Staying healthy as a runner can be tricky. At some point you will face an injury. It is inconvenient, frustrating and can be painful to get over. Treating your body as a system deals with more than just physical pain. In my last post I wrote about some aspects of the mental influence on our training (and over-training). But in staying healthy, the biggest factor for me has been my nutrition.
Nutrition (and digestion) has always been an issue for me. Being vegetarian for over 25 years has made it hard for me to get all my protein needs met, and food in general made me feel bloated and blah. At times, I’ve felt overwhelmingly blah about food in general. The last few years I noticed I was feeling sluggish, tired, never satisfied with my meals and often bloated. It was especially hard to figure out what I was eating that was making me feel ill; I could eliminate one food and still have so many symptoms.
Last summer I was diagnosed as lactose-intolerant. A few months later I went to my naturopathic doctor who suggested I not only cut out wheat (I already knew my body was intolerant) but all gluten products as well. My energy was so depleted that any reserves were also completely drained. Anything I ate was like another stress on my system and it was not helping me run, let alone wake up in the morning and try to function. I was deeply fatigued, I was emotional, and I felt irrational.
We supplemented and fortified my body to get to a more replenished, natural state. I am careful what I eat, but also what else I put into my body to help it recover and repair is key. I don’t feel avoidance of certain foods is the whole picture. I also add in extras daily for support: iron, B vitamins, magnesium and calcium, vitamin D, glutamine and protein shakes. I am still tired, but at least my body has something to draw on now to replenish.
Now my body is less swayed out of balance. I eat what I can – what doesn’t create a sensitivity in my body with adverse reactions – and manage well. It may seem at times that I eat the same foods over and over again, but spicing and varying my food combination helps a lot with that. I rarely get strong cravings (running long distances my biggest craving has been for salt) as my body is more aware of what it needs, and not what my mouth wants to taste. Mainstream nutrition and product availability has come a long way in recent years making feeding my body that much easier.
I think food/nutrition is a very individualized process. I’m certainly no expert, but I’m learning what works for me. I’m learning that my body is happier not having ‘bad’ foods in it, when the suffering is just not worth a fleeting taste. For so long I was in a state that I would eat something, feel bad, and this would be normal. It wasn’t just crap food (read: empty carbohydrates, junk food, or sugars), it was food that my body couldn’t even process. Eating for my body keeps me so much healthier and balanced.
It can seem like a sacrifice in some ways. You cannot indulge or treat yourself in the same, random-snacking way. Food is no longer such a reward. But making the choice to eat clean, treating your body as a system, supports both your body and your state of health. And from this also comes a more rejuvenated state of mind. I don’t see what I am choosing as a diet — this is not a few month’s solution to fast or get clean or lose weight. If I want my body to run strong(er) and be more emotionally balanced, taking care what I put in my body, as fuel, will be forever.