To kick-off a healthy food and running series, I spoke to three of Singapore’s top runners on their eating habits.
They are Mok Ying Ren, a gold medal winner at the SEA Games marathon last year, and two of his running buddies – Ivan Low and Russell Ericksen. Ivan and Russell both run a marathon in between 2:30 to 3:00 hours. Russell has also taken part in several Ironman races in the USA – where he hails from.
So what food do these top runners tuck into? Read on, to find out.
After a hard interval training session, South East Asia’s top marathon runner, Mok Ying Ren, tucked into a healthy and wholesome bowl of steaming hot minced pork noodle soup with green leafy vegetables.
On why he had selected the healthier choice of food that evening, the 25-year-old Captain (Doctor) in the Army said, “You need to eat healthy meals because at the end of the day, you should have a very lean weight. If you eat too much fatty and oily food, you gain too much weight and that defeats the purpose.”
Added his running buddy, 29-year-old admin officer Ivan Low, “When you eat a balanced diet, including whole grains, lean meats, low-fat dairy products and fruits and vegetables, your body has the fuel it needs to manage your energy level.”
Ivan was tucking into a Thai minced chicken dish with Basil leaves and rice that evening. “I selected this dish because it contains plenty of proteins and carbohydrates,” he said. It was the perfect food to re-energize him after his intense workout.
A Healthy Daily Diet
Just like what Mok and Ivan were eating for dinner that night, the normal diet for these runners is generally quite healthy. It usually comprises of carbohydrates and proteins, with servings of vegetables.
Said fellow running buddy and A-Star researcher, 30-year-old Russell Ericksen, who has been a vegetarian for 14 years, “I always eat eggs with veggies and toast in the mornings and for lunch, I pick up a veggie burger from the shop near my workplace.” His dinner usually comprises of maybe a spinach salad served with items such as mock chicken and mashed potatoes.
Russell is a lacto-ovo vegetarian, which means that he doesn’t eat meat, but consumes animal-based produce, such as eggs and dairy products.
Ivan doesn’t have any such meat restrictions though, but he still sticks to healthy foods. For breakfast, he usually eats toast spread with peanut butter or Nutella, and fish soup or yong tau foo for lunch. He also snacks on wholesome and nutritious items, such as raisin bread, red bean buns and fruits in between meals.
And when Ivan feels like having a change, he will indulge himself in Japanese cuisine from time to time – as these foods are usually healthy, yet delicious at the same time.
Making Healthy Food Choices At Hawker Centres
Even when they are eating out at hawker centres and food courts, these runners do try and choose nutritious food choices – most of the time.
Said Russell, “Most of Singapore’s hawker dishes do not contain much much vegetables. So when we eat outside, we would try to order some veggies on the side too.”
At the same time, Russell points out that it’s not good to eat the same thing all the time. “Variety is the key. You do not want the same foods over and over again, as each veggie and food has different nutrients,” he said.
Added Russell, “And there are actually some beneficial components to eating laksa too!”
He may also order carrot cake and seafood dishes when he is at a hawker centre.
Other Food Cravings
Despite his healthy eating habits, Mok, who usually has cereals with milk for breakfast and rice with vegetables for lunch and dinner, does admit to having a craving for chicken rice, though. In fact, he considers this famous Singaporean dish as his favourite food!
Said Mok, “I love chicken rice! Quite often I eat that. It’s got carbs and proteins!” But the fat component wasn’t mentioned, though!
Sometimes, Mok eats chips in the office too. He said, “Well, the other day, I ate a whole packet of prawn crackers in the office! But of course I try not to eat it too often.”
Ivan also has his fair share of ‘cheat’ foods as well. He said, “I like to chill at a café and I am a coffee lover. Cakes and coffee are the best combination!” His favourite cakes include cheesecakes and chocolate cakes.
“But for the coffee, I will try to order the healthier choices, like skinny latte or Americano,” he added.
Satisfying their cravings with healthier food alternatives
But most of the time, these three runners do satisfy their unhealthy food cravings with healthier alternatives, though.
Said Russell, “If I am craving for something sweet, I will have an apple. And if I still have the sweet craving, then I will move on to candy. But usually I am quite satisfied when I am done with the apple.
Actually, it is a matter of consciously putting healthy food replacements into your diet to curb cravings rather than restricting yourself and eliminating the unhealthy foods altogether.”
Eating everything in moderation
But these runners definitely believe in simply eating everything in moderation, rather than steadfastly counting their calories.
Said Ivan, “I will just eat everything in moderation as long as I think that it is healthy and it benefits my body.”
A healthy diet does not happen overnight
These top runners do admit that switching to a more healthy diet is definitely not something that will happen overnight, though. Rather, it is something that certainly requires some time and commitment to succeed.
Said Mok, “You must slowly try and eliminate the unhealthy stuff that you have already been taking.”
Added Ivan, “Changing everything at once usually leads to cheating or giving up on your new eating plan. Make small steps. As your small changes become habit, you can continue to add more healthy choices to your diet.”
But you don’t have to be perfect though, and completely eliminate your favourite foods. “The long-term goal is to feel good, have more energy and reduce the risk of getting sick,” said Ivan.
Russell proudly added that he hasn’t been sick in three years, due to his healthy diet. He said, “I think the way I eat and run every day contributes to me just staying healthy. It’s not like I’m Superman or Popeye! It’s just about me being consistent with my diet.”