The Everyman: Whole Food Syndrome

Running along Rome's Tiber River early in the evening. Photo: Jason Devaney | Competitor.com

Healthy eating is the secret to most things in life.

As runners, we all know what can happen when we eat the wrong food before a run. Or what can happen if we eat a processed piece of something, and run later.

Our stomachs feel terrible and nature, well, does its thing.

That’s what we get for eating food that has no business being called food.

Thing is, I used to eat these foods. I got better the last few years, but when I was hungry during the day and all I could find was a cheap granola bar filled with a bunch of ingredients I could not pronounce, I would eat it.

And then I would feel awful. Or I’d run after work and get that terrible feeling deep in my abdomen two miles in.

But you know, I’ve figured out something during my time spent in Italy this summer. By eating mostly whole foods, I’ve never felt better—although perhaps it has something to do with the daily doses of good wine and the semi-daily plates of pasta.

Seriously though, my wife and I have largely stuck to eating whole foods here—that means no cheap granola bars, no cereals or anything with an ingredient list longer than the credits that roll after a Hollywood movie.

While working for Competitor, I read, edit and publish stories about healthy eating almost every day of the week. So none of this is a surprise to me. It just took some extra time to kick in.

RELATED: 5 Tips For Maintaining Your Daily Diet

Everything came together on a recent evening run. I used to dread runs after work because my stomach would always feel off. I attributed it to running on a full stomach. I felt like a cement mixer. Because of this, I would usually run either in the morning or midday.

But Monday night’s run was a breakthrough experience. Here’s what I had to eat that day: a cornetto (I’ll admit, that one doesn’t fall under “whole foods”) and a double espresso for breakfast, a massive salad with fresh greens, white beans and tuna for lunch and a few plain water crackers, along with a fresh fig, for a mid-afternoon snack.

We did five miles and it was the best run I’ve had all summer.

Not only was I fueled, but I was fueled with the right foods. That was the difference. There was not a hint of GI issues and I had the energy to run at a steady pace the whole time.

The lesson here is quite obvious: Watch what you put in your body and avoid the garbage. Instead of reaching for a cheap granola bar whose first three ingredients you can’t pronounce, have a piece of fruit, some water crackers with natural peanut butter or jam, a salad with lots of vegetables (and no salad dressing—stick with olive oil and balsamic vinegar), a piece of chicken or fish leftover from last night, etc.

RELATED: Whole Food Vs. Sports Drinks, Bars And Chews

Here’s a basic rule to follow: Next time you’re at the grocery store, shop along the outside perimeter—hit the produce section and load up on fresh fruits and veggies, then travel over to the meat and fish area to pick up some high-quality protein.

Aside from some spices, olive oil and a few other essentials, there aren’t many reasons to hit the other aisles. (I’m a PB&J fan so feel free to buy what you need for that.)

That’s it. It’s no real secret, but healthy eating is the foundation to most things in life.

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