How mindful eating can make you a better runner

Immersing yourself in every step of the fuelling process, from chopping and slicing, to cooking and cleaning up, is worth the extra effort, even for time-pressed runners balancing many miles and a busy life. Mindful eating reduces stress and makes dining more satisfying, says Sally Powis-Campbell, a psychologist and runner. And this practice can also translate to better performances. ‘Once you see the benefits on the plate, mindfulness spills over into other aspects of life,’ says Powis-Campbell. Here’s how to practise it in yours.

1/ Plan

Schedule diligently

Block out time to shop for and prepare your meals just as you would plan your training. Double your recipes and store leftovers, or dedicate a few hours on Sunday to preparing ingredients for the week ahead. ‘These simple timesavers will make cooking more conducive even within an intense running schedule,’ says Meredith Klein, a chef and mindful-cooking teacher.

Gear up

Keep your kitchen clutter-free and stocked with tools to make cooking easy and comfortable. ‘Runners will tell you it’s not about having the most expensive shoes, but those that work for you,’ says Klein. ‘You don’t need the priciest knife, just one that really feels good in your hands.’

Be non-judgemental

Acceptance and tolerance are key components of mindfulness. Jessyca Arthur-Cameselle, a sports psychology professor who studies mindful eating, advises against labeling foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Too many carrots can make you ill, while a few bites of dark chocolate can give your heart (and your mood) a boost.

2/ Cook

Unplug

Leave your smartphone, laptop and other devices in another room so you are not distracted. ‘Use cooking – like running – as a time to press pause on anxieties and plans,’ says Klein.

Engage physically

As you peel, grate and chop, be aware of your body in space, says Klein. Feel your feet pressing into the floor, your grip on the knife, the texture of the food you're preparing. Bring your mind back to these concrete sensations if you start drifting.

Clean promptly

Of course, it’s tempting to check social media while your meal cooks, but use this time to clean up. ‘You’ll enjoy the food more knowing you don’t have to wash pots and pans afterwards,’ says Klein.

Be social

‘Getting your partner or family into the kitchen with you is a great way to spend time together, especially during a busy training cycle,’ says Klein. And there’s a bonus: research has shown that adults who regularly cook and eat together have lower chances of becoming obese.

3/ Eat

Breathe

A few full breaths switch your nervous system from fight-or-flight to rest-and-digest mode, meaning you’ll absorb more nutrients, says Powis-Campbell. Wrap your hands around the back of your chair and take deep breaths that move your stomach in and out, says nutritionist Katie Jeffrey, co-author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat for Athletes: a Mindful Eating Program for Sports and Life.

Chew – a lot

With every bite, your mouth sends signals to your brain to calm cravings. Start with around 10 chews for each mouthful and work your way up to 20 or 30 (this, we accept, demands patience, yours and those eating with you). This also helps you focus on the texture and taste of your food.

Slow down

‘There’s no medal for those who finish first,’ says Powis-Campbell. Eating at a slow jog instead of a full sprint gives your gut and brain time to register feelings of fullness. Slow down by using your non-dominant hand, using smaller utensils or putting the fork down between each bite.

Recite a mantra

‘Don’t give up’ powers you through a tough run. Use the same strategy to maintain focus during a meal, says Powis-Campbell. Say (or perhaps just think, if you’re in public) phrases such as ‘I am nourished’ every few bites to calm yourself and return to the purpose of the meal.