Staying Well: An important Job for Runners


by Nancy Clark

As a runner, you have two jobs. One is to eat wisely to run well. The other is to stay healthy. That includes sleeping well, eating well, and living well (according to your values). Wellness was the theme of the 35th Annual Symposium for the more than 7,000 sports dietitians who are members of SCAN, the Sports and Cardiovascular Nutrition dietary practice group ( of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Here are some highlights that offer food for thought and tips for health:

•Research suggests physical fitness is more important than leanness. Joggers and runners living in large bodies are better off adding on exercise than self-inflicting rigid diets that “backfire.” Think twice before starting an eating plan you can’t maintain for the rest of your life. The pattern of losing weight only to regain it has a negative impact on overall health.

• Runners who overeat often do so mindlessly. Physical barriers can also help reduce mindless eating. For example, pre-portion crackers into appropriate servings—and keep them out of sight. Another way to be more mindful with eating is to think POUR:

Pause (before you put food in your mouth)

Observe (Am I hungry or am I stressed?)

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Understand (I am stressed and tired.)

Respond (I need sleep more than I need food.).

• Eating disorders and disordered eating affects about 60% of female athletes and 30% of male athletes, including many runners. They may wait 10 to 15 years to seek help, thinking I’m not THAT sick. Sometimes they are too ashamed and embarrassed by their inability to eat normally. Other times they might be afraid treatment plans will deny them the ability to exercise and maintain a lean body.

The GOALS Program at Walden Behavioral Care near Boston helps runners and other athletes learn to fuel for performance (as opposed to sabotage their performance by dieting and using bad weight management techniques). During an ~8-week treatment program (meeting only 3 nights a week), the athletes weight remained relatively stable while they overcame their disordered eating behaviors. Yes, even runners with eating disorders can eat more “normally” without “getting fat.”

• Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading cause of death in the USA and globally. Runners are not immune. An estimated 70% of people aged 60 to 79 have CVD, as do more than 80% of people over 80 years of age. The good news is functional foods such as blueberries, avocado, beets, and tea can help curb health issues associated with aging. For example, the polyphenols (bio-active compounds) in a daily cup of blueberries can reduce blood pressure, improve blood vessel health, and reduce the risk of CVD. Blueberry smoothie, anyone?

• Butter is not back. Saturated fat, refined carbohydrate, and added sugars are equally bad for risk of heart disease. If you have a family history of heart disease and/or high LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, enjoy more olive oil instead of butter to invest in a significantly longer life span.

Nancy Clark, MS, RD counsels both casual and competitive athletes at her office in Newton, MA (617-795-1875). Her best selling Sports Nutrition Guidebook and Food Guide for Marathoners offer additional information. See For her popular online workshop, visit

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