A Runner’s Diet

I think the perfect diet is one you can live with every day of your life. One that works for you. Every once in a while, we all let pounds sneak up on us and we have to resort to “cutting back”. Seems like that should be the real definition of diet. Inevitably, you must give up something you enjoy.

I don’t train as hard in the winter. It’s just a matter of fact. It’s too cold to ride my bike (although I’ve recently discovered the All Season Cyclist who has proven it’s never too cold to ride your bike!), it’s too cold to garden. I’m usually running shorter races and lower weekly mileage. This all adds up to a few extra pounds and a little less focus on diet.

Deena Kastor won the bronze medal at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, the first American woman to win an Olympic marathon medal in 20 years. In Dan Bernardot’s book, Advanced Sports Nutrition, he explains how he analyzed the diet of 3 female American marathoners prior to the Olympic marathon that year and observed that Deena’s eating habits were the closest to ideal.

After the 2012 Olympics, Matt Grevers attributed part of his gold medal success to a healthier diet.

Prior to American professional snowmobile racer, Caleb Moore’s, tragic death he too had changed his diet in a focus to finally win Olympic gold. Time after time you hear athletes discover newfound success as a result of a change in their diet.

I’m not a very good cook – my husband does most of the cooking. So during the week while he’s working, my meals consist of salads, lots of fruit, broiled or grilled fish/chicken/pork and sautéed veggies. Simple is the rule of thumb. When he’s home for the weekend, it’s a different matter altogether. It’s not his fault – he just knows how to make food taste fabulous. Sometimes I say to him, anything that tastes this good can’t be good for you. He grins knowingly.

I’ve read Mr. Bernardot’s book several times. It stays in my kitchen cabinet with the dinner plates all year round and just before I reach the midway point of every marathon training cycle, it becomes the most often referenced book in my arsenal. So then, why do I need to diet? What we really want to know is where do I screw up?

Well, to be honest I’m not completely sure, but I have a couple of ideas.

I read somewhere, “Real athletes don’t drink.” But, I enjoy wine and every time I pour myself a glass, I hear that statement in my head. Sometimes I say it out loud to my husband as I pour my favorite Cabernet. “Real athletes don’t drink.”  He shakes his head.

I eat an energy bar once a day, sometimes twice. They’re convenient and generally have a good balance of the things I need after a run or before an afternoon workout.

If chocolate torte is on the menu, I can hardly resist and, more often than I’ll admit, I indulge in a meal of steak and homemade french fries. So, I have an idea of small changes I should make.

Once a year or so I type everything I eat into an app on my phone. This is a job for sure, but it shows exactly where I’m screwing up. That magic combination for a runner is about 15% protein, 30% fat and 55% carbs – it’s a tricky balance to maintain during the cold winter months.

You may notice my diet doesn’t include a lot of pasta, at least not until the last few weeks of marathon training. I’ve learned there are so many other foods that contain a healthy dose of carbs that allow me to have more creative meals and still pack in the carbs. The same with sports drinks, such as Gatorade. They are helpful on long runs in the dead heat of summer but I usually don’t feel a need for them on a day-to-day basis….and, I always remind my husband when he does the shopping, “stay along the perimeter.” If you eat mostly fresh ingredients, you can do little harm.

It’s hard to change your diet though. I can go through the grocery store with my eyes closed. A new diet means researching new meals, and shopping for new ingredients. This takes time from an already busy schedule.

Hal Higdon’s book, Marathon, The Ultimate Training Guide, has been the best reference for my running evolution. He says, “If I had to offer a single piece of dietary advice to every person who reads this book, it would be to consult a dietician.” I have yet to find Hal wrong on any advice yet, so I know this too must be true.

I loved the commercial Joe Scarborough and Mica did about the correct portion size of various foods. If it fits in the palm of your hand, it’s a good size portion for you. I live by this rule especially when training gets more intense, mileage increases and I feel I’m hungry all the time. Eat a variety of different foods, choose fresh not processed foods and eat a portion every few hours.

We’ve all been through it – if you truly want to change yourself, you must first want it badly enough to change. So, at some point we either accept that our diet is not perfect and we’re ok with that, or we become ready to make the changes required.

There’ still snow on the ground up the mountain and in the shady spots around my yard, but today you can sense that spring is just around the corner with its warmer, longer days. I’m so anxious to return to those days of intense morning runs, afternoon bike rides and gardening in between. For some reason, the more I exercise the better my diet. And, with the right combination of training and diet, maybe even a new personal best is possible for me this fall!

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