When life feels too busy to eat right…

By Dena Evans, Runcoach (and adapted for Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend)

Many runners have a tough time sticking to beneficial patterns of eating because the rest of life outside of running doesn’t always cooperate with that intention. What to do?

Here are a few tips to help keep up with nutritional demands in the midst of a hectic daily schedule:

1. Keep a full water bottle on the bed stand and drink first thing in the morning.

We know we should hydrate. We also know we shouldn’t rely on coffee or Diet Coke all day but are inclined to do that in order to stay “up” for the various challenges in our path from 8-5 (or longer). Water also aids in digestion, allowing our bodies to assimilate the good (or not so good) food we consume in a more efficient way.

The best way to ensure you act on good intentions is to eliminate the obstacles holding you back. You may forget a water bottle at home and/or yet again arrive at the start of your run, under-hydrated. In an ideal world, you should hydrate systematically throughout the day, with hydration products as well as water. Be sure that your blood has plenty of electrolytes and that you have replenished sufficiently from perspiration in your last training session. Failing that scenario (and that scenario is often failed), make sure that you’ve at least given yourself a fighting chance by getting some H2O down the hatch before you do or eat anything else.

2. Buy a box of your favourite bars and stash them everywhere.

Fueling during, before, and after your strenuous training is key to recovery as well as to just accomplishing the task in hand without hitting the wall. Many times we are coming from work or another commitment, heading out first thing in the morning, fitting in a run at lunchtime, or otherwise shoehorning our workout into the sliver of time provided by the rest of the day. Many times, that means we don’t have handy nutrition. As a result, we end up waiting too long to eat after a run, crash during a workout, run out of energy to even start, or finish with less punch because we ran out of gusto midway through.

Instead of purchasing a bar or two for the current instance at hand, purchase a box. (Added bonus: this is often less expensive per unit.) Take a few and stack them in the glove box, your backpack, your purse, your desk, your sports bag, and anywhere else that’s convenient for you to grab and consume after a workout. When you inevitably find yourself on a day where you have nothing to eat before, during, or after a run, a light bulb will go off above your head and you will be very glad you have your secret stash.

3. Get in the habit of always ordering salad on the side.

More than ever, North Americans order meals. Social, work, athletic, and other commitments leave us in need of quick meals. We all have been told since childhood that vegetables are an important part of our diet – after all, they provide crucial vitamins, minerals, fiber, and digestion regulation. There will be plenty of times when a healthful set of options is not available. When the opportunity is presented, always order the salad (and eat it without heavy doses of dressing). Many times, salad is an option instead of fries or chips, vegetables are negotiable when ordering a sandwich, or a salad is possible to add on the side of an entrée for a nominal cost. Always take this option, and you will mitigate the effects of the unavoidable bad nutrition situations you must navigate the rest of the day.

4. Have a healthy snack before you go.

If your schedule requires you to be away from home, have a piece of fruit or a healthy snack beforehand. Chances are, what you have at home is less processed and better for you than a gran and go snack at the Quickie. It is often difficult to avoid over-consuming foods that are not helpful to your athletic goals. By taking the edge off with a healthy snack beforehand, you increase the chances that you will make sane choices and employ appropriate portion control.

5. Make a plan.

Undoubtedly, running a session of mile repeats or a 20 miler on the weekend adds a layer of complexity and urgency to your nutrition needs, while further eroding your discretionary time to take in the appropriate food. If you plan ahead, have the appropriate foods at hand, and plan for your recovery meals, then you’ll be one step ahead. A pre- or post-run smoothie is quick and easy, or crockpot meals can be prepared ahead of your long run or workout and will be ready for you when it’s time for that important recovery meal. 

While none of us will be able to keep a perfect record on this front for an extended period of time, celebrate the wins when you make a good choice. Don’t dwell on the bad choices when you fall short. If you have figured out a path to accomplishing success one time, you can find it again. This will transform a single occurrence into an important habit.