Put simply, a whole food eating plan or lifestyle rejects processed food and encourages the consumption of foods that are as close to their natural form as possible.
Whole grains replace refined grains whenever possible, and fruits, vegetables and beans replace supplements when it comes to getting sufficient fibre and vitamins.
A typical whole food meal could be a skinless chicken piece cooked with fresh herbs and lemon, rather than crumbed chicken nuggets processed with added fats, flavours and preservatives. Or, a baked potato with chopped chives and light sour cream instead of a bag of cheese and chives crisps.
Christine Barrow (38) is from Durbanville in the Western Cape. She is a running coach, nutrition guru and spends her free time exploring the wine farm trails and surrounding mountains of Franschhoek. Typically, Christine runs 2 to 3 times a week, in between crossfit workouts. After a deep vein thrombosis diagnosis in December 2017, she has had to give up distance running.
“I try and use wholefoods as much as possible when I run or do any exercise. I choose to exclude the sweet gels and energy jellies and include real food 90% of the time, including salt.
6 years ago I reassessed my nutrition after being hospitalised during an Ironman event. I had neglected my nutrition during training and racing, and ended up with severe dehydration and stomach cramps. I sought the help of a sports dietitian who helped me with a wholefood eating plan.
The changes in my training were immediate – within days of changing up my diet and excluding all sweet, processed items I had used before. I had more energy for longer and my stomach cramps were long gone.
I do find that having to carry wholefoods isn't always as convenient as carrying gels or bars. Bank bags are my life savers now!”
As with any eating plan, there are misconceptions around what whole food is, or is not.
“Whole food” includes produce of any kind. Fresh vegetables such as leafy greens, carrots, avocados, radishes, cucumbers, squash, and sweet potatoes. Fresh or dried fruit such as apples, pears, oranges, watermelon, tomatoes, grapes, and bananas. Dairy products without added sugar or chemical flavourings such as plain greek yogurt. Meat, poultry, and fish that is baked, roasted, grilled, or boiled. Legumes, nuts, and products made from them such as hummus and nut butter as long as it’s made without added sugar, unhealthy fats, or chemicals
“Whole food” excludes anything with chemical ingredients, or ingredients that you can’t pronounce! It also excludes most foods out of a box (e.g. rehydrated mashed potatoes, crackers, or cookies). And most prepared meals in the freezer aisle.
“Athletes, in general, feel that supplements and processed foods are going to miraculously change their racing and training performance. Many people I know think that preparing wholefoods takes hours, which is not true at all. It does require some planning and prep work beforehand but it takes me 5-10 minutes to whip something up. I also find that many athletes don't test nutrition in training and then get to race day and end up with tummy issues.”
Christine enjoys date and oat protein balls during tracing or training, and as her recovery meal she opts for L-Glutamine, grilled chicken breast, a baked sweet potato and fresh tomatoes with a dollop of fat free cottage cheese, topped with coriander.
She advises athletes to try various types of fuel during training, and stick to what works for you for racing. Avoiding the “quick fix” mentality is key, as is mixing it up creatively when preparing food and trying new recipes.
60g raw oats
150g Muscle Wellness Organic whey protein powder
4 tablespoons Monkey Nut peanut butter
1 tablespoon flaxseed oil
1/4 cup chopped/broken dark chocolate pieces
1/4 cup chopped dates
1/4 cup unsweetened Almond Breeze almond milk
Mix all ingredients into a large bowl except chocolate chips and dates. Use a spoon and a fork to break apart all the ingredients. Mix in chocolate chips and the dates. Use your hands to form balls, you will need to squeeze and roll it in your hands to make it stick. Place the balls into a container with a lid refrigerate for 3 hours.