“Eat I do, Run I therefore”. Wise words from my Jedi master, a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. The time was the early 90’s in the waning days of my university experience; the far away galaxy was Oxford. The master was a spiritual advisor, a campus ministry director who still gives good advice from time to time. More accurately paraphrased, he said “I run so I can eat whatever I want”, as he pointed his spoon towards a bowl of homemade ice cream.
The master practiced a different daily life than I did. While he was out on the tracks, courts and athletic fields of campus, I was back at the student center sneaking spoonfuls of frosting out of the birthday cake supply closet. To be sure, I felt a responsibility to keep such things from going to waste. But you get the picture.
Strangely, this moment in time, this quote, has never left my memory. There must be a reason. Until recently I had not heeded his indirect advice, but this week I hit a milestone – or rather, a 3.1 miles-stone. This week I finished the C25K program. C25K stands for “Couch to 5k”, and is a nine week program designed to get even the most beginning runner from virtual inactivity (the couch) to the ability to run a 5k race. It only took me three, maybe four, unsuccessful starts - and only about sixteen weeks from “C” to 5k on this last attempt - to finish.
There have only been two other times in my life when I have ever done this much aerobic exercise -in the late 80’s I was forced to take a series of one-credit PE classes just to have enough hours to keep a scholarship, and in 2004 I did actually run a couple of 5k races. I hope the third time is the proverbial charm. Up to now, though, the runner’s high I’ve always heard about has eluded me. The runner’s high is thought to be a rush of endorphins – the body’s natural opiates – that comes after intense exercise, and can bring anything from pain relief or mild euphoria to decreased stress, just to name a few of the benefits. So far I am liking this.
I may have been on a runner’s high when my train of thought began to focus on the dining car. If there is a runner’s high, could there possibly be an eater’s high as well? I can certainly testify to feeling pretty doggone good, even giddy, after memorable meals, reunions with childhood comfort foods, or after-church homemade ice cream socials. But I wondered if there might be a bit more science to it. Lo and behold there is.
It turns out that certain foods are natural triggers for endorphin release. The two foods that most often popped up in my perusal of the subject on the world-wide interweb were chocolate and hot peppers. Chocolate contains fats, sugars, and phenylethylamine – all of which are triggers for endorphin release. So yes, there is a scientific reason chocolate is often the go-to food for break-up therapy, anger management, and lost Egg Bowls. It really does make you feel better. It is not completely surprising that hot peppers - the hotter the better - also instigate a rush. But ironically, in this case the agent sending out the endorphin rescue squad is the same one that caused the pain in the first place. Go figure.
Other foods, especially fruits like strawberries, bananas, and oranges contain molecular building blocks necessary for the body to produce endorphins. Ditto for nuts, sesame seeds, and wholegrain pasta. I was especially happy to see that ice cream also made the list, because of the vitamins in the milk, plus the fat and sugar components. This must explain why I crave ice cream with lots of chunks and swirls.
I’ve been thinking about what the perfect pre-run endorphin-releasing power food might be, because the uninitiated should know that the runner’s high comes only after the run, not usually in the first fifteen minutes, when I need it the most. Perhaps a chunk of banana, dipped in dark chocolate, and sprinkled with Tabasco salt? Let’s freeze the banana, too, for a cool-down effect. Or take it to the next level: a small cup of banana ice cream chunked with spicy peanuts and swirled with a chocolate-orange ribbon. These recipes in development may sound odd at first, but perhaps no stranger than the bottle of beer I was offered (at 9 am) after the last 5k I ran.
As tends to be the case, my quest for answers on this subject left me with a question. One of the articles I read mentioned another endorphin trigger: moist heat. Runner’s high I get – finally. Eater’s high makes perfect sense, and explains a lot about my life. But a Mississippi humidity high? Still waiting for that one to kick in.
Jay Reed is a local foodie and pharmacist. The culinary tastes expressed here are his and do not necessarily reflect the appetites of the Starkville Daily News or individual members of its staff. He welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org .