It seems like it's getting to that time of year again. The weather is getting colder and your training is starting to pay off in some late season races. However, I am feeling a little nostalgic at the moment actually, because this is the first year in four where I will not be participating in the Ontario Athletic Association Cross Country Championships with my team at Queen's. Oh the live of a recent graduate! I won't be racing for a team medal finish and trying to earn a spot to the Nationals. Instead, I get to watch from the sidelines as the Gaels take on the rest of the province right here in Ottawa.
Recently I have been doing a few workouts with some girls from Ottawa University. They are training for five kilometers, and it has been nice to hop into some of their workouts to have a buddy. Just last weekend I raced in the Rattle Me Bones 5km and just got under the 18 minute mark. I was hoping for closer to my personal best of 17:32, but I decided to take this time and run (literally). However, it makes me a little more "hungrier" for the next time. I think, with the recent trouble I have been having with my Achilles tendon and the cold, I just need to make sure that I am staying healthy, getting lots of rest, and eating well.
On that note of eating well- I received a link to an article by Runner's World today in my inbox. It was boosting 6 foods that you can eat that can act as a "best defense" when it comes to colds. We have all heard of the old saying of getting lots of vitamin C and eating our iron-rich spinach, but some of the foods that they promoted I found quite interesting and I thought that I would devote this column to pondering on some of the things we should be nibbling on.
The first one was black rice. According to scientists at Louisiana State University Agricultural Center, whole-grain black rice is chock-full of anthocyanins and has the same powerful antioxidants in blueberries and blackberries that have been shown to offer protection from diseases such as cancer and heart disease. Second were Brazil nuts. I always thought that Brazil nuts looked kind of weird and didn't really have that much taste. But now I think I should be eating more because of their high levels of selenium, a mineral that our body uses a type of crucial antioxidant enzyme. That can help offset free-radical cell damage caused during endurance exercise. I don't just want to eat a nut because it "might" help my endurance, but the article suggests putting them in a blender for a nice smoothie.
The article then goes on to talk about the obvious foods that I knew were good for runners like egg yolk, lentils, molasses (high iron), and peanut butter. It also gives some suggestions for red cabbage, and tomatoes. It was interesting that the article gave some suggestions on how to cook the food and why it was good. It was backed by a bunch of studies. BUT...
Yes, there is a "but." It just so happens that I am a huge fan of peanut butter, and runny egg yolks, so I am going to keep eating my PB & J sandwiches and making my omelets. I probably should eat a little more lentils and maybe next time instead of long-grain rice, I'll try black rice. But this still is not reason enough for me to pour a carton of molasses on my oatmeal, or sit and eat a bag of brazil nuts, even if they taste awful, just because it MIGHT make me a better runner.
It reminds me of a book I read a couple of years ago by the famous author Michael Pollen. He also wrote a really thought provoking article in the New York Times. He argues that we as a society no longer just eat food for the actual food! We eat food for the nutrition that it claims to give us. According to Pollan, "The term nutritionism refers to the widely shared but unexamined assumption that the key to understanding food is indeed the nutrient." Basically, it's up to scientists to discover the hidden healthful nutrients in food so that we as consumers will then make "informed" decisions about which foods appropriately fuel our bodies and give us sustained health.
Personally, I think Pollan has a point. So much money is spent (maybe even wasted) on figuring out which nutrient is going to be today's fountain of youth. Within the Western diet, more than 17,000 new food products are introduced every year which is backed by huge marketing muscle, and we now rely on science, journalism, and marketing to help us decide questions about we should or should not eat. All this science of improved eating is also contrasted with rising diabetes rates, obesity in children, and a grocery aisle of processed food that goes farther than the eye can see! The question is therefore, Are we better off with these new authorities? Are we in fact healthier? Is there a miracle food?
For me, it all comes down to two things. First, filtering out bad information; differentiating trash science from good science, marketing from the truth, and perhaps most important of all, learn to ignore dangerous reactionary claims. And second, it comes down to simply eating natural, wholesome food that our moms and grandmas ate. It comes down to eating a carrot for a carrot, and not for the miracle it might do to our eye sight. And even if those foods do help, if I hate the taste- no miracle, no matter how big is going to make me force it down. I rely on the goodness of hard and quality training. And maybe a few more Brazil nuts…..