When we think of spring, change always comes to mind, whether it is a spring clean, flowers beginning to bloom or new lambs gambolling in a field. It's a great time of year for you to make changes too and, with the better weather, longer days and the goal of a looming holiday or summer race, we are more likely to keep up the changes, long enough for them to become second nature.
The most important thing when deciding on changes, is to make them realistic in the long-term. Yes, you may be able to lose a few pounds by stopping the chocolate; yes you may feel a lot healthier by cutting out the alcohol, but, if these changes are not kept up, you are back to square one. Here are some practical ideas to 'spring clean' your diet:
Rethink your attitude to food
Rather than thinking of different foods as being good or bad, try and consider how useful they are to your health and running. Being too strict about what you should or should not eat is a recipe for giving into cravings, feeling guilty and slipping back into old habits. There may be ways to adjust your usual foods, to make them healthier. For example:
Although high in calorie and often salt, nuts are a good protein source and contain healthy mono-unsaturated fats. Choose unsalted versions and stick to a handful a day.
Although your average take-a-way is laden with calories, fat and salt, making your own can be just as tasty and very runner friendly. Bought pizza bases, covered with tomato puree and piled with vegetables and low fat toppings are great alternative and can be ready in under 15 minutes (quicker than most take-a-way companies!)
Many people, especially runners, benefit from five smaller meals or snacks as opposed to three traditional meals, as they leave you feeling less full. Useful options are pancakes, scones, breakfast cereal, or even egg or beans on toast.
Although most of us need to reduce the saturated (mainly animal) fats in our diet, our hearts benefit greatly from the omega 3 fats found in oily fish, rapeseed oil, omega 3 eggs and spreads. Aim for 1-2 portions of oily fish per week (mackerel, herring, salmon, sardines, fresh tuna) and switch your usual spread and cooking oil to an omega 3 rich version.
Not having enough fluid can leave us with headaches, feeling lethargic and hungry when we really do not need food. We can up our fluid intake by:
- Having 500ml fluid at each meal. There has been some research to say that drinking water before a meal, reduces what you eat at that meal and can therefore help control weight.
- If necessary, add diluting juice to water or have tea, coffee or diet drinks during the day.
- Caffeinated drinks, despite their bad press, have been shown to have little effect on urine production when consumed in moderate amounts of 3-6 cups of instant coffee per day (pregnant women should limit their caffeine intake to 200mg, equivalent to about 2 mugs of instant coffee).
Get your 5 a Day
By upping the fruit and vegetables in your diet, you increase the fibre (improving cholesterol and preventing constipation) and the vitamins (for a healthy immune system). It's easier than you think if you:
- Cover half your evening meal plate with vegetables or salad. This automatically cuts the calories and fat of the meal and ups the nutrient value.
- Have a piece of fruit or some vegetables with each meal - that's three taken care of already!
- Make a smoothie each day. Keep the bits in to up the fibre content. However, one smoothie only counts as one portion of your 5 a day, due to the sugar content. Beware also that it is much easier to over drink calories than overeat them so one 250ml smoothie a day is plenty.
And finally, when you are trying to make changes, help yourself by:
- Booking into that weekend training session to add an extra reason not to over-indulge the night before!
- Commit yourself to a new change each week and write it down, together with your reason.
- Keep a food diary and plan each day in advance so you are less likely to let yourself get hungry and reach for the nearest thing!
- Invite friends over for dinner rather than eating out - that way you are in control of the menu and alcohol availability.
- Enjoy the new you, accept the compliments and run your best!