I’m not going to lie, I’m not an expert in nutrition. I read information online and I try to make healthy choices, but understanding food and how it affects my body is definitely not my forte. Luckily, I know someone who is an expert: Kennedy Baker. Kennedy is a certified holistic nutritionist and is super smart when it comes to food, especially food for runners. As an avid runner herself, she is an expert at understanding how food can improve your running performance. Recently, several people have asked me about nutrition tips for runners. I try to offer my best tips, but I am definitely not qualified to provide any real advice. So I asked Kennedy if she could answer a few questions about nutrition, running and what’s next on her running agenda. Check it out:
Q: What exactly is a holistic nutritionist and what made you want to become one?
A: Basically, a holistic nutritionist is a fancy term to describe someone who teaches people how to prevent or heal from illness naturally – with whole foods, herbs and a healthy lifestyle. I have a more detailed list of what a holistic nutritionist does on my website – feel free to check it out here.
I didn’t always plan on becoming a nutritionist. I graduated university with a degree in communication studies and went on to work in public relations for 5 years. During that time, I started running with a colleague. I had never before been able to stick to a consistent running schedule, mostly because I ran out of energy and felt like passing out by the time I was done. We trained for a 10k race, then a half-marathon, then another. And I credit my running success with my willingness to change my diet. Soon, other aspects of my health began to improve. The better I felt, the more passionate I became about the healing abilities of whole foods. I told anyone who would listen. I started to dream about what it would be like if I could help other people change their diets and feel better, too. And the rest, they say, is history!
Q: Since becoming a holistic nutritionist, have you changed your eating habits?
A: Absolutely. I used to be known amongst friends and colleagues as “the picky one.” I rarely tried new foods and had a lot of mixed up ideas about what ‘healthy eating’ looked like. I searched for ‘low-fat, non-fat, low-calorie’ claims on food labels and bought a lot of processed foods because I felt I didn’t have the knack for cooking – or the time for it.
Studying nutrition certainly had an impact on my dietary choices, but running is what first influenced me to change my mindset towards food. I wanted to make sure I had the energy to keep me going as I started running longer, so I started doing research and realized the best way to do that was to fuel my body with the right foods.
I didn’t revamp my eating habits overnight – I made simple changes, slowly, so I knew they would stick. Now, I focus on eating whole foods. I drink a LOT of water. I avoid refined carbohydrates and sugar. I believe in ‘everything in moderation,’ but there are some ‘food-like substances’ I never consume, like artificial sweeteners, hydrogenated oils, or high-fructose corn syrup.
Q: Since changing your eating habits, have you noticed any changes?
A: It’s kind of funny to think that just a few short years ago, I didn’t make much of a connection between what I ate and how I felt. Now that I eat differently, though, a myriad of health ‘annoyances’ I used to experience have vastly improved or even disappeared. I’ve never slept better in my life. My energy levels no longer ‘crash’ in the mid-afternoon. The nausea I used to experience during every long run (and for hours afterwards) is now a very rare occurrence. I’ve seen improvements in virtually every other aspect of my health – from my digestion to my skin.
Q: What is the most important nutritional tip you can give to runners?
A: Great question. Every runner is biochemically unique, and therefore has unique nutritional needs – even if they’re clocking the same weekly mileage. That said, a lot of runners make one of two common mistakes: they either undereat or they overeat. It’s important for distance runners to consume enough complex carbohydrates and quality protein to provide energy, prevent blood sugar fluctuations, and promote muscle recovery. But sometimes, runners use their training as an excuse to eat whatever they want. While, yes, you need to increase your caloric intake to meet energy and recovery requirements, the types of foods you choose can affect performance as well as overall health and well-being. After a long run, your body doesn’t just need calories. It needs nutrition. Healthy fats, lean protein, and carbohydrates that also contain vitamins and minerals… all the things that will help rebuild cells, recover muscles, and refuel energy stores in a way that helps you go out and run again. What it doesn’t need is calorie-rich, nutrient-poor, packaged, processed foods that spike insulin, reduce immune function, and promote inflammation – not only hindering your running performance, but also increasing your vulnerability to illness.
Q: Speaking of running, what’s next on your race schedule?
A: I recently started coaching a half-marathon clinic at the Running Room, and our goal race is the Chilly Half Marathon in Burlington on March 3rd. I also have one last race on my 2012 schedule: the Tannenbaum 10k on December 2nd. I look forward to this race every year – it’s festive, scenic, and the volunteers are outstanding. A great run to wrap up the season!
Q: If people want more info about holistic nutrition, where can they go?
For more info on whole foods-based eating, illness prevention, fueling for endurance running, nutritious and delicious recipes, and other holistic nutrition goodies, check out my website: http://kennedybakernutrition.com, join my Facebook page or follow me on Twitter.