I get asked about nutrition a lot. I also get labeled a lot, as a healthy or boring or restrictive eater. All of those things are only partially true at best. I hope to share some of the things that have worked for me, as a runner and a human but certainly not a doctor.
- Eat to your goals I. I wasted much of my late twenties on poor nutrition. Lots of morning runs ruined by wings and beer the night before. I’ve since learned the value in aligning my eating habits to reach my goals. Whether I’m trying to gain fitness, add muscle, lose fat, or ramp mileage, I am constantly adjusting my food intake to reach my goal. I can be a bit robotic in this sense so food as a means to perform is an easy process for me. The payoff in stronger workouts and results is a much better reward than any desirable food.
- Minimize the empty calories. This one can be hard but I’ve gotten really good at saying no to things that simply don’t fit #1 above. Beer, bread, chips, desserts, etc are all things that I’ve reduced in my life down to minimal consumption. This is where people start to label me boring. I used to have a problem saying no to folks but have since become quite comfortable saying no and being firm. I remind myself they won’t be at mile 46 when I’m struggling through the back half of an ultra. Nor will they be up at 5 am when I’m getting ready for hill repeats. My goals, my body, my decisions.
- If I’m going to eat or drink something I normally would avoid, do it with family. I like this rule and have probably offended a few coworkers or friends along the way. The temptation is everywhere and seemingly daily. I used to find myself making excuses for why I couldn’t eat something. It can still get awkward but I’ve gotten much better at saying no. But I still won’t say no all of the time to the people I love most in the world. Nothing better than a random afternoon ice cream trip with the family. And I’m still human, so eating pizza or tacos with the family is not uncommon in our house. Thankfully my wife is also a runner and we’re good at keeping these things to once a month at most.
- Booze and I don’t get along. More labels coming as people assume my running is why I don’t drink. I tend to think I did enough drinking in my early twenties to be content never drinking again. But I’ve learned my body and alcohol just don’t agree, which proves more true as I get older. Even a single beer or cocktail can lead to a migraine and stomach distress. It wasn’t always this way but a beer is not worth a 48 hour migraine or two days of feeling like a zombie. I stopped drinking entirely in 2016 and now genuinely enjoy a booze free adult life. I sleep better, wake up energized, fart less, and have enjoyed that time not spent in a bar with my family.
- Eat to your goals II. I follow a general rule: eat a balanced diet of proteins, fats, and carbs. That’s it. I’ve read enough about diets and fads to know some will work but I tend to dismiss anything that gets into an extreme of one side or another. Atkins and Ketosis are good examples. The key is listening to your body, how you feel during hard workouts, after, and how your body is adjusting as you take on new challenges. The key is eating what I know I can sustain over a long stretch of time, what I can keep doing with relative ease. What I typically eat:
- Avocados, eggs, nuts, or peanut butter to get high fats. I supplement with Fish Oil.
- Turkey, chicken, red meat, greek yogurt, and whey powder to get protein. My gym rat habits are still with me where I make whey shakes every morning, workout or not. Lots of healthy, creative ways that help post workout and fill you up before the work day. My wife and I have also found lots of amazing recipes in this popular book: http://www.runfasteatslow.com/
- Spinach, kale, brussels sprouts, broccoli, peppers, and all the beets! I don’t eat enough vegetables but we try to make vegetables the focal point of our dinners which usually means a full tray of Brussel sprouts mixed in with sweet potatoes. The other nights might have peppers or broccoli or something else. All of these go great with the 100 different ways we’ve learned to make chicken. I don’t think I could ever go vegetarian or vegan but do aim to eat vegetables everyday.
- Make small adjustments. I’ve replaced wheat bread with ezekiel bread, sugary peanut butter with organic peanut butter, skim milk for almond milk, and most importantly, spinach protein shakes instead of fruit, These little changes make a huge difference. I tend to eat these things every day so making these changes has made a big difference in how my body feels. Unfortunately these tend to be a bit pricier so we try to make trade offs by eating out less. Not buying booze or ordering booze when out is a non trivial difference on the total food bill.
- Eat every 3-4 hours. I’ve stuck to this since college and it works. I also don’t snack as I try to eat small or not small meals every few hours. On the downside, I can get pretty cranky when travelling with family that eats three meals a day or less. When my training ramps up, these meals are not small, especially dinner which is where I tend to eat the most. I’ve heard a lot about various fasting techniques and I’m sure there is evidence to support just about every diet. I find the frequent meals approach works for me and I generally trust how my body feels as my barometer.
All of this might sound terribly boring and it probably is. It works for me and my goals as I’ve progressed from a gym rat to a marathoner to an ultra runner. At the end of the day, drink lots of water, eat what makes you feel good, and above all else, enjoy time with family without making food the enemy.