Stephanie Kay, nutritionist, believes diets are stupid. She says she believes in self-care, and quality over quantity. She’s written two cookbooks and had her heart set on playing in the WNBA growing up. Kay knows about sports and food and that’s why, when she says, “eating for your health means both your mental health and your physical health,” we listen.
“Focus on the quality of the food you’re eating,” Kay says, and mentions that ‘real food,’ anything that’s not processed, will often be more satiating than ‘fast food’ or ‘junk food,’ and thus make portion control much simpler. There’s a reason you can knock off a large popcorn by yourself at the movies, but when was the last time you polished off a bushel of apples? “People can eat multiple bowls of Fruit Loops, but it’s rare to see someone go through a dozen eggs. If you eat just a little bit smarter, portion control—the number one thing behind weight loss—becomes much more natural when you’re eating peaches or carrots as opposed to Kraft dinners or pop.”
Most of us are creatures of habit when it comes to the grocery store and Kay makes the excellent point that if you tweak your grocery list once, the new foods will become part of your routine. And you don’t have to change what you eat. Just, as the fall race season approaches, make tweaks. “You can still buy yogurt, but try the plain kind and add your own fruit (or maple syrup or honey) as opposed to buying the yogurt with the lemon cheesecake flavour,” she says, and reiterates the same idea around cheese: a slice of real cheddar cheese isn’t unhealthy; a dozen slices of processed American Kraft singles might not be the best choice before a run. “The easiest way to ensure balanced meals is to have a template with your food groups—protein, fiber, carbohydrates and fat.”
A typical breakfast for Stephanie, pictured above, might include oatmeal with milk, Greek yogurt and fruit. She also says an omelette with veggies, toast, avocado, chia seed and a protein powder shake is a healthy, nutritious way to start each day (and a can of tuna with crackers and salad might make a good lunch). “If you can make a template for your meals with different food groups, it will help you feel energized and satiated and keep your blood sugar regulated so you’re not running on fumes,” she says. “The easiest thing to do is look at the ingredients on the foods you’re buying—keep your food as whole as possible, which means: the less ingredients in what you eat, the better off it probably is.”
Runners are notorious for putting in the miles and then not doing anything else with regards to their training. And this isn’t only us middle of the pack athletes, but even Cam Levins, who recently broke the Canadian marathon record, said that changing his diet helped him improve his time. Stephanie Kay says not to take a punitive approach to your eating. It’s not the end of the world if you have ice cream or a Big Mac. The point is a gradual shift to your approach to eating. If fifty percent of your calories are less than ideal—pizza and chips—aim to bring the ratio down over time. One bad meal won’t derail your diet, just like one missed run won’t blow up your half marathon. It’s about consistency over time. And, if you can tweak your nutrition in August, by late September you’ll have your new routine ready for fall.
“It’s unrealistic to think anyone would ever not eat ice cream, but the goal is to make it so that when you do eat the ice cream, you’ve balanced it out with the real food—the veggies, the proteins and good fats—you’ve had through your day,” she says. “Stick to simple things and remember that nothing is better than real foods.”
A few other quick notes from Stephanie: there’s nothing wrong with frozen vegetables, exotic doesn’t necessarily mean better (imported berries aren’t better for you than local apples), and you don’t have to spend loads of money to eat well. Shop, in general, along the perimeter of your grocery store, and remember to have fun with food. Life is (hopefully) long and you can tweak your diet all the time.
“Think of your diet like you’d think about money. You might say that you want to save money, but that doesn’t mean that you’ll never spend,” she says. “The point is that you’re paying attention to what you’re buying and if you want something, save up for it. That’s the way to be rich, or in our case, be healthy, over time. It’s about consistency, not about perfection.”