First, I am not a health professional, nutritionist, scientist, or anything else that gives me authority to speak on this subject. All I have is my own experiences to share. But, real life daily experience can sometimes put the puzzle pieces together pretty well. Of course ultimately, you have to do what is best for you and make decisions that resonate with the full picture of your current health.
I first want to recommend an amazing book written by two people who ARE completely qualified to speak on this subject! The Paleo Diet for Athletes explained all the science of the matter and has great advice specifically for endurance athletes.
Second, I will just hurry up already and tell you how and what I eat and how it affects my running. I don’t count calories, macros, or anything at all, I eat the things that appeal to me and I eat portions that are filling, which winds up for me being 3 large meals a day and a snack or two depending on how I feel. To sum it all up, here are my 5 basic rules I have come to follow with my nutrition:
1. Replenish calories as I burn them. Since changing my diet I don’t do the late-night-carb thing anymore, and that means I am ready to eat a big meal after my morning run. On a run longer than 6 miles I am craving some extra carbs along with lots of protein and veggies which usually means sweet potatoes or plantains added to my breakfast. I just have come to love those foods, and they leave me feeling energized, satisfied, digesting well. I also do a better job of refueling on the run now that my digestion has improved. I can surprisingly eat Lara Bars (the ones without peanuts or added sugar) during a long run and feel great. I also use PowerBar Performance Engery Blends before, during, and after long runs and they are yummy, and crazy easy to digest.
2. Eat Foods that are Easy to Digest. It is worth experimenting to see which foods work best for your own personal digestion. There is a lot to be gained from eating what our bodies are happy with. Find out what makes yours happy! In the past I had trouble properly nourishing myself because I was reacting badly to many “runner friendly” foods like bagels, cereals, and pasta. I was always questioning whether a food would bother me and never knew what the heck to eat to support my running!
- “Carb Loading” is Not Loading At All. You do not need massive amounts of carbs to run well! Yes, you need glycogen to access as well as fat to convert into fuel, but eating bagels and pasta all day before a race is just not necessary and for me, just made me sick. I experimented during training by replacing some meat and veggies with more dense carb sources the day before a long run and these small changes seemed to work really well. Sweet potatoes, bananas, sauteed apples or other fruits, some pears with chopped nuts, beets (omg love beets!) and plantains are all things I eat more of when I want to build glycogen stores. I also drink coconut water before and after longer runs.
4. Focus on Improving and Maintaining Overall Health. I feel better as an athlete when I feel better as a human being. There’s no escaping this in my opinion. You may be able to get by for a while putting nutrition on the backburner, but the things we ignore have a way of catching up with us no matter how fast or long we run from them. Take care of your body, your soul, your life, and be honest about what you aren’t happy with. Using running or any other athletic pursuits to mask a lingering problem will not fix the problem. I have learned this over and over again and it’s something I really have to think about on a daily basis to “catch” potentially unhealthy patterns.
5. Do Not Be Afraid of Nutritious Food (or any food really). As athletes or people who do regular exercise, once we know what makes us healthy, what we personally tolerate best and what makes us thrive, there is no need to “fear” any type of food. Let me explain. “Fear” as I am writing it is a sort of irrational avoidance mainly because of something unknown or not understood. You can decide you aren’t going to eat bagels because they give you stomach cramps and headaches and that is not being afraid of bagels.
For me, for a long time I tried to steer clear of fat because I thought it was just a bunch of extra calories that wouldn’t benefit me in any way. I was plain wrong and unaware of its benefits. It was irrational. Once I started eating a lot of fat in the form of olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, ghee, nuts and seeds, avocados, and fattier meats, the satisfaction I felt made me realize how deprived I was in the past. Our bodies need fat carbs and protein. No need to count or obsess though. Find out the general amounts that feel right and don’t be afraid that it’s too much of this, too little of that, and just eat to your own personal satisfaction. It makes everything in your life better, including running of course! For additional help on this check out Whole9life, one of my fav’s!
So how does nutrition affect your training? How do you fuel long runs? What has worked for you and what hasn’t? What are your thoughts on carbs for runners and other endurance athletes?