Lauren Antonucci’s philosophy is that all foods can fit into a healthy lifestyle. She’s a Clinical Nutritionist and Certified Sports Dietician and an athlete herself, so she not only understands the nutritional needs of runners, but the obstacles that can stand in the way of fueling properly.
Her book, High-Performance Nutrition for Masters Athletes, focuses on those 35 and over, but the advice she shares in this episode will be helpful for any runner who wants to run their best and enjoy their sport for as long as possible.
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Many runners overthink their food choices, worrying that they’re eating the “wrong” things. As Lauren explains, “It is always better to just eat enough and to feel satisfied, because from a fueling recovery perspective, your body doesn’t care as much about each food choice as your mind has been taught to. So all our bodies know after a run is, ‘Did you give me some protein, so I can repair those muscles for you that you’d like to use again? Did you restock your glycogen by putting in any carbs?’” It doesn’t matter whether you have pancakes and syrup or a sweet potato; your muscles don’t care.
We’re told to eat intuitively, but what exactly does that mean? Lauren compares it to eating like a two-year-old. They know what will satisfy them, and don’t think about whether a food is “good” or “bad,” or if it’s the appropriate time of day to have it. Nor do they assign value to a food. As Lauren observes, “It’s not true that each food choice we make decides our worth as a person or our performance as an athlete.”
Key to healthy eating, she says, is to not avoid food groups unless you have a “major reason” to do so. If you have celiac disease, “you need to avoid gluten, 100%.” But, she goes on, “Everybody else who’s avoiding gluten and therefore has a great difficulty getting in enough calories, because it’s really easy to find pretzels and pancakes and bagels and pasta and you’ve eliminated that, I would take a really good look at, ‘Is this helping me or is this hurting me?’” It’s true that gluten can be inflammatory, “but we can take tiny little bits of science and blow them out of proportion and then come to really bad conclusions.
For masters runners, it can be difficult to unlearn years of misinformation. One common misconception is that metabolism automatically and drastically slows as we age. Lauren emphasizes, “There’s no date upon which I wake up and my metabolism has vanished. The biggest predictors of metabolism and weight are fueling enough and maintaining activity.” It’s also hard to change poor dietary habits learned over decades, but, Lauren says, “There’s always a chance to do better now and your body will recover… never let the, ‘oh well, maybe it’s too late for me to change’ hold you back.”
The most important thing for all runners to know, but especially masters, is that they need protein – a lot of it. “We need as much as a lot of the strength-training athletes,” Lauren says, “but as we age, we need more protein, as well. We’re just not absorbing the protein as well. We’re not assimilating it as well.” Many recommendations don’t consider the needs of masters runners. “So if you see those marketed products that say you need 20 grams of protein after a workout and you’re 20-35 or 15-35, that’s for you. If you’re 35 and older, we need to know that that’s not enough. So, if I’m using a protein powder, I may need more.”
Recognizing that you’re underfueling can be difficult for female masters and for men at any age because they don’t have the overt red flag that pre-menopausal women do, a lack of menstruation. There are other signs to watch for, though: poor wound healing, impaired immune function, anxiety and depression, sleep disturbances, and constipation or I.B.S. can all indicate that you’re not taking in enough fuel for your level of activity. If any of those symptoms sound familiar, consider consulting with a board-certified specialist in sports dietetics, or read a book by a recognized authority like Nancy Clark.
Even if you’re not a masters runner yet, hopefully one day you will be. As Lauren says, “we need to start thinking about these things earlier… making those changes before you think you need to or really trying not to get away with the mentality of, ‘yeah, I know this is not what I should be doing, but it’s been fine so far,’ because it will catch up.”
If you enjoyed this episode, you may want to check out our “Run and Reflect” notes, our ten favorite takeaways from it to think about on your next run. Click below and we’ll deliver them to your inbox!
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“Thank you” to Lauren. We look forward to hearing your thoughts on the show.