As a coach it’s my job to know what my clients need or figure it out together. I’m often trying to lay out ideas and simplify how we solve concerns.
As my client, a runner does not (usually) want to have science thrown at them or complicated ideas suggested. Part of the reason and benefit of having a coach is you no longer have to figure it out on your own through potentially hours of research and hoping what you decide to do is the right path to take. My clients feel a weight lifted off their shoulders to simply have a plan laid out and ready to go.
The majority of people don’t need anything super fancy when it comes to improving their diet to lose weight or gain speed. Today you’re going to learn what I learned as a teen on my 80 pound weight loss journey, a bit of what I was taught while earning my degree in nutrition, and my subsequent helping others improve their nutrition as well.
First, the Junk
Such it is often with a new client of mine and their running, we first start with the base, that which must happen before everything else.
With improving a diet, the first step is the simplest and yields the greatest results… and if this is the only step you take that’s often going to be enough!
Michael Pollan’s 2008 book In Defense of Food gave what I believe to be the absolute best piece of dietary advance in the line “eat real food, not too much, mostly plants.” and it has stuck with me for the last decade.
Thus the initial focus of improving a diet often comes down to initially just cutting out the fake food and eating real food. Soda, candy, cookies, fast food. There’s no such thing as junk food, there’s junk….and there’s food. I’m not going to say you can never eat it, but it should not be any part of a habitual diet! The people you see at the local park eating McDonald’s in their car over the lunch hour as you run by? Yeah, it’s unlikely that was the only fast food they’ve eaten that week. But if you eat it once every week or two, fine. I’m a big believer that it’s ok to have some cheat options once in a while (more on this when I talk about Intermittent Dieting).
I’d take Michael Pollan’s suggestion a step further to eat real food, not too much, all plants, but that’s beyond the purview of this article.
Eating more plants is almost always a good idea.
Do you get at least 2 cups of fruit daily and 3 cups of vegetables each day? Even for a vegan it can be easy to overlook fruit! Breakfast could be oatmeal, lunch a couple bean burritos, and dinner some curry. That’s a great day of eating whole food plant-based items, but didn’t contain any fruit! I will often eat a banana or apple before a run. It fuels the run and increases my fruit and nutrient intake for the day.
Third, Buy Better Options
Once you nail step one, step two is to go a bit further and cut out the less obvious food that’s not doing you any favors.
My wife and I generally try our best to avoid purchasing food items at the grocery store to bring into the house with added sugar in the first three ingredients. This list is organized by how much of the item is in the portion, so if brown sugar is #2 on the BBQ sauce ingredient list there is more sugar than anything else in there but water.
You would be shocked at how much sugar is snuck into everything from ketchup to those apparently healthy Kind Bars, which have more sugar in them than a Krispy Kream donut! Heck, even the healthy looking Annie’s Naturals organic ketchup has sugar as the third ingredient! You’re probably putting an actual teaspoon of added sugar onto a veggie burger.
Some of the biggest sneaky sugar culprits are:
- Odwalla Drinks
- Soda (not so sneaking)
- Canned Fruit (it’s not just fruit!)
- Energy Bars
- Hydration Drinks
- Fast food burgers
The good news? There’s almost always a better alternative! Check out the two food labels below, both from BBQ sauce. We prefer to purchase the healthier option without sugar as the second ingredient. Yes, it may cost 2-3X more, but we notice in these cases we also don’t dump half a cup onto our plate, it tastes better, and we enjoy it more.
There are only a limited amount of supplements I generally suggest to runners. They are there to support and add, not replace diet! Keep that in mind, eating your fruits and vegetables in adequate amounts will cover almost everything, but there are a few supplements that can improve our health and athletics further 🙂
1) A vegan multi-vitaminI’m a fan of the Holier Life vegan specific multi-vitamin. It only contains the limited number of micronutrients that a vegan may get less of in their diet through not eating the flesh of captive, tortured, and killed fellow animals. You can try it out and save $10 by visiting this link!
2) CurcuminThis is one of the most well established natural supplements for health in general but also when it comes to athletics. I use amazon for this as a subscription from what I believe is one of the most trustworthy companies around, Thorne. Get it here!
3) BeetrootThe first supplement I listed was for health, the second was for both health and athletics. This one is purely because I want to run faster! It’s a straight up investment in my running that may or may not (hopefully does) improve my running economy by decreasing the oxygen requirements to run. You can read more about it here. You may purchase the supplement here.
Other Ideas that Have Helped Me Along the Way
This is the idea that you don’t need to be in a calorie deficit every single day if you’re trying to lose some body fat, but instead of one or two refeeding days weekly. These couple higher calorie day can make your compliance with the lower calorie days easier, it can preserve muscle mass, preserve your metabolism, and most importantly preserve your sanity! It’s easier to skip dessert or that third burrito 5 days weekly if you know that on Friday and Saturday you can have an extra beer or burrito!
This is a simple switch that will increase your diet quality greatly! Purchase more whole grain bagels, brown rice, use whole grain flour instead of white flour when you make some pancakes at home. The increased fiber and nutrients from whole grain breads are one of the most simple and well established ways to improve what you eat.
Tracking Food Intake
If you’re looking to lose some fat or even just improve your food intake, logging what you eat for a few days monthly or once a week every month can go a long ways. You don’t even have to purposefully change what you eat! Research shows that even the act of being more conscious of what you’re eating via logging it can help you eat less and eat better.
Portion Control (eat until satisfied, not full)
This was a big one for me as I have suffered from binge eating in the past. It can be helpful to portion out your leftovers into some containers for a future meal even more dishing up for the current dinner. But the game changer in my case was that when I feel that first tinge of “oh, I’m getting full” I take that last bite and stop eating. This is in contrast to years ago when I would straight up eat until stuffed!
Again, I used to just inhale my food. So much that my wife would even tell me to slow down because the speed was noticeable. The fork was going into the plate even before I was done chewing the previous bite. Now? I try to put my utensil down and I take a small sip of water/beer/tea/etc between every.single.bite. Chewing slower and eating slower increases the meal enjoyment but also lets your body have the time to tell you “hey, I’m full” during or right after the meal.
This is another “hack” that you’ve likely heard about. Intermittent fasting is basically pushing back breakfast into the late morning or afternoon. Personally I find myself more energetic on days that I wait until noon to eat breakfast. Now, studies go both ways on if this method is actually helpful – but I think the main consensus is that if you try it and find it works for you, it works for you! Research often shows that this can just be a good way to reduce snacking and thus cut some calories or junk food out of a day. With myself, if I’m in the zone with my run coaching work, drinking some good coffee, and it’s an easy afternoon run or full rest day, I may wait until noon to eat. But if I wake up at 6am and am soo hungry after yesterday’s long run or I have a morning run, I will eat! I think not forcing the fast is key.
If you like what you just learned and want to get more info on my sometimes unconventional yet proven, down to earth, and simple tactics for helping my runners improve their running through sustainable training habits, nutritional guidance, developing great mindfulness practices, and incorporating easy to do running-specific strength work and having all of it come together with great accountability and motivation, visit kylekranz.com/pbrcoaching to learn more!