Simple Food Rules for Runners

My wife's grandma at 101.

My wife’s grandmother lived to 103, and the holidays just past have reminded me of how she lived. She was not a runner, nor did she do a lot of cardio, except for sauce stirring and daily walks to markets and church. Our own local legend Frank Buckles who lived to 110 ate in this manner too; he was a farmer.

Walking and running are good for you, but without proper nutrition one will not achieve optimal health.

On  this topic, I encourage you to read Dr. Phil Maffetone’s most recent Natural Running Center’s article that examines the negative impact of sugar consumption (even from refined-flour food favorites such as bagels) and the runner.  As he points out, “Unfortunately, too many of these calories burned during a workout are in the form of sugar and not fat. This occurs because the consumption of sugar affects one’s metabolism, forcing the body to use much more glucose for energy and too little fat. The result is less energy available for working out and virtually all other activities, and, because less fat is used for energy, it’s stored throughout the body.”

Best-selling food author Michael Pollan has written extensively on the topic of sound, life-extending nutrition. He states, “Cultures eating wide variety of traditional diets do not get Western diseases.” How true.

And many of us have committed to memory his simple recommendation: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants”

In his book, “Food Rules,” he identified “64 Health and Nutrition Facts.The Unfortunate Truths” Here’s 10 of them from his useful list:

2. Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.
17. Eat only foods that have been cooked by humans.
18. Don’t ingest foods made in places where everyone is required to wear a surgical cap.
19. If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don’t.
20. It’s not food if it arrived through the window of your car
21. It’s not food if it’s called by the same name in every language (Think Big Mac, Cheetos or Pringles)
37. The whiter the bread, the sooner you’ll be dead,
57. Don’t get your fuel from the same place your car does.
58. Do all your eating at a table
64. Break the rules once in a while!

Here’s some other helpful  resources that will help keep you on the road to healthy eating:

Details on sugary drinks

Recipes for Health NY Times

The ultimate source for what’s in foods (go here if you dare)

The Skinny on Obesity. A must view for every human

Weight of the Nation on HBO- 4 hours of documentary free on line.

Dr. Dan Lieberman-

Books: In Defense of Food and Food Rules by Michael Pollan; Why We Get Fat and What to do About It and Good Calories , Bad Calories by Gary Taubs

Movies: Forks over Knives; Food Inc; Super Size Me; Sick, Fat, and Nearly Dead

11 Responses to “Simple Food Rules for Runners”

  1. Bob says:

    Any thoughts on gluten free diets? Recent books such as “Wheat Belly” seem to suggest that we should all avoid foods containing modern strains of wheat. It seems to me that some minimalist runners are moving away from the idea that we should carbo-load before big races or long runs.

    • MarkC says:


      i do not carbo load but do have gluten. i do not have cleiac disease or gluten sensitivity. some folks do though and different folks respond different to different diets. i like pizza, make it whole grain w good fresh toppings….yum. i also eat lots of omelates.

  2. Christina says:

    Really good article, I so agree with the “keep it simple” approach. We’ve found major health benefits and changes over the past 2 years by just primarily eating whole foods. Our meals are simple and geared to a balanced diet, but all whole food. Simple, what my grandma would have eaten. :)

  3. Adolfo Neto says:

    I am a runner (1 Marathon, 2 1/2 marathons, several 10Ks and 5Ks) and I am experimenting a low carb high fat (LCHF) since last October. It solved many of my problems, in particular, headaches, frequent hunger and mucus.

    Tim Noakes (Lore of Running) is also a big fan of LCHF,-Endurance-Sport-and-Surfing!.aspx

  4. Tyson park says:

    Dear Dr. Mark,
    I am training the upcoming Boston marathon in barefoot. I am 71 old body hoping to cross the finish line. I completed two marathons in barefoot last year. My question or concern is how to take energy during the race. I’m experiencing dates while running. Is there any advice you can help me? Or dates only with water is enough? I can feel myself that I am somehow doing inefficient or wrong. I do really believe your opinion and advice and thank you. Gail from runners world magazine interviewed me of my story in that I e-mailed her my breathing based running in general. I am an old school martial arts teacher. On 4-14-2013 Sunday, I am going to distribute flyers of the Paradise marathon- Malibu marathon(11-10-2013).

  5. Ryan Green says:

    Reading Phil’s “big Book” right now and this morning I read the exact section on refined sugar. My read here is very timely. Thanks! See you in few weeks in NOLA.

    • MarkC says:

      Thanks Ryan,
      Food rule 64 (break the rules) is fine too and we’ll chow some good NOLA food with some sugar in it….pre and post rock and roll New Orleans Marathon. NRC readers stay tuned for some fun stuff with Varsity Sports in the Big Easy. Mark

  6. Janna says:

    I just finished reading ‘Fat Chance, Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease’ by Robert H. Lustig, M.D. It’s an insightful and heavily science/research based book all about the effects of (refined) sugar on our bodies. Dr. Lustig is works at a clinic for obese children, so he has first-hand knowledge and experience. I loved the book’s very simple message and that there were no gimmicks or fad diets involved.

    One of my favorite parts of the book explains that what the paleo, low carb-high fat, Mediterranean, Okinawa, gluten-free, Atkins, fruitarian etc diets have in common. They eliminate sugar in its processed form(white sugar, white bread etc). That is why many of them can be successful.

    I’ve always struggled to figure out what is the ‘best’ and ‘right’ way to eat. Turns out there are many ways to eat ‘right’. Ultimately we just need to put a variety of ‘real foods’ in our bodies. I define ‘real food’ this way; if you have to think about it, question if it’s real, then it’s probably not real… or simply if you actually don’t recognize an ingredient, it’s probably not real.

    If you don’t have the time to read it, there is also a lecture on YouTube by him through UCTelevision called ‘Sugar, the Bitter Truth’

    I’m looking forward to learning more about real food I can eat during race day. I’m training for my first marathon now and carry raisins with me during longer runs. They seem to work just fine :)


  7. Jane says:

    Fast food for me has become a little avo, a little sea salt, a big batch of pre washed organic lettuce and wrapped in a sprouted grain tortilla. It’s quick, simple and makes my eyes shine. If no avo then a vinaigrette dressing, even easier. I don’t try to make a big salad with all kinds of other veggies unless there is more time.

  8. Cathy says:

    Nutrition is a bit like religion..Different for everyone because we are bio-chemically different . I think there are general rules all should follow: keep your processed foods to a minimal. Food by God…
    There are different diets that have clearly cured many people , but maybe not for the reasons they think. Being ready to make the changes you need to is a little like being ready to train for a race .. You do it one day at a time..I have found things like metabolic type testing to be beneficial for people and some swear by eating for your blood type.. You just have to find what works for you.
    Happy eating :)

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