessions, 4 to 6 ounces of fluid every 15 minutes during your run and 16 ounces of fluid after your training for each pound you’ve lost. Get a fair mix of sport drink and water to prevent over hydration, and balance each cup of soda or alcoholic beverages with a cup of water to prevent dehydration. Coffee has recently been shown to have antioxidant properties, essential for protecting your body’s cells from breaking down. The antioxidant properties may also spare muscle glycogen, so go ahead and have a cup of brew before heading out to your training.

8. Don’t overdo fiber before longer training and racing days! While high-fiber whole grain cereals, breads and crackers, fresh fruits and vegetables are part of the ongoing training diet, avoid more than 3-5 grams (varies from woman to woman) the day before your longer training or race day to avoid misery and cramps. At those meals, maintain a high- carbohydrate intake with low fiber, enriched white pasta, rice, sweet and plain potatoes and low-fiber cereal like corn flakes to maintain adequate energy levels without the gastric distress.

9. Supplement intelligently! When you don’t have the time to get enough nutrient- dense foods and high protein meals, and need a kick before or during the race, supplemental bars, shakes and vitamin mineral supplements can fill the gap and enhance your training diet. Just don’t take a pill, drink or gel for the heck of it—use supplements wisely. If you can’t drink enough milk, look for a calcium supplement. If you don’t have time to prepare high- quality protein sources—have a shake, eat a sport bar or throw a scoop of whey protein in your smoothie. If you can’t get enough veggies or fruits or don’t like whole grains, take a multivitamin that doesn’t exceed 100 percent of the RDAs for vitamins and minerals to prevent overdosing.
When you can’t eat a meal before your longer training sessions, have a bar or gel that gives you ½ your body weight in carbohydrate grams and fortify your energy levels every hour with no more than 60 grams of carbohydrates from gels, beans, sport beans or drink. Supplements work to enhance a good diet that just can’t keep up with the pace of training.

10. Rest! The most important aspect of your training program will be rest. Take a rest day to restore glycogen (carbohydrates) in your muscles, replenish mental energy, repair muscle fibers and to cross train for strength building, endurance or just for fun! If you get restless, rest actively with a friend by trying a relaxing exercise such as Pilates or yoga to improve your flexibility.