8 Ways to Improve Your Daily Diet and Eat Cleaner in 2017

It’s been 2017 for less than two weeks and the all or nothing “fresh start” posts clogging social media feeds are already beginning to fade. The effort is valiant for sure, but often hard to follow through on.

If eating cleaner is something you really want, yet find hard to attain, perhaps what’s needed is a different mindset. As an athlete, food is your friend; it really is fuel for all you do. Instead of examining your diet to figure out how to “Lose Those Last 5 Pounds!” or “Look Great in Your Running Kit!” look at it as a toolbox for improving performance. Sounds more enticing, right? Eating cleaner is the key to making sure your body has what it needs to run that extra mile, dig deep for a finish line kick or even head out the door without so many aches and pains. Because the popular adage “you are what you eat,” holds true.

In case you’re wondering what it means to eat clean, ultrarunner and chef Kelly Bailey Newlon, co-founder of Real Athlete Diets (RAD) in Boulder, Colo., has an easy explanation.

“When we hear the term ‘eating clean,’ to us it simply means nothing but real, whole food is used, with nothing packaged or processed added,” says Newlon who takes into consideration the flavor, texture and health benefits of each ingredient (think fresh fruits and vegetables, non-processed grains, meats and seafood) when creating new recipes for her clients.

Heidi Buttery developed her interest in nutrition in 2013 while training for her first Ironman. She decided to try a whole foods diet and immediately noticed she had less inflammation (aka soreness) and was able to recover faster from workouts. She also slept better and had even energy throughout long workouts and the day. The positive transformation was so profound that she decided to leave her job in the financial industry to become a certified nutrition consultant and help others realize the power of food for living a healthier life.

“By making small, gradual diet changes, people can enhance their lives,” says Buttery, who now councils others through her business Nutrition by Heidi in Redwood City, Calif.

Feeling inspired, but don’t know where to begin? Buttery and Newlon shared some helpful tips to get you started, plus a recipe you can try right now!

Boost anti-inflammatory foods

Some of Buttery’s favorites include: coconut oil, wild-caught salmon, spices (like turmeric, cinnamon and cloves) and dark leafy greens. For something sweeter, try fresh pineapple or cherries. According to Buttery, these foods speed up recovery, provide consistent energy and strengthen the immune system via increased blood flow.

Take a high-quality multi-vitamin and fish oil

Athletes generally have a higher requirement for minerals and vitamins than others due to stress placed upon their systems by exercise and heavy training. Even with a healthy diet, it can be hard to get an adequate intake of micronutrients due to a lack of quality topsoil in our farmlands says Buttery. Fish oil is important because it contains Omega-3 Fatty Acids, which help to reduce inflammation, muscle soreness and joint pain.

Reduce inflammatory oils

Avoiding industrial made oils—such as canola, vegetable, safflower, sunflower and soybean—will boost overall health and reduce muscle soreness.

Reduce dietary sugars

Sugar’s tantalizing hold and empty calories are wreaking havoc on your system. Reducing it, especially when it comes to working out, will help your body shift to burning fat, which is good for your waistline and steady energy. Cutting back on sugar also reduces inflammation and strengthens your immune system. Even when you know the benefits, it may not be easy to ditch your afternoon soda (diet sodas have the same inflammatory effect) or the candy bar fix and late night bowl of ice cream, but the longer you go without, the less you’ll crave it.

Increase consumption of healthy fats

Avocados, olive oil, coconut oil, flax, raw nuts and chia seeds have healing properties. Buttery says an added bonus is that they provide steady fuel for longer workouts.

Hydrate!

Drinking water and herbal teas throughout the day will keep your body hydrated and functioning optimally. Staying hydrated ensures your body can transport essential vitamins and minerals throughout and use them for energy.

Upgrade energy bars and drinks

Many manufacturers are incorporating real food into bars and drinks. Look for low-sugar, recognizable and pronounceable ingredients, and bars containing high-quality fats.

Season your food

Season food with sea salt, cracked black pepper, fresh herbs (never dried because, according to Newlon, they have “zero flavor and even less nutritional value”) and lemon zest/juice. Newlon, who is steadfast about seasoning, says both the fresh herbs and the lemon zest provide strong health benefits while also brightening up the flavor of any dish, ditto with salt and pepper.

“If we can stay excited about a way of eating, we are more likely to stay on track, which can only help make for a great race season,” Newlon says. “Eating clean, well-seasoned whole foods provides this.”

Find a build-to-suit, clean-eating recipe from Newlon to fuel winter workouts at Competitor.com.