Real Food with Steph: Q&A Edition

You asked, and Stephanie Violett answered! We put the call out on social media to submit your real food, fuel, and nutrition questions to our resident Ph.D in Exercise & Nutrition Science and professional ultra runner, and got some great questions in return.  

Big thank you to Steph for these thoughtful and super helpful answers! Be on the look out for her blog column Real Food with Steph for more recipes and real food tips.


Did your studies ever mention a low inflammatory diet to treat depression/anxiety?
A link between eating a healthy diet and lower incidence of depression has been established. A well rounded diet that includes all essential nutrients can lower risk for depression, along with many other diseases. 

In a study* examining 2,077 Finnish men, dietary patterns and incidence of depressive symptoms were investigated. The findings indicated that a diet rich in folate, and a healthy diet that included vegetables, fruit, berries, whole-grains, poultry, fish, and cheese, were associated with a decreased risk of depression. 

This was not a cause and effect, study, so it doesn’t mean eating these foods will prevent or cure depression, but it does mean there is a relationship. On the flip side, this study also found that unhealthy dietary patterns, including consumption of processed meats, sugar-containing desserts and snacks, sugary drinks, processed foods, French rolls, and processed potatoes, was associated with an increased prevalence of elevated depression symptoms. 

I’d take this to mean that diet quality is important. Focus on real food, especially vegetables, fruit, berries, whole-grains, poultry, fish, and cheese, since they were associated with a lower disk of depressive symptoms. I don’t think this way of eating needs to be restrictive, or cut out all other foods, just focus on getting the majority of your energy from these choices. 

What race nutrition would you recommend for someone who can’t stomach gels and has a sensitive stomach overall? Would you ever recommend more ‘real food' options?
I would say, first, to try some different brands of gels. Look for a gel with maltodextrin (or sucrose) and fructose listed on the ingredients in that order. The best type of sugar to consume is a 2:1 ratio of maltodextrin to fructose because they are transported on different receptors in the gut and will get into the blood stream faster, reducing the risk of GI issues and providing energy. If gels are an issue, then I’d try blocks. They are very much the same type of sugar and are quickly absorbed. I don’t usually recommend real food during running. Save that for on your plate during meals. Most real food that has fiber will require some digestion, which doesn’t happen while you are running, especially in a race situation. Keep in mind that no one really likes gels, so it might take some time to get used to them. Playing around with different brands should help, as the flavor and viscosity are different. You should be able to find a combination of gels, blocks, and sports drink that sits well in your stomach and provides the necessary energy. 


Adding variety to my diet is difficult — how do I avoid getting stuck in a rut? Also, finding family friendly, healthy meals is challenging, tips on resources would be great!
I love to look at food blogs with beautiful photography to inspire ideas. I don’t follow recipes very often, but seeing some different foods paired together can help inspire me to be creative. I think if you focus on eating with the seasons, and emphasizing the foods that are at their peak ripeness, it naturally causes you to vary your eating patterns. Being flexible and trying new foods is also a great way to avoid a rut. When you grocery shop or go out to eat, order new things rather than the same each time. Pick colorful produce and use fresh herbs in your cooking. This also helps to mix up the flavors and keep your taste buds happy.


What is the best post workout/long run meal?
The most important thing is to get something in within 30 minutes of finishing. This time window is crucial for starting the recovery process, and one of the keys to optimizing your training. My favorite post-run option is chocolate milk, because it’s easy to sip on and has the perfect ratio of carbohydrates to protein. Ideally you want 4:1 carbohydrates to protein, but it’s more important to get something in rather than focus on the exact ratio. Choose a food that is mostly simple carbohydrate, with a little protein. Something like a banana with nut butter, kefir, or even a latte, are all good choices. 

Simple foods are ideal right before, during, and after a workout. Save the complex options for meal time and focus on simple things that will get into your body quickly!

>> Try Steph's post-workout smoothie.

What are your go to pre-race and post-race foods?
Pre-race I like to keep it simple. My main meal is rice, eggs, and avocado. For a 100-miler I don’t want to risk any stomach issues, so I don’t eat any vegetables the day before. The morning of is very similar: eggs, rice, avocado, and coffee. Usually a gel or blocks right before the start. 

But that’s what works me for me. Everyone is different, so try out different foods to find your perfect combination. Use each long run as an opportunity to try out your fueling- both pre-run and during. I think long runs are a great dress rehearsal for the big event. Thus, when race day comes you are confident in your fueling plan. 

>> Check out Steph's fueling on the fly tips.

I am a vegetarian who recently found out I have an allergy to Casein. Do you have any 'real food' protein and calcium recommendations? Thanks!
There are so many foods that have protein in them, so focusing on plant-based sources is not an issue. If you are at all flexible, I’d encourage the consumption of eggs to get one high quality protein source. If not, my top plant-based protein recommendations are: lentils, green peas, black beans, hemp seeds, chia seeds, quinoa, almonds, walnuts, sesame seeds, and edamame. Keep in mind that none of these options has all essential amino acids, so you will have to eat several of these options at each meal to fulfill your needs. It’s not hard, but it does require more planning to ensure you aren’t missing out on nutrients. 

>> Try Steph's Post-Run Fried Zucchini and Eggs with Avocado Basil Sauce.

What do you eat to help cure the insatiable hunger (or “runger”) that comes during peak training? I feel like I’m just constantly starving and never full!
Likely you just need more fuel, particularly protein. I like to have more food in the form of snacks between meals and before bed. Consuming dairy protein before bed can help you recover better overnight and wake up not wanting to chew your arm off. When considering snacks, avoid the temptation to reach for snack foods such as bars, candy, packaged stuff. Instead, have mini meals prepared, such a rice + avocado, toast with peanut butter + banana, slice of frittata, etc. Preparing food ahead of time greatly helps with this. When you are hungry, it’s really easy to just reach for a convenience food. Have nutritious options available so you can quickly grab and go.

>> Try Steph's highly packable Ginger-Pumpkin Skillet Bread.

Breakfast — protein or carb heavy?
Both. A good breakfast contains carbohydrate, protein, and fat. It shouldn’t be skewed one way or another. My favorite breakfast is toast, eggs, and avocado. I think many traditional breakfast options contain very little protein and a lot of sugar (ahem, cereal). Stay away from those types of options. Instead, think of pairing a high quality protein (eggs, beans, nut butter, yogurt) with a nutrient dense carbohydrate (sweet potato, rolled oats, sourdough bread, banana, vegetables) and topped with some fat (avocado, nut butter, olive oil, butter). That’s a recipe for success (ha!).

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* Ruusunen, Anu. Diet and depression. Publications of the University of Eastern Finland. Dissertations in Health Science, no 185, September 2013.