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Fruits & Veggies: Do you eat too few?

Exercise may not cause overeating

Feeling ashamed and embarrassed, many runners “confess” they eat too few fruits and vegetables. They totally understand that fruits and veggies are good for their health and better than vitamin pills, but they can’t figure out how to enjoy them more often — or how to get inspired to learn to like them. Sound familiar? Maybe this article will help you boost your intake of these healthful sports foods.

by Nancy Clark MS RD CSSD

I know I should more fruit for snacks, but I just don’t…

When hunger strikes, a piece of fruit is unlikely to be your snack of first choice because it is not very hearty. That is, calorie-dense apple pie with ice cream can easily be far more appealing than just an apple. One solution: plan to make the snack heartier by pairing fruit with protein. For example, enjoy an apple (or grapes) with cheese; smear a banana with peanut butter; or combine raisins with nuts. Would that boost the snack-appeal?

How many fruits/veggies are enough?

Ideally, you should eat a fruit or vegetable at each meal. If you don’t/won’t/can’t do that, at least eat a pile of veggies with dinner to compensate for no produce at the other meals. You could also create a loaded smoothie at breakfast that has enough fruit (and veg) for the whole day. Other suggestions include:

Breakfast: large banana on cereal; lots of berries in yogurt; tall glass of orange juice

Lunch: extra tomato and spinach in a wrap; big bowl of fruit salad; large apple (with cheese) for dessert

Snacks: tart cherry, grape or blueberry juice; banana (with peanut butter); dates; dried pineapple; V-8 juice

Dinner: Pre-dinner, munchies: baby carrots (with hummus), cherry tomatoes; At dinner: big pile of cooked veggies; extra-large side salad.

The more you eat, the more nutrients you get.

Eight ounces of orange juice offers all the vitamin C you need for the day. So does one stalk of cooked broccoli and half a green pepper. Could you consume a taller glass of OJ, a bigger pile of broccoli, or munch on a whole pepper (like you’d eat an apple)? You’d consume double the vitamin C — plus electrolytes and many other health-boosting compounds.

What if I don’t like kale…?

Although kale is nutrient–rich, it is not the only green vegetable with health-value. Here’s how some green veggies compare, based on a 50-calorie cooked portion. (Note: “%” = % of the amount you should consume each day):


50 calories

Vit. A Vit. C Calcium Magnesium Folate

1.5 cup

188% 106% 14% 11% 6%

1.25 cup

167% 30% 30% 63% 82%

1.5 cup

16% 125% 6% 10% 40%

1.25 cup

16% 23% 5% 10% 83%


Don’t like many veggies?

Because fruits and vegetables offer similar nutrients, you can swap one for the other. That is, if you don’t enjoy red tomatoes, at least try to have red strawberries, red apples or red peppers. In general, you want to consume a variety of colors of fruits and/or veggies—and enjoy a rainbow of health:

RED strawberries, apples, watermelon, tomato

ORANGE oranges, mango, papaya, sweet potato

YELLOW pineapple, peaches, summer squash

BLUE/PURPLE blueberry, plums, eggplant, purple grapes

GREEN kiwi, honeydew melon, green grapes, broccoli, spinach, kale, peppers

WHITE banana, onion, potato, cauliflower

But they rot…

Many runners live alone, rarely cook, and get tired of wasting money tossing out rotten produce. If that’s your case, some solutions include:

  • Buy bags of frozen vegetables and fruits (freezing retains the nutrients); even canned ones are nourishing.
  • Buy the desired portion of greens and other salad (or stir-fry) ingredients at the salad bar. Instead of buying a whole head of lettuce, of which half might end up rotting in your refrigerator, buy just what you need.
  • Cook enough veggies for several days. For example, bake several sweet potatoes at once, or make a big pot of ratatouille with eggplant, tomatoes, zucchini, and onion to enjoy for the week.

Can I eat too many fruits and vegetables?

Doubtful, unless you eat them to the exclusion of other foods. For example:

  • If your dinner is just rice with stir-fried veggies (no tofu, chicken, or protein-rich food), the meal lacks adequate protein to build and repair muscles. Solution: Either add a protein, include a glass of milk with the meal, or enjoy Greek yogurt for dessert.
  • If you follow a Paleo-type diet and eat just protein and veggies for meals (no grain), your meal could easily lack adequate carbs to refuel from hard exercise. Solution: include starchy root vegetables, such as carrots and beets.
  • If you are a vegetarian and prepare pasta with just tomato sauce (no meatballs), the meal lacks protein. Solution: choose protein-enriched pasta, and add a salad with beans, nuts, extra cheese.
  • If you are dieting without success, you might be consuming more calories than you realize from yet-another handful of grapes. That (large) apple might have 150 calories, as does the bag of baby carrots. While the calories are healthful and preferable to cookies, they still count. Fruits and veggies tend to be “guilt-free” but they are not totally “calorie-free.”

Sports nutritionist Nancy Clark MS RD CSSD has a private practice in the Boston-area (Newton; 617-795-1875), where she helps both fitness exercisers and competitive athletes create winning food plans. Her best-selling Sports Nutrition Guidebook, and food guides for marathoners, cyclists and soccer players, as well as teaching materials, are available at www.nancyclarkrd.com. For online and live workshops, visit NutritionSportsExerciseCEUs.com.