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Q&A: Does a "Clean" Diet Benefit Runners?

Will eating a cleaner diet—more organic foods, less sugar, fewer processed foods—benefit my training?

While the term “clean” can have different meanings, eating a nutrient-dense, varied diet—veggies, fruit, lean protein, whole grains, and healthy fats—is a cornerstone to fueling your body on a daily basis. The issue with consuming large quantities of processed foods is that they may not contain the nutrients your body needs to train and recover optimally.

The analogy that I often use is: If you are driving a high-performance car (your body), do you want to fill it with 85 octane gas or 93 octane? Cleaner fuel typically allows the car to run better. While organic may be preferable in certain situations, I’d still rather see someone have conventional berries than no berries at all (as long as you’re not allergic to berries!)

There are, however, a few key issues to note when choosing cleaner foods, so that you can make sure you’re still adequately fueling your training regimen—because even the best car with the best octane gas will stop running if the fuel meter hits zero.

  • During periods of higher training volume, you will need additional calories and carbs to fuel your body. You can certainly choose nutritious foods like grains, rice, smoothies, granola, olive oil, nut butters, seeds, etc.

  • Sometimes sugar can be your friend. Easily digestible carbs, such as sports drinks, are the quickest way to get fuel to your cells during more intense or longer (60–90+ minutes) runs.

  • For those with sensitive stomachs, you may want to avoid having too much fat or fiber before hard training, as it slows digestion and can lead to an upset GI system.


Jason Machowsky

Jason Machowsky is a board-certified sports dietitian and certified strength and conditioning specialist at the Tisch Sports Performance Center at Hospital for Special Surgery. He currently serves our nation’s athletes as an active member of the United States Olympic Committee Sports Dietitian Registry. Machowsky received his Masters of Science degree in applied physiology and nutrition from Teachers College at Columbia University.

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