Eating right a work in progress

Courtesy of Summer Sanders

Summer on the Run is a 12-week blog and video series that follows former Olympic swimmer and avid runner Summe Sanders on her journey to train for Disney's Princess Half Marathon on Feb. 24. Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, she will share training tips, and a little inspiration, as she gears up for the main event. Use hashtag #GoRun on Twitter to follow Summer and be part of the ongoing conversation.

I've worked on my nutrition a lot over the years because I struggle with how to get it right. So much has changed since I was a swimmer, and as a runner, I've also had to adjust what my body needs and when.

When I was training for the Chicago Marathon, I would eat a cup of cereal after an 18-mile long run, and then I'd have to get out the door with nothing but a granola bar in my hand. I can't change my busy schedule with my kids, but I can work harder to improve in this area. I think it's a part of training that most of us find difficult.

When you look back at my generation of swimmers, the nutrition tips we received 25 years ago are the reverse of what we know to be true today. We were in the carb era, so we were told to load up the night before our meets. We barely thought about the other nutrients we needed, such as getting enough protein and fat to fuel an endurance swim workout. And we were competing at an Olympic level.

I remember eating a bowl of cereal for breakfast at 4:07 a.m. before practice, and I wouldn't eat again until school lunch at noon. What was I thinking? Healthy snacks would have been just one more thing to pack in my bag and, at 15 years old, I didn't worry about it. I realize now that I was a teenager and I needed someone to tell me it was important. I just didn't know any better. We've all learned a lot since then, even the experts. I've gotten better in this area, so I can pass on those lessons my kids.

I know I'm not perfect at giving my body what it needs to refuel after a run. Recognizing my bad habits has helped me pay more attention to what I eat. I have been known to rush through my day without making nutrition a priority, so I work hard to prepare healthy snacks in advance of my runs and while the kids are at school. I've had to change my mind set on eating so I can be a better runner and give myself the fuel I need.

A lot of my struggles with nutrition date back to my swimming days. I was a super skinny, young girl who would go through hours of intense training. Afterward, I'd be famished, but I had a two-hour trip home before dinner. When I did my hardest workouts, I often ate less; I was too tired to think about food. Looking back on that time in my life, I've since learned what was detrimental. I've had to undo some of those bad habits I picked up as a young athlete. I was a successful swimmer despite poor nutrition, and I'm so glad I understand it a little better now.

Being a pro athlete doesn't mean you treat your body right, even though it's so important to what you do. Being a runner and training for important races has taught me more about how to fuel than swimming ever did. I realize it's a process and part of the commitment.

After a long run, I can't afford to be too tired to pick up the kids and get everything done, so it's part necessity and part knowledge. If I eat right and I show my kids how to do it at an early age, they can be healthy eaters for life, without struggling with it as much as I have.

Summer's favorite feel-good-yet-healthy snack is peanut butter balls. They are perfect for a busy mom to make with the kids; Summer, Skye and Spider love to follow the recipe together. You can't beat a homemade snack with peanut butter and coconut rolled up into small bites of sweetness!

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