Everyone has a collection of music that defines their youth. For me, one of those songs was Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar On Me“. **I’ll pause now so you can click the link and sing along to the music video, and then ask yourself at the end why music just isn’t as good as it used to be** Anyway, in addition to it being a great up-tempo song to run to if you happen to carry music with you while you run, this song could also be the anthem for most of the nutritional supplements we, as runners, are fed every day. Not only are we burning calories like wildfire when we train, but it is very easy to get into the “I’ll eat what I want, I just ran X miles!” mentality. In addition, most folks know that if you are going to be running more than 90 minutes, then you should get into the habit of carrying some form of nutrition with you. The gels and chomps that have become the mainstay of any distance runner have almost come to be synonymous with longer races. They end up in our race packets, they sponsor races, they set up tables at expos and hand out free samples, and we very quickly factor them into our race preparation.
By in large, I think it is safe to assume that many (although not all) runners eat healthier than the average American. Granted, that isn’t terribly hard to do considering the horrible diets and increasing obesity epidemic in our country. However, how many of you have given much thought to the nutritional content of the gels and chomps you toss into your pocket or pack on your way out the door for a long run? I certainly hadn’t, and I think I was like many, who never looked too closely at the nutrition label, but assumed they were good for me and doing good things for me as I piled on the miles. I vaguely understood the need for balancing carbs, fats, and proteins, but not in enough depth to be of much use.
As a society, we have developed a collective sweet tooth. Refined sugar (and its many aliases) has found its way into untold thousands of processed foods without us even realizing it. I encourage you to look through your pantry and count how many items have some form of refined sugar in them (I differentiate refined sugars from natural sugars, such as those that come from fruits and vegetables). On average, Americans eat 22 teaspoons of sugar per day, which comes out to around 140 lbs of sugar a year! We certainly do like our soda, flavored coffee drinks, and energy drinks…just ask any college student. The body of research elaborating on the negative health effects of refined sugar is multiplying exponentially- this list does a great job of summarizing the numerous consequences of our processed diets.
In the past few months, my diet has shifted quite a bit. The beautiful epicurean and I have made a commitment to eating an even healthier and more anti-inflammatory diet. Part of that choice has meant cutting out refined sugars. This was certainly a significant commitment for us both, but the size of my sweet tooth meant it was that much more of a challenge for me. The joy of high quality milk chocolate, thick ice cream, or a piece of homemade pie really can’t be beat for flavor, but the sugar levels are also off the charts. Granted, I have probably committed to giving up sweets at 80% compared to her 100%, but considering where I was coming from, that is still a huge shift in my diet. Aside from sweets, cutting out refined sugar has been a rather interesting adventure, and has led us to discover many wonderful new recipes that we wouldn’t have otherwise explored.
Perhaps the biggest change for me, though, has been the calibration of my taste buds. Foods that never used to seem sweet (but contain refined sugar) now seem extremely sweet to the point of being unappetizing. This has extended to all corners of my life, which includes the gels and chomps I have used for nutrition during longer training runs and races. I have found myself struggling to choke down once delicious GU chomps, overwhelmed by the sweetness. Now, seeing as how I’m training this fall for a 50-mile trail race, it is important that I have a handle on my nutrition plan. As such, I’ve begun to explore more natural nutrition sources. Dried fruits and nuts seem to have their place, and I’ve been eating peanut butter (the natural kinds…even regular peanut butter has added sugars). I plan to try some of the other nut butters as well, and we’ve recently begun using coconut mana (imagine coconut made into a spreadable butter).
At this point, everything is an experiment. I have yet to find any natural nutritional products marketed to runners that limit refined sugars, although some do a better job than others.I’ll be trying some recipes I’ve found online for some homemade nutritional sources as well, so be on the lookout for recipes!