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Fueling

Sport Specific Nutrition

Over the years, I’ve tried many types of gels, gummies, drinks, shakes, squeezes, and bars. As my body has changed physiologically and continues to adapt to the distance running life, my fuel needs change. These are the items I am currently using and have found helpful.

VegaSport – I have stuck with this company the longest of any. They have several great products even for everyday life use, but there are three that I regularly use in training. If I had to have a favorite, it’s their recovery accelerator powder that is meant to be downed immediately (or ASAP) after hard efforts. For me, that means speed workouts, long runs, and races. Next, is their sport protein powder. I like to mix it with full fat milk and strawberries, bananas, or pineapple as a shake to have a few hours after finishing a long run or a race distance of 13 miles or longer. Lastly, and not from their sport line, is clean energy electrolyte powder. Sometimes in the early morning runs I’ll just drink this before and eat something more substantial after. Rarely do I use it mid day for a pre-workout, but if I feel I need something to get me going, I will. This is also what I use in combination with unflavored UCAN powder.

Maurten Gel – I love these! My stomach likes them and they work fast. They don’t have any unnecessary ingredients. I use them on my long runs and during marathons. Pretty pricey at $45 for 12, but worth it.

Generation UCAN – My most recent addition, this powder’s fame is growing fast in the running community. It’s powder gives slow, sustaining energy. They have multiple flavors that have electrolytes already in them or you can buy the unflavored and add your own. I buy the unflavored and add in the Vega clean energy. I drink that mix 30-45 minutes before long runs and half/full marathon races. For the half marathon distance, it’s ALL I need – I don’t take any gels or use course provided nutrition. They have a hydration only mix that I haven’t tried, and also bars. The bars are nasty.

Gatorade Organic – Call me a traditionalist. Gatorade is the most popular sports drink and is on the course at most of the big races. I’m not a fan of the dyes and other additives in the original, but the organic tastes great with simple ingredients. As an athlete, I’m not worried about the sugar and believe it’s necessary at times. I drink one after an easy run, in the middle of a busy work day, after a swim, several hours after a marathon if I feel I need it, or the day before to make sure I have what I need at the start. It’s not on a schedule, or always before or after a certain activity, but I always keep them on hand.

SportLegs – These capsules are used mostly by cyclists, but they prime your muscles to make less lactic acid during intense exercise. I only use them for racing because your body adapts to the use of them and eventually you wouldn’t notice any benefit. It’s the same science behind “HotShots” which are more commonly used by runners.

In training, it’s important to put a focus on REAL food. You don’t want to find yourself living off sport’s nutrition supplements. I try to eat a fair amount of energy boosting and recovery foods in my plant-based diet. But sometimes we put our bodies through so much stress, we need a little extra help. I’m still trying new things and have a few in the que but I’m always hesitant and slow to make nutritional changes.

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Fueling

Vegetarian

“But where do you get your protein?” – my least favorite question. Ever. It’s a little frustrating that many people trust the media for nutrition advice. The media has their own agenda. It’s been over two years since I’ve gone meatless.  I feel great, I’m still progressing in my sport, and I don’t miss it. However, I’m not going to try and preach vegetarianism at you. Let me give you a little backstory.

I started caring about nutrition and what I ate fairly young – middle school to be exact. I am the youngest of three active children and both my older siblings had an influence on my diet choices. At that time, I decided to give up red meat and pig. I tried to eat low-fat, whole-grain, and plenty of fruits and veggies. Chicken, turkey, fish, eggs, and dairy were my main sources of protein. I ate little refined sugars, but I do have a bit of a sweet tooth. Sometimes the smell of grilling steak would get to me, but I really didn’t have much of a problem giving it up. Fast forward 13 (ish) years and my husband decides he wanted to start working towards a more plant-based diet. He discovered the triathlete Brenden Brazier and his story of going vegan. At that point, I was like, “I’m not ready to give up my chocolate milk, but eh, let’s start vegetarian. No meat or fish.” This changed my focus to getting in more beans, legumes, and lentils, but I did some reading and realized it really isn’t that hard to get enough protein without meat. The realization that brought me to this conclusion is that we really don’t need as much as “they” say we do. The second realization came from reading and researching the protein we get from plants already (it’s more than “they” lead us to believe).

The key to making the switch is to take it slooow. I still eat eggs, and some dairy. I’m very slowly cutting down on dairy, but I’m no where close to cutting it out completely and I may never will. Your body does not like rapid diet and/or activity changes. And if you’re a real meat lover and try to go cold turkey, it’s bad for your psyche, too. Make it a lifestyle change, not a fad diet.

There is another factor to consider when looking at healthy diet for YOU – genetics. What did yo momma eat? Grandparents, great-grandparents? I believe it matters. This might even mean going totally meatless isn’t the best decision for you. If your ancestors survived on eating a lot of meat, your genes probably picked up on that. My family on both sides grew up kinda poor. Even my mother says she remembers when she was young eating just corn on the cob (that they grew) for dinner and that was the meal. Throughout my parents’ childhood, their families progressed economically and in the United States meat became less and less expensive as the farming industry boomed. But I think my genetics play a role in how well I do without meat.

I told you it’s not hard, but it’s not super easy either. You do have to try, and think about your meals, and make sure you’re getting good nutrition from what you eat. You can’t just eat pasta. Start with reading a book. The Thrive Diet by Brenden Brazier is a good one. The Plant-Based Power Diet by Leslie Beck is also a good one.

Whatever you do, my advice is to NOT believe everything the media tells you, read health and nutrition books, and just try things. See how you feel. Don’t get all “Type A” and try and get a 32-week diet plan that someone else made. The human body is so complicated and while there are groups, there aren’t identicals. So don’t get stuck on someone else’s diet plan. Learn objectively and apply subjectively.

Alright, so to answer the question (where do I get my protein), mostly from beans, legumes, lentils, peas, hemp, nuts, and seeds. I try to get variety, especially with beans, to get a good balance of the essential amino acids. I’m not vegan so I still have dairy and eggs. My body loves eggs. I use milk as a recovery food. I no longer use low-fat dairy unless I’m not eating it for nutritional benefit – like if I want to enjoy a latte or something. Although protein is not the bulk of what I eat, I’m certainly not on the “fat is fuel” train. Bring on the grains! I am not gluten sensitive individual, so sprouted whole wheat bread is on my grocery list (which, by the way has 5g of protein per slice). Brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat, barely, corn, oats, I’m in love. Potatoes are a favorite, and of course I eat a lot of fruits and veggies. More than 60% of my daily calories come from carbohydrates.

Unfortunately, I have nutella and wine weaknesses. But I make sure I don’t consume these dangerous foods too often. And I’m a sucker for baked goods. Treats with refined sugar are terrible, but because sugar is a carbohydrate and I use a large amount of carbohydrates in training, I’m not as worried about “cheating” as much as you might think. For more on that, see www.struckbystride.com/sugar/. Alcohol is another issue, and I rarely drink while I’m in a training cycle for a marathon.

My diet is pretty picky as I’ve become sensitive to what my body needs when. Timing is just as important as the food itself. How I train and recover depends heavily on how and when I eat. Another book to consider is Nutritional Timing by John Ivy. Sport specific nutrition books will give you better ideas concerning training needs. If you are an athlete, you are not the same! Sports Nutrtion for Endurance Athletes by Monique Ryan, The New Rules of Marathon and Half-Marathon Nutrition by Matt Fitzgerald, and Racing Weight also by Matt Fitzgerald are good resources.

I enjoy reading nutrition books and learning new things as we continue to find out more and more how the food we eat affects us. However, I don’t take much at face value – I have to take into account experience and feel. Nobody has it all figured out. I try to be open to change as my body adapts (or doesn’t!) and to being flat out wrong and learn from my mistakes.

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Fueling

Sugar

One of the most talked about topics in the health and nutrition world, sugar has been associated with many diseases and is blamed for the obesity epidemic. I used to be on that train, but I don’t ride it anymore. As I delve further into the sports and athletic performance side of nutrition, I’m beginning to realize that sugar is really just a scapegoat.

I do believe as a nation we eat way too much sugar. It shouldn’t be put into bread or sauces. We shouldn’t be eating this many cookies, crackers, or candy with such a high concentration of refined sugar. Nor should we be adding it to our coffee and drinking sodas and drinks with all this added sugar. But this is a quantity issue, not a product issue.

Sugar is not sugar – meaning not all sugar is equal. Sugar from fruit, honey, agave, refined table sugar, cane sugar, and syrups all get digested and absorbed differently. So we can’t just look at a nutrition label or profile and say, “No I can’t have this, it has too many grams of sugar.”

Sugar is a FAST fuel – it works quickly. This is really important for the athlete to know and understand for pre-race, mid-race, and post-race. How you fuel will depend on the distance you’re going, but if you need energy two minutes ago, sugar will be your best bet. When trying to make a quick recovery, combining sugar with protein gets that protein to your muscles faster. This is why a lot of protein bars have “a ton” of sugar in them – it’s not just to mask the awful taste. Though I would still caution one to look at how many grams of sugar are in your bar compared to protein grams. Some of the bars out there go overboard.

The timing of when we eat sugary foods matter. It determines what exactly your body is going to do with it. That being said, your current fitness level and metabolism play into this as well. The human body is not a machine – it’s better. We adapt! Old news maybe, but think about what that means. How incredibly awesome is that?! If you eat a cookie as a conditioned athlete your body handles it completely different than when you lived a sedentary lifestyle.

Sugar does not cause cancer. It fuels cancer. Cancer cells are very demanding and sugar is a speedy fuel, remember? Eating junk food like candy and packaged cookies that have a lot of sugar also have a lot of other preservatives and chemicals that when habitually eaten, are likely to cause cancer.

I don’t think it’s wise to cut sugar completely out of your diet, especially when you cut out foods like fruits and honey that have many other benefits. Sugar is not the devil – it’s about quantity and timing, and knowing how to fuel your body to perform as an athlete. You need to assess if you want your athleticism to be solely for health and longevity, if you want to be a recreational athlete, or if you want to compete at a higher level. After you do that, you can start to figure out how sugar works in your diet.

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Fueling

Nitrates

Beets do a lot more than turn your poop purple – they also enrich the color of your lips! Most people have heard something about beets being good for endurance athletes due to something about nitrates and blood flow. But I think it’s hard for some people to accept that the right foods really can make a difference.

The science behind the endurance boosting benefits of beets begins with the fact that they are rich in nitrates. Your body takes those nitrates and turns them into nitric oxide in your blood supply. That nitric oxide reduces blood pressure by expanding your blood vessels, allowing more blood to get to where it’s needed most. More blood equals more oxygen and other vital nutrients your body needs when it’s working hard. Nitric oxide lowers the oxygen cost of all-out exercise.

There are more whole foods than just beets that give you a nitrate boost.

  • Arugula and spinach (most greens, but arugula especially)
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Turnips
  • Parsely
  • Raw Cacao (see my post-run chocolate milk in my recipes tab)

Most of the foods you’ll find are root vegetables and leafy greens because nitrates are found in the ground, but strawberries are on the higher end for fruits. As if you even needed another reason to eat a strawberry-spinach salad…

They say you don’t really get a performance boost on race day if you’re already eating a lot of these foods regularly during training. You have to load (like carb loading). Ten days out before a race, I’ll start loading up on beets. For me,this means the equivalent of one medium beet a day. The quantity depends on your size. I usually stick with actual beets and/or 100% beet juice, but if you’re traveling for the race, any of those branded beet shots will work, too. I wouldn’t only use those because of the other additives that are in them, but in traveling your options are limited. The day before and morning of, go for the juice – you don’t want the fiber from whole beets.

Beets also detoxify, so beware if you go from zero to a hundred – pace yourself.

Caffeine is said to negate the effects of the nitrate boost, so lay off the coffee while you’re loading.

I actually hate the taste of beets, but here’s the link to a recipe that isn’t so bad: http://struckbystride.com/roasted-beet-potato-salad/