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Posted: March 26, 2020:  

Athletics: Running Doc's Guide to Healthy Eating

Chapter Six - The Healthy Plate

Richie, a thirty-year-old lawyer and one of my running patients, wanted to know how to eat better, so I showed him how to use the Healthy Plate. "That is not going to work for me. I use an online service to deliver all my food right to my door. I donít shop in markets," Richie told me. I laughed and said, "You can have all your foods brought in by a diet company, but if you really want to be healthier, you will have to shop for yourself."

Richie agreed to make time to go to the local market and buy his own food for one week. "I did not know how great the market is. There are beautiful fruits and vegetables and more stuff than they have online. This is the most fun I have had in months, and I feel great, too. I canít wait to go back and shop again," said Richie.

This chapter highlights the Healthy Plate. I show you how to maintain a healthy weight and get all the nutrition you need from all the proper food categories. The Healthy Plate keeps things simple - eat a little more than half of your calories from protein at every meal, only 10 percent from fast-acting carbohydrates, which are used up immediately; 30 percent from slow-acting carbohydrates, which are stored in the form of glycogen; and a small amount from heart-healthy low fats, just enough for energy but not too much to clog the arteries.

These percentages are derived from sports science research that says the healthiest diets contain about 50 percent protein for muscle building, 10 percent fast-acting carbohydrates for fast energy, 30 percent slow-acting carbohydrates for endurance, and that are low in fats for additional energy. You donít need to be absolutely precise in these percentages, just approximate as best you can. Take a look at the diagram of the Healthy Plate. As you examine it, take the empty plate in front of you and draw a mental picture of the Healthy Plate on it. Put a tablespoon or so of food into each of the four sections on the plateóprotein, slow-acting carbohydrates, fast-acting carbohydrates, and fat. Then continue to fill up various sections of the plate.

Healthy Plate
Low Fat
A Little More Than Half Protein
Fast-Acting Carbs
Slow-Acting Carbs

Just visualize the Healthy Plate and put your food in the designated sections; you donít have to calculate exactly. Thatís one of the advantages of the Fueling Plates program. You donít need to get out your cell phone and calculate how many calories are on your plate, or a scale to weigh the food, as you must in some diet programs. We are not talking about keeping track of calories or grams of weight. Each exerciser is an individual and has individual nutritional needs. A gymnast might fill up the four sections of the Healthy Plate very thinly, while a defensive tackle in football would pile the food up high. You need to know your goalóto lose weight, maintain weight, or gain weightóto know how much food to include.

The makeup of your Healthy Plate, as well as how much food should be heaped on the plate, can be readily determined. There is no one-size-fits-all approach because the environment, your metabolic rate, and activity level can all dictate your nutritional needs. One thing is for certain: what you put into your mouth - and when and how much - can make or break your workout experience.

Vegetarian Healthy Plate

Jennifer, a thirty-five-year-old banker, decided to stop eating meat and become a strict vegetarian. "I am eating tons of salad and feel great except in regard to my running. Now when I run long distances, I am getting tired quicker and my times are increasing. My usual aches and pains after a long run now last two days. I used to recover quickly, usually within one day," said Jennifer.

I suggested that Jennifer use the Healthy Plate, with some modifications. "In order to be my healthiest, I needed to know the top food choices for vegetarians. Once I knew those, it was easy to incorporate them into the Healthy Plate. Now my energy level is back, and Iím running faster than ever," said Jennifer.

A vegetarian diet has been proven to have health benefits, such as reducing your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers, including cancers of the stomach, colon, and lungs. The best definition of a vegetarian diet is a diet free of meat, fish, and fowl. Lacto-ovo vegetarians do not eat animal flesh but eat eggs and milk products. Vegans do not eat any animal-based products, including honey. Pescatarians eat fish and seafood. The number one cause of tiredness in new vegetarians is their lack of focus on eating enough carbohydrates, protein, iron, calcium, zinc, vitamin B12, riboflavin, alpha-linolenic acid, and vitamin D. Here are some ways to incorporate these nutrients into your diet. Emphasize them when you are filling up your Healthy Plate if you are a vegetarian.


This is your bodyís fuel. If you donít have enough carbohydrates, your energy level as well as your endurance will decrease. Vegetarians can consume carbohydrates by eating whole grains found in barley, whole-wheat pasta, whole-grain breads, and brown rice. Other excellent sources of carbohydrates are whole fruits, squash, beans, corn, sweet potatoes, lentils, and quinoa. If you eat dairy, then milk, cheese, and yogurt are good sources of carbohydrates. Protein. Proteins break down to amino acids, which are the building blocks for all structures within the body. If you donít have enough protein, it takes longer to repair microtears that occur during exercise. Thatís why Jenniferís post-event muscle soreness probably lasted two days instead of one. Try to eat more high-protein grains such as quinoa, beans, nuts, and nut butters. Veggie burgers that are labeled with 5 grams of protein or more are an excellent choice, as well as eggs, if you eat them. Tofu and edamame are the favorite choice of protein for some of my vegetarian patients. Iron. Iron is an important part of the red blood cell as it carries oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body. Low iron results in anemia and tiredness. The best iron-rich choices include dried apricots and prunes, soy-based foods, fortified breakfast cereals, whole-wheat breads, beans, nuts, and eggs, if you eat them.


Calcium is important for good bone health. You can get this nutrient in tofu, sesame tahini, almonds, calciumfortified almond or soy milk, and green leafy vegetables, like spinach and kale. If you eat dairy, you can find calcium in milk, yogurt, and cheese.


Zinc is an important booster of the immune system. New vegetarians often complain they seem to get sick more than they used to. Try adding soy milk, soybeans, nuts, seeds, mushrooms, split peas, lentils, and black-eyed peas to your

Healthy Plate.

Vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to anemia and cause tiredness. Vegetarians should try to eat some fortified breakfast cereals and soy-based beverages to keep vitamin B12 at an adequate level. Since vitamin B12 is found naturally only in animal products, if you canít eat the above, buy a B12 supplement at a health food store and take it daily to increase your energy level.

Riboflavin (Vitamin B2). Riboflavin is a vitamin that helps the body break down carbohydrates, protein, and fats to produce energy. It fundamentally allows oxygen to be used by the body. If you donít have enough riboflavin, again, you can feel tired. Riboflavin is found in soy milk, mushrooms, almonds, and fortified breakfast cereals. If you eat dairy, cowís milk and yogurt are rich in riboflavin. If you canít eat enough of these foods, try getting a vitamin B2 supplement at a health food store.

Alpha-linolenic acid (Omega-3). Omega-3 is a fatty acid that helps boost the immune system. Research has shown that omega-3 fatty acids enhance B cells (a type of white blood cell). Lack of it may contribute to you getting sick more often. Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in tofu, soybeans, walnuts, canola, and flaxseed oil.

Vitamin D.

Vitamin D is important for bone health as well as immune, muscle, and nerve function. It is known as the sunshine vitamin because our bodies make and absorb vitamin D from exposure to the sun. If you canít get outside, try eating mushrooms, fortified breakfast cereal, fortified orange juice, and soy and almond milk.

Maximize Color

How do you know if the foods you eat are healthy or not? My friend Thomas Keller, the chef/owner of Per Se restaurant in New York City, says the best way to know is by color. If the color of the food is bright, itís more likely to be healthy for you. This is the best advice I have ever heard from any type of medical professional, sport nutritionist, or chef.

Simple, bright food keeps everything healthy, as long as it is not overcooked, which may destroy the nutrients. You need to learn to trust yourself to pick out fresh produce. Hereís a little game to help you learn to trust yourself. Go to the marketís produce aisle with two plastic bags. Pick out some apples, carrots, string beans, and green peppers. In one bag, put the brightest, most colorful produce and in the other bag put in the dullest ones you can find. Buy both bags, take them home, and put the bright food on one plate and the dull food on another plate. You can see it makes a difference when you pick colorful fruits and vegetables. Now you will be more than comfortable enough to put healthy food on your plate and maximize your color.

Feeling of Fullness

For the Healthy Plate, I want you to practice the feeling of fullness for dinner. There are four ways in which your body and brain understand when you are full. This feeling of fullness is called satiety. One is the expansion of your stomach, which we discussed in the previous chapter. The second is a sensory experienceóthe appearance, smell, taste, and texture of the food you are consuming will help you know whether you are full or not. The third way involves mental beliefs about how filling the food is. If you eat a salad and think it is "diet food," you may not feel as full as if you ate a big bowl of macaroni and cheese. Yes, macaroni and cheese is heavier and will fill up your gut, but the psychological component adds to your knowledge that you will be full. The fourth and final way is through hormones released during absorption and digestion of food. There are hormones that tell the brain how much fat is stored in the body, which affects your fullness over the long-term. These signals come together in areas in the brain controlling energy and food intake. Although you feel your stomach filling up as you eat, it can take some time for these fullness signals to reach the brain. Everybody is different in how much time it takes to get these signals of fullness to the brain. Despite sophisticated hormonal mechanisms about the feeling of fullness, some people still eat when they feel full or resist eating when they are hungry.

Eating Behavior Influences

Seven factors influence eating behavior as well as the bodyís signals of fullness. These include:

1. Palatability of foodóhow much you like the taste of the food you are eating. If the food tastes really good, you may end up getting to the point where you feel like, "Iím stuffed. I canít eat any more." The goal is to stop before you get to this point.

2. Portion sizes. Some people like to fill up their plate, while others limit the amount of food they eat. This is individualized. How high you pile the food on your Healthy Plate is determined by your goals: whether to maintain, lose, or gain weight.

3. Variety of food and drinks. Psychological cues influence what you eat. If you eat a food you have never had before, you tend to want to have more of it.

4. Your emotional state. Comfort foods are childhood meals you have an emotional attachment to. Maybe they remind you of your grandmother, who made the worldís best meatloaf and mashed potatoes with gravy on Sunday afternoons. You canít wait to have them when you are feeling blueóand want to keep eating them. Be aware of the emotional attachment to that food, or going to a specific, favorite restaurant.

5. Aspects in your surroundings. Advertisements make you want to eat more. If you see a television commercial, complete with mouthwatering pictures about a new fast-food sandwich, you may not only go there to eat the sandwich but unwittingly eat way past when you are full because the aroma of fries and the value of the full meal deal are too good to pass up.

6. Social situation. When you eat with family or friends, either at home or in a restaurant, often you do not think about how much you are eating. Or, the portion size is so big, and you donít want to leave food on your plate. Fill up the Healthy Plate and understand that you can save any extra food or take it home with you.

7. Physical activity level. If you run twenty-five miles a week, you will need to eat more than if you run five miles a week. Exercise increases your metabolic rate as compared to someone who is a sofa spud. Top athletes often eat multiple meals a day to replace the calories they use during exercise.

Being Healthy

Walter, a sixty-four-year-old school teacher, played tennis one night a week in a long-time doubles game and had a regular singles game on weekends, too. "I started using the Healthy Plate to keep up my energy levels. We always go out to eat after we play. My buddies complained at the restaurant that I was playing with my food like a three-year-old," said Walter. "I told them, ĎThe end justifies the means. I feel good about the food I eat, and I feel healthy, so get over it.í I tell the waiter, ĎIím on a special diet and can only eat this much. The rest is going home with me.í " Being healthy means not only are you physically healthy but mentally and socially healthy as well. The World Health Organization (WHO) definition of health is "a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity." I totally agree with this definition. Itís always good to have something in writing to back up any discussions on the Healthy Plate.

Hereís how the Healthy Plate backs up the WHO definition of health:

* Physical - The Healthy Plate provides the proper nutrients in a balanced manner to give you the health benefits of eating properly.

* Mental - You know that you are on the right course if you use the Healthy Plate. If you are eating well with the Healthy Plate, you wonít feel tired after a huge meal. You know itís working for you because you have more mental energy and you feel sharper in everyday life.

* Social well-being - Using the Healthy Plate puts you in a better frame of mind. If you use the program, you wonít feel hungry and be grumpy. You will be better at interacting with others. If you feel good about the foods you eat, you will be more personable with friends and family in addition to feeling good about yourself. In the next chapter, we will go into detail about what to eat during training by using the Training Plate.

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