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Embracing the clean eating lifestyle

We Run the States logo incorporates five words to immediately inform you of what we stand for. Travel, Clean eating and Half Marathons

My best friend cleverly stated she could never represent we run the states mantra of clean eating in good conscience. She lives off of refined-grain macaroni with powdered cheese and hot pockets. We laughed, and I considered removing the ‘clean eating lifestyle’ aspect of the logo. This led me to take a closer look at my own eating habits and realized, “hmmm, maybe I can’t stand for clean eating either”. (As I crunched on a bag of cheddar and sour cream chips). After much analysis, I did include clean eating in what We Run the states represents. Although I also struggle to make entirely clean eating choices, I understand how important nutrition is for running recovery and performance, and so it’s worth it to encourage a healthy life. So lets get to the main question,

What is a Clean Eating lifestyle?

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I sit here writing about a clean eating lifestyle in the airport of South Carolina awaiting to board our plane. I have just finished my fourth half marathon this year, and 10th state towards my goal of running all 50 states. We arrived two hours before our flight, which is generally a safe rule of thumb for airports. However, this airport is quite small with only three departing flights for the day. We scour the airport for the only source of food and drink available, which happens to be a vending machine charging $5 for water. Our options include a variety of potato chips and candy.

The kids settle on Swedish fish, honey BBQ Chex mix and a fruit punch drink (with no actual juice in it- only sugar). Traditional American fare. We could have anticipated these options and packed wholesome snacks to the airport, (because a clean eating lifestyle is an understandably more logical choice for our health). But let me explain how some are actually genetically predisposed to preferring these traditional American fare choices- sugars! Thus making it that much harder to pick clean eating snacks instead of those delicious Swedish fish or hot pockets.

How our current diet differs from clean eating

The typical American diet consists of high intakes of processed meats, conveniently packaged snacks, refined grains, sweet treats and salty chips. To say the typical American diet tastes delicious is an understatement, and that is exactly what the food industry has aimed to achieve. They have created candy and soda to be at least one and a half times sweeter than natural fruit. Fruit contains a natural sugar called fructose, whereas many processed foods contain high fructose corn syrup. Candy and soda have a sugar that is so much sweeter, it spikes a synthetic surge of dopamine in the brain.

Our brain releases Dopamine, a chemical that helps us learn where to find cravings. These cravings are learned in the brain and repeated to teach us where to find pleasure, satisfaction and motivation. Therefore, after consuming a highly processed, dopamine-spiking sugar, it can be difficult to go back to a less-sweet fruit.

How some are genetically predisposed to sugar

Those who are genetically predisposed to craving sweets, breads, pasta etc. are sugar sensitive. You may (or may not) be surprised to know that sugar is as potent a drug as alcohol, heroin or oxycontin. sugar sensitive people tend to be the one’s who just can’t seem to stick to their diet or healthy choices, and typically continue to gain weight. But encouragingly, this biochemical change in the brain is NOT a lack of willpower or weakness. sugar sensitivity, a working hypothesis tokened by the author of, Potatoes not prozac, empowers people to follow an easy step-by-step guide to overcome this sensitivity to sweets and make clean eating choices easier.

Clean eating lifestyle is simply, eating real food.

Food that is unprocessed and naturally occurring. Think of one ingredient items from the grocery store or garden:

Clean Eating Lifestyle

  • Fruit: apples, strawberries, bananas, tomatoes, avocados
  • Vegetables: asparagus, corn, onions, carrots
  • Meats: steak, chicken, pork
  • Seafood: Salmon, mackerel, shrimp, crab
  • Nuts: cashews, macadamia, pistachio, almonds, walnuts
  • Whole Grains: oats, 100% whole wheat
  • Dairy: fermented cheese, milk

The parameter of all grocery stores is a good place to find whole food. Avoid those center aisles of preservation- canned items, cereals, chips, sodas, etc, as a general rule of thumb. Here is one of my favorite Clean eating recipe sites and meal plan to incorporate all this delicious food.

How does food affect running performance?

So you may be thinking, “why is it even important to incorporate a clean eating lifestyle?” As my best friend clearly pointed out, she can still run faster than me. (Even though she’s powered on processed meals.) However, processed and refined carbs can lead to significant variances in blood sugar. In other words, there’s no telling when you may “bonk” or “hit a wall” in a run. Although my friend is running faster than I am, she’s still not at her full potential. Eating healthy provides nutrient dense carbohydrates to sustain you for the long run. There’s a whole lot more to this concept addressed in Macronutrients: Food to fuel your run. I encourage you to experiment with clean eating. Explore nutrient dense meals to power your run, and see the improvements in your performance!

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