Lisa Braden is a Registered Dietitian with a passion for running. She loves spreading the positive message of nutrition and how it impacts not only athletic performance, but every aspect of life. As an avid marathoner and half-marathoner, she knows the role that a solid diet and hard work play in achieving big goals. Lisa lives in Oklahoma and trains with Wahoo! Running (her own version of Bowerman Babes). She is known as a wiz in the kitchen and is always available to talk food and running on Instagram or through email at email@example.com.
Colleen: I LOVE FOOD! I love cooking food, I love planning what I'm going to eat, I love talking about food, I love studying food and how it affects our bodies, and, of course, I love sitting down with friends and family to enjoy good food. By "good food" I mean food that nourishes my body AND tastes good! I studied dietetics in college and grew up in a very healthy household, but the real expert in this edition of my newsletter is a friend, fellow, runner, and dietitian, Lisa Braden. I’m so happy to have her share some of her expertise with us!
Thank you to everyone who submitted questions via my Instagram post for this topic. I’m sorry if we didn’t choose your question this time, but we will try to get to it the next round! Also, if you missed my previous article with nutritionist Wilfredo Benitez you can check out his nutrition FAQs and nutrition myth busters. And thank you to Lisa for taking the time to share some of her nutrition wisdom with us!
If you are interested in what an elite-level distance runner who loves food and nutrition actually eats on a daily basis, you can see some of my favorite recipes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and try them out yourself! Be sure to let me know what you think when you do!
Here are the 4 common questions that Lisa and I chose to cover this time:
What is the best way to deal with cravings?
What is the best mix of proteins, carbs, and fats (macros) for runners?
How do I stay satiated on a plant-based diet?
Is it bad to eat sugar because of all of the sugar in it?
Questions for Lisa
Q: What is the best way to deal with cravings, especially unhealthy and sweet cravings?
Lisa: Cravings are an interesting topic. Our bodies do send us messages about eating, but they aren’t always what we think. Typical responses could be increased appetite the afternoon or day after a really hard workout. Or craving electrolyte and mineral rich drinks after a long run in the heat to replenish what we lost. Even craving protein while recovering from a tough strength building session would be an expected response. Our bodies are really good about telling us what we need, if we listen and have a good balance.
However, sometimes our body can play tricks on us and send us the wrong messages. For example, if we are not getting enough sleep we can crave carbohydrates because it gives us a quick boost of energy, although it doesn’t solve the problem. We can also crave sweet or carbohydrate based foods when we are down or upset. We can get a quick boost of serotonin (the feel good hormone) from eating them, but again we aren’t eating them for the right reasons. Dehydration is another thing that can show up as hunger signs or cravings. Our bodies could be telling us we are hungry, when we are actually thirsty. Water, and staying hydrated, is a big part of a healthy, balanced diet.
On the flip side, sometimes we just want something sweet! And if we are eating right and performing well, there is no reason not to have things that are healthy and taste delicious. One of my favorite things when I am craving sweet is a smoothie. I throw in a banana, 1-1.5 cups of ice, 1-2 tsp cocoa powder, a milk of choice (dairy or non-dairy based), and a handful of spinach. You are getting a sweet taste combined with fiber, anti-oxidants, and nutrient rich foods. There are lots of ways to tame those sweet cravings, but also provide your body with what it needs. My hope is for everyone to enjoy eating within that balance of a healthy lifestyle.
Q: What is the best mix of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats for runners?
Lisa: The term “Macros” is a popular right now. It refers to the percent of calories that come from each of the three major macronutrients – carbohydrates, protein, and fat. Lower carbohydrate percentages have gained some traction in fad dieting recently. However, there are some tried and true recommendations for anyone who participates in heavy endurance training, like running. The recommendation range for carbohydrates is about 55-60% carbs, 20-25% protein, 20-25% fat. Sometimes the carbs are a little higher for elite athletes, sometimes a little lower for recreational runners. But in general, eating meals with this balance helps you make sure that you are getting enough carbohydrates to fuel your training, enough protein for recovery and muscle building, and enough fat for energy, vitamin absorption, and other functions.
As a dietitian, I often spend time discussing the importance of carbohydrates in the diet. People are often scared that carbs will make them overweight or unhealthy, when that result is simply more about overeating. Carbohydrates are important in endurance activities because they provide the most efficient source of calories or energy we have available. We burn through calories using the carbohydrates we take in during a training run or right before and using the carbohydrates we store in our bodies. Our bodies can store roughly 1,400-2,000 calories of carbohydrates for us to use during a run. Not every run will require all of our stored carbohydrate. However, if you are running a marathon, you will likely use up all the carbohydrate you have stored for energy before you are finished if you don’t take in any fuel while you are running. This is referred to as “hitting the wall.” Your body simply doesn’t have enough energy to continue at the same pace and your effort will feel much harder. To counteract this, we make sure our stores of carbohydrate are full by eating enough carbohydrates in our regular diet, plus we take in calories throughout our run through drinks, gels, or chews.
With all this balance in mind, finding foods that are nutrient rich in every category of the macronutrients is the best way to ensure a high quality diet and one you can perform at your best with. Working with a dietitian can help you fine tune your specific diet needs and make sure you reaching your goals.
Q: How do I stay satiated on a plant based diet? I end up eating in every class?
Lisa: Excellent question! This question has a couple of levels to it. First, let’s start with talking about how to stay full or satiated. The best way to stay full is to eat frequent meals made up of foods that keep you full! Skipping meals or even snacks can build hunger to the point of no return – you might end up eating all day thinking you are hungry because you skipped an important meal like breakfast. But if you start your day with quality meals and continue, you will be in much better shape. In addition to that, foods that keep us full are ones that have some form of fiber, protein, and/or fat in them. If you are able to combine a meal with those components, you should be able to stay reasonably full for several hours.
For example, a breakfast like avocado toast (toast, smashed avocado, eggs or protein equivalent) would give you tons of great fiber (toast and avocado), protein (eggs), and fat (avocado and eggs). And it would start your day off right. From there, you could pack a snack of nuts and fresh or dried fruit to snack on in a morning class before lunch – again fiber, fat, and protein. For lunch, a salad with a protein source and a healthy fat based dressing would go a long way to help keep hunger at bay. In the afternoon you could snack on whole grain crackers, carrots, and hummus. I hope you are seeing a theme here. Pairing those really healthy plant based foods (fresh fruits and vegetables) with ones that provide fullness (nuts, seeds, healthy fats, protein based foods) that keep us full will help you in your goal to not be hungry all day! Keep in mind your energy burn as well. On mornings with intense runs, you could easily be hungry every two hours because of the calories you burned and the ones you need to recover. Which makes you work that much harder to meet calorie needs for the day.
Regarding the plant-based diet, I am not sure what level of plant based diets you are referring to. I was assuming a lacto-ovo-vegetarian in my examples above, but there are different levels and/or options. Plant based diets, particularly vegan diets can often be high in foods that have limited fat and protein, especially if you are buying processed versions of vegan foods. You will have to work hard to make sure that you find quality foods like nuts, beans, legumes, fats, high protein grains like quinoa, and more to find the right balance. If you are an endurance athlete doing the equivalent of 50+ miles a week, I would highly encourage a visit to a dietitian to analyze your specific diet. There are key nutrients that can fall short without some extra work, like B Vitamins, Iron, Calcium, and Vitamin D to name a few. It can absolutely be done, it just takes some extra care and effort.
Q: Is it bad to eat fruit because of all the sugar in it?
Lisa: I absolutely think fruit should be a regular part of everyone’s diet. Yes, fruit does have sugar in it, but not the same kind of sugar that we think of when we think of white sugar. Also, fruit is full of fiber. This combination of fiber and the sugar found in fruit makes your body treat it differently than if you were eating the same amount of sugar from sweetened, processed foods like fruit snacks or candy bars. Your blood sugar will not spike to the level of other sugars and you will get longer lasting energy.
In addition to fiber, fruit is full of other things that are great for runners and non-runners alike. They are full of vitamins and minerals, like Vitamin C and Potassium. These powerful vitamin and minerals help us rebuild after tough workouts, replenish the things our bodies need to perform, protect us from getting sick and fight off unwanted inflammation. Fruits of all shapes and sizes should be a regular part of a healthy diet and 2-4 cups a day is ideal based on your training level and calorie needs. My favorite ways to enjoy fruit are: berries on top of oatmeal, smoothies, whole fruit as a snack, bananas as a pre-race boost, and even for dessert.