To preface this, I would like to mention I’m not a registered dietician nor a nutritionist. Everything in this article is my personal study aligned with thoughts and studies of athletes, writers, scientist, and sports nutritionist. Everyone and everyone’s body is different. What works for some may or may not work for you.
I’ve heard and read numerous times, as Americans, we are the most over fed and undernourished county. Read that again. Isn’t that bizarre? We regard food as entertainment as well as convenience. Some 3rd world countries eat healthier food than us. They may be poorer but get food from its natural source, the land it grows in. The food we eat, some we can’t even call food, possibly frankenfood, is becoming more and more of a science experiment. It goes in as food, is stripped of its nutrients, multiplied for higher yield, and comes out of conveyor belt in the shape of a circle or square pressed into a cardboard box. We put that into our system and wonder
“why am I so tired all the time?” “why don’t my clothes from last year fit anymore”
“ why am I putting in 30 minutes at the gym 5 days a week and see/feel no difference? “
As a runner, we as a group, are bombarded with messages about food. It’s EXTREMELY confusing. “Eat carbs! Cut calories, FAT IS BAD! Fat is good! Running is great! Running is bad for your knees! Restrict fat before a marathon! Don’t eat before you run!”
Because of this I, and many other athletes are quickly realizing our relationship with food is extremely unhealthy. Sports drinks, nutrition bars, and pre-made protein shakes are all advertised to us but when you flip the label over they all (almost) contain the same 3-4 ingredients: Corn Syrup, artificial ingredients, processed sugar, hydrogenated oils, and some sort of grain/wheat. Why would you want to down a Snickers and coke after a run? Sadly, a famous Sports nutritionist bases her scientific study off of “anything for fueling is better than nothing” As half true as this is, why stick with the “anything” rather than giving your body the fuel it needs. You’ll feel and perform better. I think it’s time we start putting away that myth, the convenience, and tear down the wall of confusion by going to back to the basics.
ABC or PCF
As a runner, cyclist, swimmer, weight lifter, etc etc we are constantly breaking down our body in hopes of making ourselves faster, stronger, and a more efficient athlete. We focus on the best training plans, the best moves to get that 6 pack, strength exercises to get rid of the muffin top (etc. etc.) but what we don’t realize is our body is like a car. It has a frame, an engine, and wheels. If we fill a premium car up with diesel l fuel we can only go a mile or two and we end up really damaging the system. If we fill it up with unleaded, it will run but it won’t be at its premium performance. Going back to food, we can fill up on Twinkies and Coke and be full but what would be our end performance output as well as our long term health? Let’s go back to the basics of food, the macro nutrients. These are the nutrients in our body responsible for our energy source and growth: Proteins, Carbohydrates, and Fat. Let’s look at them a little closer
Protein can be regarded as the most important macro nutrient for muscle growth and repair. Protein is complex and is a slower, longer lasting source of energy when compared to carbohydrates. When you think about it, it’s easier to become fuller after eating a sirloin steak vs a plate full of vegetables. There is a more scientific way to explain protein and what it does to our body in a scientific manner, but let’s just keep it sweet and simple and move along.
Lean Meats: Turkey, Chicken, 90% lean Beef, eggs, and fish
Carbs are the best source of energy for athletes as well as high intensity training. It is also a primary refueling source. Carbs have two major roles for the body: energy to the brain and a source of energy/calories to maintain body weight. The most dominant source of carbs, glycogen, is stored in the muscle and is depleted after a long run or hard training. Taking in carbs after hard training refills stores of glycogen allowing the body to quickly recover and train hard again. This is probably the nutrient most athletes are familiar with especially the common trend of “carbo loading” before a big endurance event.
Recommended Forms of Healthy Carbs: Whole grain bread, rice, whole wheat pasta, sweet potatoes, quinoa, or fruit.
Berries-have anti-inflammatory compounds
Apple’s/ Bananas- Keep you fuller longer due to them being a complex carb
Oranges- have an Anti-inflammatory compound as well as detoxing qualities
For some reason, we see this word and instantly want to just hide it under a rug. We’ve come to associate fat as one of those “words that shall not be used” or possibly “food that should not be eaten.” The terms “nonfat” or “low fat” are probably the most common advertising slogans to make you feel better about the product you’re about to buy. Unfortunately, the same companies bank on you not turning their box around and seeing that in exchange for their “nonfat” product they are including more corn syrup and sugar. Healthy fats are a carrier for flavor and healthy nutrients. Let me be clear in saying not all fat is created equal. Fat is a source of energy, it’s the slowest form but essential for hormone development, and protecting our organs. Along with the “all Fat is bad” stigma many female athletes that don’t eat enough fat (healthy fat nutrients) suffer from hormonal imbalance as well as lack of a menstrual cycle.
Bad Vs Good
If it comes from a window or a box, stamp it as factory made. Most of these can be labeled as Trans fatty acids. These are made by combining more than one type of fat (combining chemicals) that the body cannot recognize and doesn’t know how to process it so it stores it. Tran’s fat is usually found in commercially baked and fried food. It has been thought to increase the risk of heart disease. Finding food that contain healthy fat has satiety benefits (keeping you fuller longer) as well as anti-inflammatory agents. (Yes you can fight inflammation without taking a pill!)
Some suggestions of healthy fats:
Olive oil vs vegetable oil is a heart healthy fat and is an anti-inflammatory agent.
Lean meat (chicken, 90/10 beef, fish) contains less fat but still gives an amount you need for energy
Butter (REAL Butter, not margarine or spread) is considered a power house fatty acid and is proven to help muscles recover faster
Whole milk yogurt (read the label) is lower is sugar, less processed than low fat
Avocado- Considered one of the healthiest types of fat and helps with inflammation (and tastes amazing on hamburgers and salads!)
Now we know what to eat but when?
Nutrient timing refers to when and what you eat in relation to your activity. There are always 3 parts to our nutrition and activity: Pre-workout fueling, during, and recovery. Getting the best workout depends on how your body reacts to all 3. Some people learn they cannot eat before a workout, I’m the opposite. I’ve learned in order to have a decent workout, whether it be a long run, or a Crossfit session, I need to fuel myself properly. If not properly fueled I’ll be slow and sluggish the entirety of the workout. Believe it or not our body is in a continuous state of muscle growth and break down in accordance to how and what we do.
Example of nutrient timing:
Before: If I Know I’m going to be doing a 20 mile run I’m going to burn roughly around 2,000 calories. That’s almost my daily allotment of daily calorie burn in a little over 3 hours. I’ll have my oatmeal bowl (gluten free oatmeal, 1 banana, a dash of honey, and cinnamon yuuumm) and 1 energy Gu block or coffee to wake me up because most of my runs start around 7am. I need all the energy I can get.
During: To keep my energy levels up I usually try to fuel every 4 miles (roughly around 30-35 minutes dependent on pace). I use quick forms of carbs, either applesauce squeeze pouches, GU gels, block chews, small cliff bars, or even Twizzler bites.
Recovery: After my run I down about 16 ounces of my Brown rice protein shake that has a scoop of orange electrolytes. Within a 40 minute window I follow my Hard Template, nutrient timing guide. It usually calls for 3 oz. of protein, 2 hand full of vegetables (vegetables are great at filling you up) and around 80grams of healthy carbs.
EX: 3 egg omelet with green bell pepper and tomatoes, apple/orange, yogurt, red potato, etc etc .
I then schedule my meals every 3-4 hour the rest of the day. My remaining meals focus on the same amount of proteins and veggie load but decrease in carbs . This is the plan designated for me. Not all bodies and/or plans are alike. Again I emphasize on finding what works for your body to keep it at its healthiest.
As discussed above, protein is a slow digestive and a lower source of energy for our body. Therefore protein timing does not affect performance nor recovery (energy wise) as long as it’s consumed throughout the day. This being said while we workout we create micro tears in our muscles. For a quicker building process sport’s nutritionist recommended a type of protein intake (mostly a shake) during and finishing after to help with the recovery. The daily recommendation for an average male/female would be .8 gram of protein per lean body weight. For those wanting to add more muscle or who are in the athletic range it is recommended 1 gram of protein per lean body weight, should be eaten daily.
For training sessions longer than an hour, carbohydrates and Proteins consumed during training improve performance and saves muscle tissue from breaking down. As a runner, it’s hard to get a form of protein in during a long run. If I’m able to I plan my route to where my car is at the halfway mark and refuel properly. During a weight training session it’s easier to consume protein. It’s recommended to drink 2/3 of your protein shake before the workout and 1/3 after.
Some recommendations for Carbohydrate timing:
Fat is also a slow form of energy and is slow to digest. Sports Nutritionist recommend having your fat intake during meals furthest from your workout. Eating it too close to important fueling times can inhabit your body from acquiring the nutrients it needs by being such a slow nutrient to digest.
Example of my nutrient timing:
Let’s use my example from earlier, my 20 mile long run first thing in the morning. I’ll wake up an hour before my run. I’ll have my oatmeal and skip the protein. I know my stomach and it can’t handle large amounts of protein before a big run.
Post Run: 1 scoop of protein shake, 1 Scoop of electrolytes
11ish o clock: 40 minutes later I’ll have my post recovery meal (protein, carbs, and veggies)
1:30-2 O clock: 3 hours later I’ll have my next meal: protein, veggies, and a less amount of carbs (by 10%)
Dinner: 2-3 hours later I’ll have my last meal of the day same, Protein, veggies, and carbs (10%ish less) If I feel so inclined this is when I usually add a tablespoon of almond butter (my fat) to go along with an apple or I’ll add ½ a tablespoon of unsalted, organic butter to my red baked potato.
Bed snack= chocolate protein shake to help my muscles recover during the (hopeful) 8 hours of sleep to help my body refuel and recover.
I have found that if I eat 4-7 meals, my meals are smaller (usually around 300-400 calories) but I stay fuller longer throughout the day. I also make it a priority to try and drink 2 of my 32 oz. hydro flask amounts of water a day. I find that if I drink during my work breaks or in-between meals, I’m not tempted to reach for a snack. You can also see that you’re more alert, your skin looks heathier, and headaches are not near as frequent.
I don’t suggest you go through a reality TV sweep and throw away everything in boxes at the moment, but take small steps.
I know this seems a bit time consuming or a bit of a science experiment but your body is your most precious thing you will ever have. Why push it aside for time and expenses? I make my body my first priority. Without health, I wouldn’t be able to see the things I do and do the things I want. It’s time that we step back and see food from a different perspective. I hope this encourages you take a few more steps in the direction of healthy eating.
Flanagan, Shalane and Elyse Kopecky. Run Fast. Eat Slow. New York, New York. : Rodale Inc, 2016
Case, Dr. Jennifer, Dr. Melissa Davis, and Dr. Mike Israetel. Renaissance Women
http://renaissanceperiodization.com/ and Templates
I'm passionate about running, fitness, nutrition and all things that make me and everyone else a better version of ourselves.