I hope you all had a lovely Easter weekend. Ours was perfectly relaxing. It also involved us riding our bikes to the movies to see the Hunger Games - which was awesome.
Anyways, this is an incredibly long blog post about training and diet. You have been warned. Feel free to opt out now.
After the Cherry Blossom 10-Miler, I got to thinking about this racing season. Next up is the Broad Street Run here in Philly next month, which is truly my favorite race of the year. Then I got to thinking about what comes after that. I am registered for the ODDyssey Half Marathon toward the end of May with my sister-in-law, and was also hoping to run a 15k that I always run on the 4th of July. But then, all of sudden I would need to start training for the NYC Marathon. So, considering I started training for the Cherry Blossom 10-Miler February, that would equal a solid 9 months of training. Hmm.
I’m trying to be smart about this. So, I still hope to PR at Broad Street. I’m still gonna run the ODDyssey half marathon; however I am not going to race it. And I am (sadly) no longer going to race on the 4th of July. Problem with this race is I always seem to end up racing it, even when I say I’m just going to run for fun. So I’m gonna opt out altogether. Of course, I’ll still be running through these summer months, but am just going to throttle back on the racing for a bit.
Why the change of plans? Couple reasons. First, the obvious: I need to avoid burn-out and injury. The NYC Marathon obviously takes top priority as far as 2012 races go. I haven’t run a full marathon in 5 years, and honestly forget the commitment required for these things. So, when training begins in July, I want to be ready.
Second, I’m beginning to realize that I need schedule a break for my body for purposes other than injury avoidance. As I have mentioned in the past, I have to pay pretty close attention to my diet when I am training and increasing mileage, specifically when it comes to the amount of fat, protein, and general amount of calories I consume. And, if I am training for 9 months straight, this becomes pretty difficult for me to do without a break. I know the simplest solution for this is understanding “calories in/calories out” and doing the math. Although I do believe that counting calories is an efficient tool if someone is trying to lose weight, I (personally) do not want to count calories while I am trying to maintain weight while training. Why? Because I am a math person, tend toward an addictive personality, and know I will become obsessive with it. The healthiest bet for me is to simply eat when I’m hungry.
Back-story: Why I Eat What I Eat
When training, however, eating when I’m hungry simply isn’t enough in order for me to maintain weight and body fat, especially as a woman. Now, I know people across America may want to punch me for saying this and tell me to shove it and go eat some pizza. However, it’s not so easy for me.
Basically my entire life up until adulthood, I had digestive issues that I didn’t even realize were abnormal until I was in college. When I finally discussed this with my doctor, I believe I was impulsively misdiagnosed with IBS. My doctor prescribed Zelnorm for me, of which I was on for about 2 years. One day, my prescription simply ran out, and I decided I wasn’t exactly thrilled with the idea of being reliant upon medication for my entire life. So I decided to see if I could treat my IBS naturally.
I made some pretty drastic changes in my diet. I began eating a TON of vegetables and fruit, minimally processed carbohydrates, lean proteins, added in organic probiotic yogurts, and eliminated most other dairy (milk, cream, cheese), as well as fried and processed foods as much as possible.
And… it worked.
After a couple months, my digestive system regulated itself, and I lost about 5 - 10 pounds of excess weight I had been hanging onto since college. Since then, I haven’t had a cold in years, 7 hours of sleep is plenty for me, and I have seen a significant improvement in my running performance. My body actually began craving veggies, and I still eat an apple every single day. Now, let’s be clear; I still have a burger and cupcake after every race. I order what I want when I go out to eat on the weekends. But on a daily basis, I do maintain a very healthy diet. And, yes, this healthy diet embraces dark chocolate, organic frozen yogurt, and a glass (or two) of wine every single day. But what would happen if I simply started eating pizza, cheesesteaks, and ice cream everyday to compensate for additionally burned calories during increased training? I would get heartburn like a 60 year old fat man, my digestive system would essentially stop altogether, and I would bloat up to the size of a Buddha. Not to mention I would feel like crap, be tired, my skin would break out, and I would likely get a cold.
The Plan: What Works for Me
Having said all that, I still do have to make up for these calories somehow. I just have to be creative about how I do this.
The first thing I notice when I’m increasing mileage is that I begin craving red meat like a caveman. I take this as my body trying to tell me something – maybe I need iron and protein? So I consciously try to incorporate red meat into two solid meals a week – lean cuts of steak and beef.
In addition to the meat, I recently started adding in an afternoon snack. Looking for healthy fats and protein, I started researching some options for a convenient protein/yogurt smoothie shake. This was harder than I thought. I’ve been reading everywhere that milk is an excellent natural recovery drink for runners because of the healthy fat, protein, and calcium. Unfortunately, like I said, I have to be careful with dairy. Also, lots of the popular natural protein shakes on the market are LOADED with added sugar (upwards of 30g sugar per bottle - yikes). An easy solution I did find is a glass of almond milk plus ½ tablespoon of chocolate Tera’s Whey protein. This is about 150 calories, 8g of healthy fat, about 12g protein, and 15g sugar.
I also found these convenient shakes the other day, though – they’re called OrGain, and are high protein nutritional shakes, with all natural ingredients. They’re about 250 calories, with only 13g sugar, 16g protein, and 7g fat. And they’re pretty tasty.
Another easy add is a small carb/protein snack prior to my morning runs. Typically, I save my breakfast till after my weekday runs, but lately I’ve been grabbing a Picky Bar or a homemade breakfast cookie to munch on while I’m walking Manny before I hit the trail/gym. An easy way to sneak in some healthy fuel prior to a workout.
The theory here is that my body will turn to burning these high glycemic carb/sugar stores first during my workouts in lieu of burning stored fat. Basically, I want to fuel my run. Check out this Runner’s World article regarding high-glycemic foods. Of course, if you’re interested, there are TONS of articles relating to this topic on the web – including articles about how to train your body to do the opposite of this, if that’s what you desire, and to burn stored fat instead. For example, this post from No Meat Athlete, has a ton of interesting information.
(Like I have said many times, I am no nutritionist. I simply know what works for me, which has been quite the learning process. Do your research.)
So, that’s my plan. Trying to take a mid-year racing break to give my body the rest it will inevitably need prior to (gasp) marathon training.
Q’s: I would love to hear any feedback on how you maintain an adequate diet with increased mileage. Do you listen to cravings? Have you ever counted calories? How do you know when to schedule a break?