You are what you eat. Stop and think about that. It’s a great phrase reminding us that our bodies are indeed made of food we’ve eaten. If your diet consists of a variety of high quality, nutritious foods, your body has all the building blocks it needs to be strong and healthy. A diet with a lot of junk food, well, you won’t be maximizing what you have and down the road you quite possibly will be looking at health problems which could have been avoided.
When talking about your diet, I’m referring to everything you eat. It’s your nutrition plan. This is not about losing weight. For the teen runners who are reading this article, I do not want you to restrict your calories. Don’t even count them. You should not be concerned with getting thinner or lighter. At this rapid-growth time in your life, your body needs loads of nutrition. When you are a runner you need a lot of additional nutrition to fuel and rebuild your body. If your diet consists of mostly healthy food, it will be hard for you to eat too much. If you’re hungry, eat!
The food you eat is primarily carbohydrates, protein and fat. Each of these ‘macronutrients’ have specific jobs and are necessary for energy and growth. When you eat a variety of high quality food you will get all the ‘micronutrients’ you need. These are the small amounts of minerals and vitamins you need. They include calcium, iron, zinc, copper, potassium, vitamins C, D, E, B1, B2, B12, and many more.
Carbohydrates are your main fuel and are essential to every runners diet. For a healthy person, carbs are not the evil health hazard you read about in some books, news articles and online. In fact, in the ‘Blue Zones’, those places around the world where people live to the age of 100 in the greatest numbers, about 80% of their diet is carbohydrates. Not all carbohydrates are equally healthy though. There are several kinds of sugars and they’re all carbohydrates. You see them listed on packaging as sucrose, dextrose, brown sugar, fructose, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, and several others. Eating small amounts of sugar is fine. The trouble is, a typical diet consists of way too much sugar. The list of health problems associated with too much sugar include diabetes, heart disease, depressed immune system, tooth decay and obesity. Read food labels and see how much sugar has been added. The easiest way to reduce sugar is to eliminate sugared drinks from your diet. Soda, juices, sweetened tea, energy drinks and sports drinks like Gatorade are loaded with sugar. Fruit is one sweet food you do want to eat daily. The benefits of eating fruit far outweigh any negative effects of the sugars they contain. Fruits contain many vitamins, minerals, and other healthy nutrients along with beneficial fiber. Other healthy carbs include oatmeal, whole grain bread, potatoes, sweet potatoes, all vegetables, unsweetened cereals such as cheerios and grape nuts, whole grain crackers, and graham crackers.
Proteins are building blocks that your body uses for growth and repair. You should have some protein with each meal. Good sources of protein include beans ( black, kidney, soy, navy, pinto, chickpeas, lentils), eggs, unsalted nuts, unsalted sunflower seeds, milk, fish, cheese, peanut butter, chicken and small amounts of beef or pork. An exercising teen needs about 1 gram of protein for every two pounds of body weight, per day.
Fats are a small but important part of your diet. Healthy fats are found in olive oil, avocados, nuts, peanut butter, eggs, and fish like trout and salmon. These have what are known as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Read the label on packaged foods. Avoid saturated fats as much as you can. Trans fats are always bad for you and should be avoided. They are often listed on food nutrition labels as ‘partially hydrogenated oil’ These fats are made in a factory for the purpose of helping packaged foods last on the shelf for years. Often trans fats are found in microwave popcorn, potato chips, and french fries.
Calories are simply a way to measure how much energy food contains. Carbohydrates, protein, and fats all have calories. Calories are not bad!
Here’s your nutrition plan: Eat a variety of healthy foods including a lot of fruits and vegetables. Eat some protein with each meal. Cut way back on sugar. Give up soda, energy drinks and other sugared drinks. If you eat meat, limit it to small portions. Eat healthy fats and avoid bad fats. Drink a lot of water.
Remember, you are what you eat! Along with your healthy nutrition plan, exercise every day and get plenty of sleep. You’ll be the absolute best you can be!
Here’s one of several excellent Ted Talks on sugar.