Knowing the Signs (3 of 14)
What’s working for you and what’s not.
They say when you fall in love ‘you just know it.’ I can’t argue with that! So when you find a food group your body loves, you’re absolutely going to know it. This series is covering a lot of options for what to eat, but it’s important to also discuss how someone can identify the right foods for them:
What foods are the right foods for fueling your runs? How should you feel? What are the signs that something is wrong? That something is right?
Feeding your body during a run is a matter of delivering glucose (a particular sugar) to muscles where it can be burned with oxygen to create a strong muscle contraction. If you are eating the right foods (including consuming the right amounts of water) you’re going to feel stronger on runs. It will feel easier to hold a pace, and you won’t feel like it takes as long to warm up. You’ll feel like you can run harder for longer because you won’t be puffing like a Hoover Vacuum sucking down extra oxygen to compensate for nutritional deficiencies. Your legs won’t feel as sore, your joints won’t swell as much, and you’ll sleep better. All of these make you a more efficient runner. Below a quick rundown of the signs and signals your body will send to tell you what it thinks of a particular food.
Desire! If you run enough to deplete your blood sugar levels your body will crave sugary, high-calorie foods. Many of us have experienced this after a “long run.” If you run in the summer heat and become dehydrated you won’t be able to think about anything in the world more beautiful than a tall glass of water.
Your body keeps detailed notes in the deep reaches of your brain about exactly what nutrients it is able to get out of any food you eat. Proteins, sugars, water, salts, fats, vitamins, minerals, and a host of other compounds… even pure, unsubstantiated, emotional satisfactions like in the case of a Krispy Kreme. When the body starts to run low on a particular nutrient it will reach into its’ files and search for what foods provide the missing goods. Then the Reward Centers of your brain start to light up like a Broadway sign to say ‘Hey! Eat ____!”
If you have trouble choosing quinoa over pizza after a run, you can use the Reward Centers as extra motivation. Think about quinoa during the run when you start to feel tired or hungry. Make yourself visualize healthy food choices. After the run these are the foods you’ll desire and over time the habit takes hold.
The Gag Reflex :p If a food makes you gag upon swallowing, it’s probably not your best option. Twinkies, strong alcohol, heavily spiced foods are quick examples of foods that make a lot of people gag. All three are notorious for messing up a run. That’s not an accident. Your gag reflex is the first line of defense for your body to tell you something is wrong. That doesn’t mean you can’t have a twinkie, a shot, or a giant mess of curried whatever. It just means you should take a second and decide if that’s the right choice for you.
GI distress is the next signal in the chain. If a food is difficult to digest it will sit in your stomach for hours or leave chemical residues that make you feel full even after the food has left the stomach. Queasiness is an extension of the gag reflex. If a food makes you feel like vomiting, it was probably not the right choice. Further along the gastrointestinal (GI) tract the modern Western diet (hamburgers, candy, fried foods, etc.) often cause distension and constipation. These are the common signs of discomfort that are a clear sign your dietary choices can be improved.
The GI tract is your window to the body. There is no other system in our bodies which so clearly indicates our health status.
Perceived energy will tell you a lot as well. If you’re tired on runs it is usually a sign of insufficient nutrition. Feeling sleepy on the run, or becoming winded sooner than normal are also signs that you should watch for. When food reaches the intestines its’ nutrients are absorbed into the bloodstream for distribution to the body. But if the proper supplies are not available they will not be distributed. So as your GI health would indicate – your perceived energy levels are directly dependent on the quality of your chosen diet.
Listen carefully to the desires of your appetite. If you’re thirsty; drink more water. If you’re exhausted on runs; eat more complex carbohydrates from fruits and vegetables. If you can’t get yourself going at the start of runs; reduce your intake of processed foods and consume whole-food proteins to help with day-to-day muscle recovery.
Monitor yourself for where you feel weak. Address those weaknesses with healthy food choices. Over time, you’ll recover faster, feel better, and ultimately run faster.
Next topic: The Traditional American Diet. The good, the bad, and the running.