If you are into fitness, you would most likely have come across the phrase “clean eating” at some point. It’s one of the top wellness trends at the moment, and from Facebook to forums, blogs to e-books, there’s no running away from it. But what does it really mean and how does it affect someone who runs regularly? We explore how this way of eating impacts your body and exercise efficiency.
What is Clean Eating?
There does not seem to be one definition for clean eating. Depending on who you ask, there is a degree of flexibility to how strict the rules are. In general, the over-riding principle is to embrace a diet of whole natural foods which are as close as possible to the way they were grown or raised. Choice options would include large amounts of fresh vegetables and good healthy sources of fat, some good-quality lean protein and small amounts of fresh fruit, whole grains, nuts and seeds. You would also steer clear of additive-laden processed and refined foods, i.e. typically anything that comes out of a box, can or jar.
Benefits of Clean Eating
This way of eating would undoubtedly benefit anyone’s overall health and has been shown to decrease the risk of age-related illnesses and conditions, including cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. For those who run, the good news is that there are some additional perks that come with a healthy, clean-eating plan:
- Peak Performance
Sports nutritionists recommend that runners get approximately 60-70 per cent of their daily calories from carbohydrates to maximize workout performance. Eating carbohydrate-dense foods before big workouts and races is also vital to help fuel muscle glycogen stores.
Some runners may take this as their cue to load up on pizzas, pastas and a bevy of hawker delights. However, any professional athlete will tell you that an over-indulgence of these sugar-laden refined carbohydrates will affect your overall health and performance in the long-term. If you are into using energy bars, sports drinks and gels before and during a workout, you may also want to take a closer look to ensure that they are not filled with high-fructose corn syrup, artificial colours and flavours.
Tip: You can fuel your body’s energy needs with clean sources of carbohydrates instead. This includes fresh fruits, sweet potatoes, corn, beans and legumes, brown rice, oatmeal and quinoa. Dried dates and figs are a quick, easy and healthy pre-workout snack.
- Speed Recovery
For a runner, the most important meals are the ones that follow a workout or race. In fact, time is of the essence here. You should ideally be providing your body with food within 45-90 minutes after running. This is where your body needs you to not only quickly replenish your calories, but more importantly, your nutrients so that it can kick start the growth and repair process to recover and heal.
Research shows that muscle glycogen stores are replenished and muscle tissues are repaired fastest when carbohydrates and proteins are consumed together after the completion of a workout. Making good clean carbohydrate and protein choices will help to replenish your reserves for your next training session and significantly reduce muscle soreness the following day. You can have a tandoori chicken wholegrain wrap or a brown rice or quinoa bowl with eggs and lamb.
Tip: If you can't face eating a big meal straight after a run, introduce natural yoghurt to your recovery plan. It is a good combination of protein and carbohydrates and is easy to digest. Enjoy it as a yogurt based smoothie or have a bowl of Greek yogurt with granola and mixed berries.
- Reduce Inflammation
Low-grade inflammation resulting from exercise-induced muscle damage is a problem for many runners and can become a chronic debilitating condition in the long-term. Adopting the clean eating principle of a diet high in anti-inflammatory foods helps to reduce the risk of this issue.
One strategy is to ensure that the meals you consume after the post-race or workout meal includes healthy doses of green leafy vegetables and heart-healthy fats. Some great menu ideas are salmon dishes with steamed leafy greens, avocado smoothies, chia-seed puddings and kale/spinach based salads drizzled with generous amounts of flaxseed or coconut oil.
Tip: Studies confirm that free radical-fighting antioxidants help to keep inflammation at bay. Increase your intake of superfoods like berries, raw cacao and green tea to enjoy this benefit.
All that being said, there will be times when life happens and we are just not able to eat clean. This is perhaps the reason why this method is so popular. There are no hard and fast rules and offers a realistic solution for us mere mortals who try to eat right most days and enjoy not-so-healthy options on others. If you can nail your nutrition 80-90% of the time following some of the principles above, you would have gone the distance for your health.
About the Writer:
Tiffany Wee is a Naturopath, Nutritionist, and Herbalist. Born in Singapore and trained in Australia, Tiffany has consulted in world-renowned establishments like Chiva Som, Verita, ESPA and Balanced Living. She is constantly recognised by her clients for her warmth, efficiency and expertise in weight management and women’s health. For more information, please visit www.tiffanywee.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.