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  • Writer's pictureJessica Jones

Nutrition Matters.

Updated: Apr 8, 2018

I saw a quote somewhere that read “Athletes don’t diet and exercise, they fuel and train”. Or something along those lines. It stuck with me. I don’t remember the last time I said that I “exercised”. But, I’ve used the word “diet”. So, why the different mindset? Not sure. This was my first realization that what you eat impacts overall performance. I now look at food from two angles. Other than it being yummy! One is nutrition. Meaning what you consume on a routine basis. The second is fueling during running. Today, I’m focusing on nutrition. But fueling during a run, or a race, is equally important. If not more.

At some point in my running, I started eating “healthy”. I put this in quotes because “healthy” is not easy to define. It means different things to different people. Low cal? Low fat? Low carb? When I first got serious about marathoning, I didn’t give it much thought. The fried chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy I declared not “healthy”. Along with Snickers bars and ice cream. Point is, I started cutting out (or down on) the obvious things. Initially this was because I knew that if I were lighter, I could run faster. Estimates are an increase in speed of 2 seconds per mile for every pound lost. That’s almost a minute in a marathon! For a pound.

Then, I started really thinking about what “healthy” means. Researching. Are there benefits beyond being faster? I mean, other than being “healthy”? All signs point to yes. Junk in, junk out. The better foods you put in your body, the better you feel. This still didn’t help define “better”. More research. Nutrition plans for endurance athletes are more varied than I expected. Debates about the right ratio of macros (macronutrients: protein, fat, carbohydrate). Changing macro ratios based on training load, weight, gender. So complicated! It looked like nutrition was as individual a thing as training. So, it was time to experiment. What works for me?

One of the newer schools of nutrition thought that I tried is the low carb, high fat. The idea is to substitute fats for carbs. Preferably healthy fats (avocado, nuts, etc.). This, combined with running at your aerobic threshold, will “teach” your body to more efficiently burn fat for energy. In theory. All of our bodies can store way more fat than glycogen. If an endurance athlete can tap into their fat reserves for energy, no more “hitting the wall”. So, I cut out nearly all carbs for about two weeks. It was okay. I’m a huge fan of cheese, so being able to eat a virtually unlimited amount of cheese was nice. Otherwise, I was underwhelmed. I was generally tired. Didn’t like running at aerobic threshold all the time. One selling point was that you don’t need to count calories because you “can’t” eat enough following this plan to gain weight. I’m not sure that took into account my love of cheese. I gained weight over the two weeks. To be fair, if you have any gastro issues, this is a good thing to try. Nearly all gastro issues are from some form of carbohydrate. Once you cut all of that out for a few weeks, you can re-introduce foods and figure out what your problem foods are. For me, brown rice and quinoa.

Another “thing” I’ve tried is cutting out added sugar. Natural sugar (fruits and such) is fine under this plan. I’ve done this a couple of times. Avoiding added sugar is tough. It is hidden in so many foods. Bread. Cereal. Many energy or “health” bars have some form of added sugar. Check your labels. So, avoiding added sugar ends up with minimizing processed foods as a by-product. I did this (mostly) for about 10 days last month. “Mostly” because I still put soymilk in my coffee and had a few pieces of dark chocolate. Otherwise, I was added sugar-free. Focused on veggies and fruits. A big salad every day for lunch. Nuts and cheese as snacks, but in limited amounts. I could tell a difference. Not so much in my day-to-day life. But running. I felt quicker. Lighter. I was lighter. I completely understood the idea of great nutrition year-round. You can not only race better, but train better. Which, should make you a better racer. Then I travelled and fell off the no added sugar wagon. Now, I find excuses to sneak in a candy bar here and there. I still feel good, maybe just not as good. I think that the lack of added sugar really works for me. I just love me some junk food. So, dedication has been difficult. Right now, I’m working on an 80/20 approach. 80% of my calories are from no added sugar foods. That gives me a little room for those “treats”. In the past, I’ve used a “cheat day”. Similar principle. In either case, I still count calories. Regardless of what food, I focus on how much.

“You can’t out run a bad diet”. I believe this. But, eating, fueling, is still the biggest struggle I have in my training. To the left are example good (title photo from a good lunch) and not-so-good days from my recent food log. The good day speaks for itself. The not-so-good day… bread has added sugar. As does the mayo that was on that sandwich. And, chips. Fried is never “healthy”. Oh, and a Milky Way. Yummy, but not helping. Overall, I’m doing okay with my “diet”. I own it. But, I could do better. Feel better. Live it more. It’s a matter of commitment. To run or strength train, it only takes a small part of the day. Good nutrition requires full-time focus and commitment.

Training Log March 26-April 1, 2018: Planned, 75-80 miles (I usually have a range during taper to allow me to adjust by feel). 74.5 miles for the week. Monday my hamstring was still bothering me, so the “planned” runs below are what I modified then, not the “original” plan. The main change was eliminating one of my quality runs to allow for more slow running to recover the hamstring and a slight decrease in overall mileage.

Paces: R (recovery) = 9:09 or slower; E (easy) = 8:08-8:36; M (marathon pace) = 7:15; WU/CD (warm up/cool down) = easy by feel, P (progression) = start at R and steadily increase to M

Monday – planned: 6-8R and stability session

8.1mi @ 9:11. The hamstring is still bothersome, but not worse. Okay overall. A little heavy.

Stability: 2 sets of: 10 leg swings (front and side, each leg), 10 clock lunges (front, side, back, each leg), 6 pistol squats, 20 mountain climbers, 2x20sec superman (on BOSU).

Tuesday – planned: 10-12P and stability session

4.5mi @ 9:04. Hamstring a little better. Didn’t want to push it with any speed. Had to cut this run a little short due to an early work call.

Wednesday – planned: 6-8R

10.5mi @ 8:13. Did the progression run skipped yesterday. A little weakness from the hamstring off and on. Felt good. Strong wind on the way back, so paces slowed. Until the last mile when I got to some wind block. Mile splits: 9:22, 8:33, 8:15, 7:56, 7:47, 8:04, 8:37, 8:13, 8:01, 7:13, 8:23 (0.5mi CD).

Thursday – planned: 8-10R and upper/core strength

6.7mi @ 8:59 in AM. Felt okay. A little heavy. The hamstring thing still noticeable.

4.7mi @ 9:18 in PM on the treadmill (to keep an eye on Pelican (right), recovering from knee surgery). Felt good. Easy.

Upper/core: 10 traveling push-ups on BOSU, 12 dips, 10 shoulder raise (5lb dumbbells), 12 single-leg fly (5lb dumbbells), 1 min plank (hands on BOSU), 30 bicycle (on BOSU).

Friday – planned: 10-12E and upper/core strength

4.5mi @ 8:44 in AM. Hamstring all good. Overall, okay.

3.0mi @ 9:15 in PM on treadmill. Everything felt fine. Low motivation.

Saturday – planned: WU, 10x0.5mi @ 3:10-3:15 per with 0.25 rest between, CD

11.3mi @ 8:26 in AM. Hamstring popped backup after the 3rd interval. And every two after. Stopped during those rests to stretch. That helped. Jog rest for other intervals. Intervals 6, 7, 8, and 9 heading into strong wind. Intervals: 3:16, 3:13, 3:14, 3:13, 3:10, 3:34, 3:34, 3:34, 3:26, 3:18.

1.8mi walk with Marlin in the PM, followed by stability: 2 sets of: 10 leg swings, 10 single leg deadlift (5lb dumbbells), 10 squats with side leg raise (5lb dumbbells), and 20 alternating arm/leg plank lifts.

Sunday – planned: 20-23E/R

21.2mi @ 9:16. A beautiful spring day! Wanted a solid last long run before Boston. Enjoyed this one and took it easy. Stopped a few times to stretch the hamstring, but it is feeling okay. Taper time!!

Until next week.

Own it, live it, be it.

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