The food we eat is used as fuel so we can do the things that we want to. With the huge variety of opinion on what makes a “good diet” and the rise of the “fad diet”, it is easy to put nutrition into the too hard basket. Here at Sports Lab, while we don’t currently have a dietitian on our immediate team, our experiences working alongside these professionals have lead us to have the stance that the food we eat is important for our well-being and performance.
While working and training in Kenya, I observed a typical Kenyan runners diet. The local diet is mostly vegetarian, mainly because eating vegetarian is easy. Meat is a luxury and beans/vegetables are cheap and easily sourced. While some meat was available (goat or chicken), the intake was rare. The diet was carbohydrate heavy with vegetables and grains being the dominant source. While having beans and avocados were common, the amount of proteins and fats available were less than if I had a steady diet of meat. I have experimented with a vegetarian diet back in New Zealand so this was not new to me, but having less available alternatives was a struggle at times.
The fresh food that we ate greatly depended on the availability of it being at the market. This often made it difficult to get the right amount of nutrients needed to sustain the energy requirements to live at altitude for a long period of time. We will have a blog coming out in the future talking a bit more about this, so keep a look out!
Kenyan runners eat the Kenyan diet because that is what is available to them. It’s not so much a deliberate choice, it’s bred from circumstance. So the question is- do we need to eat like a Kenyan to run like a Kenyan? This is a complex and controversial topic. The risk of the “Kenyan diet” is that you may not get the required macro and micronutrients that are needed to sustain your energy requirements that are demanded from your training load and environment. If this continues for a lengthened period of time there is a potential for ongoing issues such as weight loss, low energy, lack of sleep on injury.
There are many reasons why the Kenyan diet works for them, they grew up on the same diet and this has been the case for generations. For those of us living in the western world, changing our diet drastically may be hard on us both mentally and physically as the body needs time to adapt and adjust to the nutrients we feed it. It is important to note that the diet that many of the Kenyans eat might not be the optimal diet for them, but it is the best of what is available to them. Differentiating between what would be considered the ‘perfect diet’ for endurance runners and comparing it to endurance runners that have limited resources or restrictions is an important point of discussion with nutrition as it makes the essential argument that with food, it is different for everyone and getting the balance between macronutrients and micronutrients is challenging.
So while Kenyans runners are undoubtedly talented, we are definitely not recommending that everyone should be incorporating this diet into their own training plan. Simply, food is fuel. Eat well and make sure you are getting enough for the demands you put on your body. And if you have any doubt, or have particularly high energy demands, consult a dietitian.
But if you did want to get a taste of a staple in the Kenyan diet you could try the recipe below. Chapati is one of the local delicacies and often accompanies breakfast, lunch and/or dinner.
How To Cook Chapati
•Prep time: 1 hr
•Cook time: 30 mins
•Yields: 3 servings
What you’ll need:
2 and 1/2 Cups of All-purpose Flour (Plus extra for kneading and dusting)
2 Tbsp of Oil
1 tsp of salt to taste
1 tsp of sugar to taste
Oil to fry
1 cup warm Water
1. In a bowl put 2 1/2 cups of flour, add salt and sugar
2. Add 1 cup of warm water
3. Mix the flour and water to form a thick paste
4. Add more flour to make it thicker, if needed
5. Apply the 2 tbsp oil to the dough once you have attained the right extensibility and elasticity
6. Cover the dough for 30 minutes. This makes the chapati dough to rest and spreading it becomes very easy
7. Once the 30 minutes are over, roll your chapati dough into small ball according to the number of chapati you want to make
8. Spread each chapati dough ball with a wooden rolling pin into circular flat bread adding flour where necessary so as to avoid the bread from sticking to the surface
9. Heat oil in a pan and fry each chapati
10. Put your cooked chapati in a covered container. Serve after 20 minutes with a meal of your choice.
About the author: Luke McCallum is a Sports Lab massage therapist and events manager. Originating from the ‘Naki’, a passion for running and the outdoors is in his blood. Luke puts an emphasis on preventative health care and believes in the importance of a multi-faceted approach to treatment.