We hope that you are well on your way to meeting your fitness goal, or at least taking a few steps forward. Last week we encouraged you to start a six-week run/walk plan. This week we challenge you to eat better.

Exercising and eating better go hand in hand. Good food boosts your energy level, so you’re more likely to enjoy your exercise routine. And when you feel good exercising you’re motivated to continue eating better. Once you’re in the cycle, you’ll be unstoppable!

So what’s the trick to eating well?

Maintaining a healthier diet doesn’t have to be complicated.

At our house we follow the advice of Hanna Feeney at Nourishing Results. We try to keep it simple by paying attention to five key nutrient classes for runners: water, carbohydrate, protein, fat, and vitamins/minerals/phytonutrients.

  • Water
  • : Water delivers nutrients to working muscles and helps regulate body temperature. You should always drink water with your meals and when you’re thirsty throughout the day. As Tucson temperatures climb over the coming month, you should aim for drinking 4 to 8 ounces of fluids every 30 minutes of exercise. Tired of water? Diluted sports drinks and fruit juices are helpful during exercise.
  • Carbohydrates:
  • Carbohydrates provide muscle-fueling energy. If you’re an athlete, carbs should make up at least 50 percent of your diet. Healthy sources include whole grain breads, pasta, brown rice, cereals, oatmeal, fruits, vegetables, potatoes, corn, beans, and low-fat dairy products.
  • Protein
  • : Protein provides the building blocks for protein synthesis, which allows for cell function, mental energy and recovery from exercise. Depending on your tastes, good proteins include egg whites; poultry with no skin; canned tuna or chicken; lean ground turkey, chicken or beef. Don’t want to eat meat? That’s OK — you can get protein from nuts and nut-butters, tofu, green soybeans, low-fat dairy products, and soy milk.
  • Fats
  • : Fats get a bad rap — not all fats are bad for you. You need fat-rich food for optimal cell function, hormone balance and energy. Fatty fishes like salmon, nuts and nut-butters, avocado, olive oil and canola oil provide good fats.
  • Vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients:
  • These are the micronutrients that allow fats, proteins, and carbohydrates to be used most efficiently. In essence, eat as much healthy color as you can. Blue candy eggs are not what we mean by that. Broccoli, radish, berries, tomatoes, carrots, beets, and more can fit the bill.

Don’t worry – you can still eat some sweets. Reward yourself, but don’t go crazy.

  • Tip:
  • The Rule of Half.

In the 15 to 30 minutes before you exercise, try eating a couple of halves: half a piece of toast, half a banana, half a bagel, half a bowl of oatmeal or half a hard-boiled egg. It’s generally better to exercise on a slightly empty stomach rather than a full stomach, so give yourself a bit of energy without overloading your system.

Randy and Tia Accetta are longtime runners and the parents of two young children. Tia is a Road Runners Club of America certified coach. She coaches individuals, the Sam Hughes Elementary School team, the Tucson Tri-Girls and the Workout Group, the longest-running training group in Tucson. Her marathon best is 2:48:05. As the director of coaching education for the RRCA, Randy certifies running coaches around the country. He is the producer of a number of running events, including TMC Meet Me Downtown 5K.