Brace yourselves ladies and gents, because there are going to be a lot of pictures of food coming up.
Aside from when I’ve eaten an especially delicious looking piece of cake (I do love cake – more on that later), I’m not really a ‘let’s all take pictures of what we’re eating and tell the world’ sort of a person. Oh, there was Mr. Duff’s birthday meal at Dinner by Heston last year when I really wanted to take pictures because the food looked and tasted incredible, but I didn’t want it to look like we weren’t used to eating fancy dinners at the Mandarin Oriental…but that’s it.
However, the food I’m about to share with you is definitely worth a look.
You may have noticed I’ve been a bit quiet lately. We’re just going to say I had a somewhat sub-optimal Spring and leave it there. This applies to everything, but today we’re thinking about running and nutrition. I was supposed to be targeting a sub-2 half at the end of April, but things fell by the wayside and I ended the Spring season slower than I’d feared and a stone over race weight. Sub-optimal indeed.
My Autumn goal is the Richmond Runfest Marathon in September, and a few weeks back with training due to start I decided I needed to make some changes. Specifically working out how I was going to eat more protein, and how I could alter my carb loading habits to include less pasta and more veg. I’m a lifelong veggie but a pretty crap one – I don’t usually eat a lot of veg!
Anyway, I was having a browse in the Waterstone’s cookery aisle, trying to find something that sounded like a common sense plan in amongst the hipster juicing all raw baking in mugs nonsense that seems to be replacing good old fashioned healthy eating these days. I think the faddy ideas appeal to us because on some level, we all know broadly how to eat healthily, but it can get a bit dull. Lots of the ‘diet’ approaches also leave you hungry all the time, and I am really, really bad at being hungry.
That’s why I’m really keen to share the book I opted for with you – it’s not dull. It’s practical, simple, explains itself beautifully and is written specifically for runners. This, my friends, might just be the holy grail of healthy running nutrition – The Runner’s Cookbook by Anita Bean.
Now, I’ve tweeted Anita a couple of times so I’ll just throw in a reassurance here that I’m not a crazed stalker, I’m just really impressed with this book.
The book starts out with some solid advice about general nutrition for runners, including working out your carb and protein needs for different training loads and advice about how to fuel for the popular race distances of 5k, 10k, half marathon, marathon and ultra. It covers hydration, how to approach things when you’re injured, how to fuel your running when you’re trying to trim down a bit and a common sense guide to supplements and sports nutrition products. Honestly, for recreational or regular club runners looking to eat well and to fuel well, this book has you covered.
It then goes on to the recipes starting with breakfasts, soups and salads and then onto main meals, desserts and snacks. Lots of delicious looking pictures of the food, really easy to follow recipes, no messing about.
There are three things I especially love about the book.
Firstly, Anita Bean is a vegetarian. Praise be! This means there is a huge veggie section – there are 20 veggie main meals, not to mention the veggie options in the soup and salad sections. It’s fantastic – I’ve made 7 of the main meals so far and all have been delicious. They are also mainly based around vegetables and plant based protein and fats, so the basis of them is mainly vegan. There are things like cheese or yoghurt added but a vegan runner could just miss those off or make substitutions.
The second thing is that lots of the recipes use similar ingredients, so you can have a flick through ahead of your weekly shop and choose two or three recipes that have ingredients in common. Because each recipe serves 2 or 4, I’ve been batch cooking and freezing the other portions which is starting to save time for me and money off our weekly shop. I’m also being careful to only buy what I need, so if I need two carrots I will get two carrots, not a bag of carrots with a vague idea I’ll eat them with something else later on. I’m therefore eating loads more veg and wasting a lot less food.
And the third thing is how easy everything is. Most of the recipes only call for one pot or bowl to prepare them, even the baking recipes, and don’t take as long as you would think. It couldn’t be easier, and yet I’ve been eating ingredients or flavour combinations I never would have thought of trying.
Now in the interests of full disclosure, as I say so far I have tried 7 out of 20 of the veggie recipes and 5 of the baking recipes, so there are still loads more for me to go through, but the crucial thing is that of those 12 recipes there isn’t a single one which hasn’t been delicious or simple to make, and I am actively looking forward to trying more of them as I go through my plan.
My favourites so far are the cherry and almond flapjacks (which can be used to fuel or re-fuel and are absolutely scrummy) the spinach and feta parcels, the daal and the veggie chilli with guacamole (oh my goodness, that guacamole is so good!). I’ve also made my own nut and chickpea burgers which was lots of fun and rather adventurous for me as cooking goes!
Oh, and the cake. Just the cake in general. The snacks section is full of delicious fruity, nutty, yummy, cakey gorgeousness. So far I’ve made the healthy fruit cake, the apple and almond cake, the banana and walnut cake and the carrot cake muffins. All of them have gone down really well with my approved panel of cake tasting friends and family and I am very much looking forward to trying out the chocolate brownies and the blueberry muffins next.
I’ve been making gazpacho rather than hot soups at the moment since it’s been so warm, but I can see the soups getting me through the winter as hearty lunches. The gazpacho recipe I’m using is my own slight bastardisation of a few different ones so I may share that separately, it’s really tasty, full of veg and a nice change from salad or a sarnie at lunchtime.
For breakfast I do love my porridge, but I have modified it with flaxseeds, Greek yoghurt, flaked almonds and berries so it now follows the principles in Anita’s book and is truly a next level breakfast. You would not believe how much I look forward to eating this breakfast every day – it’s slightly concerning!
I’m also still fuelling my really long runs as before, which is generally with pizza, but that’s just because I know that works for me. My goal was to reduce the amount of simple carbs I eat the rest of the time, and to keep the hard stuff for when I know I will actually benefit from it. I’ve also swapped from takeaway pizza to shop bought so it’s still healthier (don’t cauliflower pizza base me – that is NOT pizza!).
Anyway, the upshot of all this healthy eating and cooking from scratch is twofold; firstly my Fitbit is really confused because so much of my daily food intake is now home made it doesn’t know what to categorise anything as. Secondly I’ve dropped 3-4% body fat since I got the book a month or so ago.
There’s a little before and after below for your perusal – I think it’s clear which one I look healthier in.
So there you go. If you want to learn a bit more about a healthy way to fuel your running, you want to make some healthy new eating habits in general or even if you just want some more runner friendly cake recipes to hand out to your post parkrun coffee and cake crew, give this book a try.
The Runner’s Cookbook is a well written, sensible and simple to follow book full of delicious and fun recipes; it’s probably the best £15 I’ve ever spent on anything running related.
And I’m not hungry!