On The Run With Organic
CLIF athlete and ultrarunner Stephanie Howe, 33, credits her mom for her current passion for organic, wholesome foods.
“My mom grew up on a small farm in southern Minnesota,” says Howe. “So we grew up eating real food. That’s what she knew: everything comes from the ground and you make everything homemade.” When Howe was 12, she remembers her mom making her own yogurt. “That was really out there back then!”
That philosophy of eating whole foods has stuck with her — and now she eats a mostly organic diet. “Food is really important to me,” says Howe, who has a Ph.D. in nutrition and exercise physiology from Oregon State University. In addition to racing, she is a sports nutritionist and private coach to endurance athletes in Bend, Oregon, where she lives with her husband, ultrarunner Zach Violett, and their dog, Riley.
“Though we need more research to determine if organic foods are, in general, more nutritious than conventional foods, we do know they are grown and raised without potentially dangerous herbicides and pesticides,” Howe says. “As an athlete, I don’t want to put chemicals in my body. And I would rather eat things that are real, not created in a laboratory. You want food that’s produced in a way that’s going to be good for you, good for the earth, you know — good for everyone.”
Finding the Right Distance
Howe didn’t become an ultrarunner until 2009. Though she ran cross country at her Minnesota high school, she never loved it. It was cross country skiing she adored, and continued to pursue competitively in college. “I just loved it. I wanted to be a skier so badly,” recalls Howe. But at a certain point she had to accept that she had a natural talent for running. She was a two-time, NCAA Division II All-American. It wasn’t until grad school in Bozeman, Montana, where she would run on the trails and in the mountains, that she truly fell in love with long distance running.
“I kind of dabbled in half-marathon distances. Then I moved to Bend and they had a 50K and that was my introduction to ultras,” she says, laughing. “I hadn’t really heard of them! It’s been a gradual progression up from there. The longer the race, the better.”
Howe's Food Philosophy
During the summer, when she and Violett buy most of their produce from a farm stand near their house in Bend, 100 percent of their food is organic. “Most have organic certification but some of it is just grown with organic principles,” explains Howe (i.e., the farmers don’t use synthetic pesticides and herbicides but haven’t gone to the trouble of applying for official organic certification through the USDA). The rest of the year, the couple buys as much organic food as possible, even if it has to come from further away.
Yet Howe tries not to be dogmatic about the organic label. “Organic is good, but it actually has to be food,” Howe says. “People go out and get organic sandwich cookies! It’s more important that you eat whole foods. An organic donut and a donut are not that different, nutritionally speaking.”
Miles Mean Many Meals
During prime training season, Howe runs over 70 miles a week. Hence she needs to eat a lot.
“I eat 6-7 times a day to keep my energy sustained,” Howe says.
Though each day is different, breakfast is always coffee and some kind of carbohydrate and protein — oatmeal with milk and blueberries, for example. (Occasionally she’ll have a spoonful or two of peanut butter on the side.) “Sometimes I have a smoothie and a croissant — that’s one of my favorites! Oh, and usually I have two breakfasts: one before I train and one after.” If she’s running early in the morning, she’ll have a CLIF Bar before or during her run. “I’m really into the nut butter-filled bars right now.” She likes Clif products because the ingredients are minimal — and mostly organic. “I hardly go a day without eating a Clif product.”
Lunch is usually a grain — rice or quinoa — and something left over from last night’s dinner. “Today it was butternut squash soup that I made the other night, an apple, and yogurt with granola on top.” And then, an afternoon snack. Dinner is similar to lunch: a grain, a vegetable, a protein, and a fat. “And definitely dessert,” says Howe. Her favorite indulgence? A Bend-made gelato called Bontà. Otherwise, she makes her own ice cream from scratch. On her website, she posts recipes for dishes such as weekday bread and arugula salad with roasted delicata squash, goat cheese, pepitas and currants.
“There’s a point in your life where you assume that the earth is supporting you and then there’s a point where you’re like, no, I have to support the earth,” says Howe, reflectively. For her, that realization came in her early 20s, and she’s been buying organic food ever since. “When you start to educate yourself, it’s kind of a no brainer.”
Stephanie Howe is a CLIF-sponsored athlete.