For the love or hate of food

Lately there has been a resurgence of focusing on food and fueling during your training. Runner’s World even had an article they put out the other week that struck home with me. It was an article highlighting how many endurance athletes become disordered eaters or how disordered eating and exercise go hand in hand. I’ve found this to be fairly accurate, as I myself could probably be considered a disordered eater and a few marathon runners I’ve known also were disordered eaters. It is a general trend that the lighter your frame the faster a runner you are, but this isn’t all fact.

Speed also has other factors into play such as: your lung capacity, how you process fuel, leg turn over, your gait can sometimes be a factor, your ability to push yourself.  When people look at me they think I’m a really fast runner with my being 5’2 and thin but 1) i don’t always push myself in races because I have another one coming up and don’t want to hinder my training and ability to keep running 2) depending on the season my asthma gets worse and my lung capacity isn’t as great and there are probably a few others.  You compare me to a 6’2 guy that weighs 200lbs, he may still beat me in the long run but honestly I’m only competitive with myself and I just strive to survive to run again rather than put everything out there at once- seriously I won’t ever make the olympics so why try to kill myself- I just enjoy the run

A lot of disordered eating stems from the whole wanting to be in control aspect, many individuals begin running and working out to lose weight and feel that if they restrict themselves they’ll lose more. One may start to really scrutinize nutrition labels on all packages looking at saturated fats or restricting carbohydrates. Thinking like that can get you in trouble very fast, as you need to realize that when you start doing endurance training you need to actually increase the amount of calories you take in, especially on days where you’ll have increased activity such as a speed workout or long run day.  Fats are useful in distance running and provide a good source of fuel, but are not readily utilized unless carbohydrates are present to burn the fat.

It’s not just anorexia or bulemia that plague some athletes but a more common condition is orthorexia, which as defined from a webpage on eating disorders is “an obsession with “healthy or righteous eating”. The phrase was first created in 1997 by California doctor Steven Bratman, and refers to people who create severely limited diets in the name of healthy eating. It often begins with someone’s simple and genuine desire to live a healthy lifestyle. The person may choose to stop eating red meat, but eventually cuts out all meat; then all processed foods, and will eventually eat only specific foods that are prepared in very specific ways”  This can also categorize those that have ‘quirky’ or weird eating habits, such as eating only a certain number of foods, which though not as bad as anorexia or bulemia, can still lead to significantly undernourishing the body. Many orthorexics do not really consider themselves to have an eating disorder because they don’t see it as restricting their diets and because they are making “healthy” choices.  A major problem with orthorexia is that it could potentially turn into a more severe eating disorder if not properly taken care of. 

Orthorexia is becoming more popular as people try to restrict processed food intake, and restrict carbs, sugars or any other diet that completely removes certain food groups that are beneficial to an athletic body to function properly. Many of my friends after seeing the articles come out about the new types of eating disorders told me they thought I had orthorexia. I might, but there’s a slight difference between purposely restricting your diet and having to modify your diet because your body doesn’t process those foods the same way it used to.  I’ve learned to adapt to my sensitive stomach issues but still can eat a lot of the foods I used to eat, I just eat a lot less greasy, processed foods as my body sees that as not suitable sources of fuel.

There are as many types of fuel supplements and energy drinks as there are people out there and not all are created equal, not all will work for you like they do someone you know.  Our bodies all process the things we eat in different ways and my personal routine might make someone else weak, irritable and under-nourished but for me it’s all my body requires to get the job done and still survive another day of training. I’ll provide a list of a few I’ve tried and played around with at the end of this article.

Being a marathon runner I’ve gone through the turmoil that is finding foods to fuel my body but don’t upset the delicate balance my body needs.  Unlike most of the people I run with I can’t eat everything after finishing a long run nor can I eat before I start- running suppresses my appetite and literally has decreased the amount of food that I can process. I’ve found that the best for me is a very strictly regimented food combination that seems odd to others. My long run breakfast is a  20 oz bottle of powerade, during a long run I can’t take fuel until 6-8 miles in or I’ll be throwing up on the side of the trail. After I’m done I have to eat small light meals the rest of the day. I consider my stomach an always sloshing full washing machine that with putting an extra 3 pieces of laundry in will make it spill over onto the floor.

My body needs time to jiggle around a little before I introduce food to it during a run or I’ll just have an awful time. I’ve found that quiznos torpedos are just enough food for a post long run snack but can’t be consumed until about 2 hours after my run is completed, which goes completely against the “rule” of trying to eat something within 30 minutes of finishing a workout.  If I attempt to eat anything in that 30 minutes it’s a handful of pretzels of a small strawberry smoothie.

My body in and of itself as become this finicky machine that subsists on a delicate balance of foods, which has only been harder to acclimate as I try to transition into become a vegetarian runner. This is an experiment as I’m sure I’ll come out of it realizing that my body still needs to eat some meat to function properly. I’ve decided that for the meantime I’ll try to work with a dietician to make the process as smooth and healthy as possible. I’ve become so inclined to look into what I fuel with that I’m thinking of switching fields to nutrition/kinesiology.  I’ve pretty much just started a list of foods I can eat rather than those I can’t, as I find it a much smaller list.

Energy Replacement items I’ve tried, you may find some useful:

  1. Cliff shot blocks, bars or gels
  2. Luna bars
  3. Gu chomps-by far a fave, they are easier to chew than shot blocks
  4. Gu- i’m in love with the mint chocolate flavor, the mint soothes the stomach & chocolate is yummy!, jet blackberry has an extra hint of caffeine that is good after 18 miles of running
  5. Gum with caffeine this was awful, had a bad taste
  6. PBJ sandwhich- this was like the nectar of the gods during a trail race I did, I think it did what a defibrillator does to a person whos heart stops-it literally brought me back from a bad place
  7. Honeystingers chews
  8. Sport jelly beans-these are good when you just need some simple sugars, some have extra caffeine in them
  9. Coconut water- personally I didn’t care for the taste

There are way more options out there than what I’ve briefly mentioned, I’ve found what works for me but it’s good to try out a few things or even trading with running buddies to help save you money until you find what works for you.  I have friends that eat caramels when they run (each is 100 calories) and it gives you simple sugars that your body immediate processes. I tend to also munch on pretzels for runs over 15miles.  My go to drink is either watered down powerade or a mixture made by powerbar (i’m not sure they sell it anymore) that came in individual packets so you can easily tote them in your hydration pouch.

There’s more to hydration, which I touched on in an earlier post. A lot goes into endurance running and figuring out what works for your body and for the mileage you do doesn’t come  over night. It took me a few years to figure out what worked for me and it still changes a little from year to year as my body learns to process fuels a different way and I figure out what is the minimum and maximum of certain things I can utilize during my training runs or even during a race and in what combinations.

Happy Running,

Coach G


February 28, 2012. Uncategorized.

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