Welcome to Day 9 of our Devoted New Year series! Today we are talking about nutrition! These posts are brought to you by Meridith creator of Devoted Training; a 52 week faith-based training journal, and myself. We hope you enjoy!
Nourishing food has been in vogue (and on the New York Time’s bestseller list) for a few years now thanks to the release of Run Fast. Eat Slow by Shalane Flanagan and Elyse Kopecky. Eating foods that are less processed and more nutrient dense provides our bodies with both the fuel to run fast and long, and also the building blocks to restore and grow stronger. Top athletes may seem to be skinny minnies but if they have any longevity in the sport, they must consume adequate calories. Poor nutrition leads to poor performance and injuries, eventually being the limiting factor in the sport.
It the book The Endurance Diet, Matt Fitzgerald interviewed elite athletes across five continents to determine how the top runners in the sport eat. While different cultures adopted different cuisines, they all had five attributes in common:
- Eat everything
- Eat quality
- Eat carb-centered
- Eat enough
- Eat individually
Basically, to eat like an elite athlete, do not eliminate any food groups, choose high value foods, don’t skimp on breads, fill your belly, and don’t compare your plate to anyone else’s.
After a workout, the rule of thumb is to eat carbohydrate and protein within 30 minutes to help you restore glycogen and start muscle recovery. The body is in a catabolic state after a hard effort, and you want to promote repair through nutrition instead of breakdown. The duration and intensity of the run should help guide you as to how much to consume to restore and refuel. A great rule of thumb proposed by David and Megan Roche in the book The Happy Runner is: Eat enough, always. Eat too much, sometimes. Eat too little, never. Another guideline for adequate nutrition is to never wake up hungry.
But what about teaching the body to rely more on fat stores? Fasted running is a technique to help the body learn to run in a depleted state, similar to race day. These runs can be beneficial on occasion in training, but they are not recommended in frequency because they add stress to the body and they can also impair training efforts.
In the book Roar, Stacy Sims talks about the dangers of female fasting. Fasting in women raises cortisol, which increases catabolism and harms protein synthesis. This doesn’t mean that an athlete should never run fasted, but it does caution female athletes to only selectively restrict fueling. In another story by Sims, she described one of her athletes who increased her caloric intake by 1000 calories a day, only to grow stronger and leaner as a result. Less is almost never more when it comes to nutrition.
Lauren Fleshman addressed the tension that exists (especially in women) when it comes to nutrition and body image when she published a letter to her younger self saying, “Go to the school where people order a variety of things: the burger, the chicken sandwich, the salad. Go to the school where you can order french fries and do it without shame. Go to the school where the majority of girls look athletic and healthy, with hydrated muscles, and get their periods. Listen to how they talk about themselves–and one another. Listen to what they value.”
If you feel a tension with the need to nourish your body and insecurities with body image, we’ll leave you with a final quote from Made to Crave by Lysa TerKeurst: “Obviously, the core of Eve’s temptation was she wanted to be like God, knowing good and evil. But we can’t ignore the fact that the serpent used food as a tool in the process. If the very downfall of humanity was caused when Eve surrendered to a temptation to eat something she wasn’t supposed to eat, I do think our struggles with food are important to God.”
Where do you fall on the nutrition spectrum—not enough, just right, or a little too much?