When I heard Kilian Jornet say that he basically survives off of Nutella and pizza, which was then reinforced by that awesome/ damned Jenn Shelton who famously quipped that “you can eat anything so long as you keep the furnace hot enough”, I threw caution to the wind and… completely f**ked up my sleep, energy levels and, ultimately, one race after another.
Then I started listening to Timothy Olson and Scott Jurek and, before I knew it, I was skinny as a rake, bonking on every run over 20k and riding an emotional roller coaster that was, make no mistake, just as wicked and vomit-inducing as quitting smoking was.
Then the 100 mile diet.
Slow cooking. Organic. Non-GMO.
Etc., etc., etc.
At a race not so long ago, my wife was, in a funny way, discussing this with a a fellow runner’s wife who said “oh yeah, they’re all like that.”
And we are — obsessive. Dedicated. Neurotic. Focussed. Fickle.
But like Malcolm Gladwell’s outliers, we also have the 10, 000 hours (or at least kilometres) to have a thing or seven figured out. At least for ourselves. So, don’t take this as the be-all-end-all in running meal plans, but it might help a bit if you’re getting going on this long distance thing, or remind you of how to play nice if you’ve been at it for a bit and are getting a little crusty…
- As the smarty pants Michael Pollen in his book ‘In defense of food’ said: Eat food, mostly plants, not too much, and BAM! it’s pretty much as simple as that… with the following smarty pants qualifiers… ‘Food’ is here to be understand as in ‘not plastic’, as in not from a box, as in locally grown where possible, as in righteous/ from the earth goodness. Food, that is, as nutritious, life giving and delicious. Next, by ‘plants’ we mean things that grow in the ground, on trees or in bushes and low lying plants. This includes fruits and vegies, nuts and seeds and all that awesome stuff. ‘Not too much’… man, there’s the rub, right? Don’t stuff yourself. Don’t have to unbutton your jeans. Have some humility. If you need a nap after dinner… well, it had better be Christmas.
- Like Dr. Sheehan said about your body as a whole, listen to your guts extra close. Seriously, if it makes your bowels gurgle, your colon hurt, your #2 weird colours (except red after you eat a bushel of beets, that’s cool), or your burps especially frequent or painful, cut it out… regardless of what your personal health guide says. And if what you took out was a cornerstone of your nutrition (like nuts as a solid source of protein and fat) make sure you replace it with something else (like avocados… avocados are good).
- The real drag is that just like we would love some serious permanence in our otherwise obviously ephemeral lives in somekind of grand philosophical/ existential sense, when it comes to food, what works one day may not work the next. As such, you have to be aware of some fairly obvious things that definitely have huge impact on what you should be eating — weather and, by extension, seasons (eat heavier in the cold, lighter in the heat), where you are in the training rotation (lighter during hard sections, maybe a little more liberally during down times, with healing foods in mind during recovery), how you are feeling (don’t eat gels when you are feeling some GI issues, trust me), etc. Be conscious, therefore, that what you put in does not go into a hermetically sealed system, but a system exposed to all of the fluctuations of nature and your body.
- But it’s not all about being a food fascist, right?! I mean, we deserve some just desserts, right?! Yes indeed, and to that end I encourage you to congratulate yourself… when you actually deserve it, and while I realize that that is probably different for everyone, one thing that is for sure is that you DON’T celebrate every hill day with a sundae, every interval with a cheeseburger deluxe, or every fartlek with half a dozen beer. I suggest setting out the guidelines beforehand; that is, for example, just desserts come at the end of a two week hard rotation, or the beer waits until the finish line of the next ultra… five months from now. You get the idea — consuming a sugary/ yeasty calorie for every one used up is only going to set you back…. way back.
- And then, after all that, definitely do not forget to feast pre- and post race. It’s up to you how to do this, but I REALLY like the pre-race pizza feast and the post race burger binge. These feel good and right and true. Whatever works for you guys, but these are most certainly times when it’s ok to cut loose… just remember on the pre-race meal that it should be easy to digest, easier to pass, and absolutely nurturing to your soul. Getting to BOTH the start line and the finish gate are big deals.
- That being said, while your on the build I can’t recommend strongly enough the excellence of eating like a squirrel — gather food from close by (after all, you are a part of this landscape and weather cycle and what grows near you will nourish you far better than something grown in a greenhouse several hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away). Now, there’s no need to be a fanatic here — use your reason, eat well and healthily and get as much food as you can from the farmers. Besides, they deserve your business.
- Which brings me to my last point — and one which I don’t seem to be doing a very good job of myself — keep it to yourself. You know, just because your slow cooking black metal veganism or low carb super paleo diet is doing wonders for you does not mean you have hit the pay dirt. We’re all different, each of us searching out what’s going to help make us fast and endure long so don’t be a dick. We’re all in this together after all.