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A doctor’s very simple guidelines to optimal health

Simple guidelines to help runners stay healthy

New Year’s resolutions and vows to make health-conscious changes and in full swing. With ever-evolving ideas of the best way to reach your optimal state of health, it’s hard to know what the best practices are for maintaining your peak physical form.

Canadian Dr. Yoni Freedhoff is an associate professor of family medicine at the University of Ottawa who wrote a piece in Friday’s New York Times called, How to Be Healthy, in Just 48 Words. Freedhoff gave general advice for everyone, but his advice particularly applicable to those trying to get the most out of their bodies, for example, runners. Freedhoff suggests being healthy isn’t all that complicated.

The 48 words (or 11 sentences) that Freedhoff says you need to be healthy are: don’t smoke, get vaccinated, avoid trans fats, replace saturated fats with unsaturated if you can, cook from whole ingredients — and minimize restaurant meals, minimize ultraprocessed foods, cultivate relationships, nurture sleep, drink alcohol at most moderately, exercise as often as you can enjoy and drink only the calories you love.

Some of these recommendations runners have got down, but there are four that stick out as important (and sometimes forgotten) messages for runners. Those are: minimize ultraprocessed foods, nurture sleep, drink alcohol at most moderately and cook from whole ingredients.

Drink alcohol at most moderately

Rachel Hannah is a registered dietitian and marathoner who reminds runners that, “Alcohol isn’t providing any nutritional value, but you have to think of the whole person.” Her opinion is that, “Alcohol intake should be avoided during key training and racing periods for runners, but can be enjoyed in moderation during holidays or during the off-season.”

One of the key issues with alcohol consumption and running is the interruption it can cause to a runner’s sleep. According to the United States Olympic Committee, sleep quality is compromised after drinking which means that muscles repair and synthesis isn’t happening at the same rate it would otherwise.

Minimize ultra-processed foods

There’s a time and place for processed foods in running. For example, a gel in the middle of a long run, electrolytes after sweaty summer miles or sometimes when you’ve really worked hard, a slushie does the trick after a workout. When you’re working hard, sugar goes down easily (and with minimal stomach upset). With that in mind, keep these things are treats or training tools as opposed to elements of everyday diet. Once the workout is over, make whole foods a priority.

RELATED: Under-slept athletes are 70 per cent more likely to develop an injury

Nurture sleep

Sleep is like a magic potion for runners, it makes everything better. A study out of The Institute for Scholastic Sport Science and Medicine found that in adolescent student-athletes (grade seven to 12), getting under eight hours of sleep led to a 70 per cent increase in the likelihood of injury. What if someone told you that something you were doing everyday was making your 70 per cent more likely to hurt yourself? You’d probably stop doing that thing. Injury and inconsistency are two of the main factors that stand between a runner and a personal best and sleep can help prevent both.

RELATED: Canada’s Food Guide: less animal products, less sugar and social eating habits

Cook from whole foods and eat together

Dr. Freedhoff recommends cooking whole foods but adds bonus points for eating those foods with friends or family. Interestingly, the 2019 Canada’s Food Guide recommended the same thing. Not only cooking but also mindfully consuming food with others and free from distractions like phones and TVs.

Runners are a busy people and sometimes take-out meals can creep their way into a routine. But when possible, try to buy groceries and cook at home. High quality nutrition is key for staying injury-free and cooking at home is a great way to ensure your food is high quality–it lets you know exactly what’s going into your meal and also provides leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch. It’s a win-win.