• Michelle Howell

3 tips for healthier eating

More often than not I find that they have a lot of questions about eating and food. It's a topic that's a little fuzzy and hard to pin down, but one that should be discussed nonetheless.

The other day I gave a small run down regarding nutrition to the high schoolers I coach and decided to pay it forward because you never know who this will help


Far East Tacos, Washington, DC

Food; In it's simplest form food is fuel. By definition it is considered to be any nutritious substance that can be consumed or absorbed in order to maintain life. Yet, how many of us out there just use it for that purpose? We're not robots and even the best of us can't deny we do enjoy and indulge in food for other reasons. It brings us together, it's an integral part of traditions and holidays, it's how we share our culture, and of course by definition it is the means by which we can accomplish what we set out to do in our days, the wood that keeps the fire burning.

There still seems to be a very black and white portrayal of food however in the world of sports and fitness. Food is fuel. You put good fuel in the tank, you get good performances out. Want to run a faster 5k? Eat Enough Protein! You need x cups of water a day and y numbers of calories in order to run the z optimal time in your desired event (that's on top of making sure you get in w super foods and v supplements for better performance).

I'm not denying that food and proper nutrition aren't a crucial aspect of being able to compete well or train at a higher level. I'm not denying that food choices are part of what I believe attributed to my own success on the track. However, I am fully embracing the idea for creating a better dialogue around the way food is discussed and ultimately the relationship we depict and have with food as athletes.

When I first sat down to prepare to discuss nutrition and food my gut instinct was to just run through the basics, make sure you're drinking enough water, rattle off the suggested amount of protein per day, eat within 30 minute of working out etc, the general nutrition rundown that I had heard from coaches and nutritionists throughout my own academic career. Information that is important, but lacks some practicality for 99% of the population. So instead I'm sharing more of an outline than a step-by-step guideline:

I. Mind your own Plate

There are a lot of opinions out there when it comes to what you should and shouldn't eat. There are literally hundred of thousands of youtube videos where you can watch what people eat in a day. Even this, yes reading this blog, is a reflection of someone else's opinion on the matter.

However, the food choices that works for one person won't necessarily work for another, no matter how many youtube hits their video has. The advice I'm giving you now may not work for you and your circumstances either, and frankly that's okay. It took me years to figure out what foods worked best for me the night before a race or day of for that matter. It's important to find what works for you rather than what's on someone else's plate.

Three little figs, Somerville, MA

II. Knowledge is power, Check the label

Convenience is a luxury and a burden in today's food options. There are endless options on the table for what you put on your plate. It's easy to pop into a cafe or a grocery store and grab food on the go. Even easier to swipe on your phone and have something delivered.

What's easy though isn't always best. The majority of the convenient packaged food is not the healthiest and sometimes the ones that masquerade that they're healthy in reality are not. That's why it's important to be a conscious consumer of the food choices your making by knowing what's in the food your eating, where it comes from, and what those unfamiliar ingredients on the label are.

III. Find Balance

Contrary to popular belief I don't eat like a saint. In fact my diet is far from perfect or inline with what most people would think an elite athlete would eat. I enjoy my indulgences like anyone else from time to time and sometimes it's hard to pass by the bakery display case without snagging a good looking pastry (even though the gluten is bad for me). I've tried cutting out "bad" foods completely and it's a crash and burn situation as it is for most people.

Being flexible and mindful about what I eat is a balancing act that I'm still trying to master. Instead of trying to be perfect, I focus on eating what works well for my lifestyle and makes my body feel good 90% of the time- lots of protein, not much gluten, avoiding processed foods and skimping on the sugar. However when I'm at a family gathering with not the healthiest options or I can't go another day without tasting non-gluten free pizza I allow myself to be flexible.

All Day, Miami, FL

Food choices can be hard and confusing. Nutrition is a constantly changing science. Finding what works for your body is different from everyone else's, but incorporating the layout above can help.

Life is short, enjoy the empanadas (in moderation)

Happy munching!

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