My husband Jay is a natural athlete. He runs, hikes, paddles, bikes, swims, yogas, pilates, crossfits, and does them amazingly well and without pain or injury! He is a genetic anomaly that can do anything! His love, however, is triathlon events. We have spent many evenings discussing how nutrition affects his athletic performance.
Several years ago Jay competed in the Florida Ironman. He trained for a whole year prior, and by the time he competed, he was working out over 20 hours per week. I have always cooked great meals with real food, however, at this point in our life I didn’t hesitate to cook up a big pasta bomb, serve up some steaming fresh garlic bread, plenty of “healthy whole grain” side dishes, and even some yummy homemade desserts. At Jay’s race events he loaded up on goo’s, gels, bars, and sports nutrition/hydration drinks. He ran the Florida Ironman at 190 pounds but even at that amazing level of fitness and training, wasn’t happy with his weight and thick midsection.
Fast forward to today. Today our meals consist of loads of fresh colorful veggies, grass-fed meats, cheeses, eggs, healthy fats, and a few nuts and beans. Although this is far less carbs than most Americans consume, I can’t really call this “low carb” because we eat so many vegetables. Probably more carbs than Dr. Atkins might approve of. I can’t really call it “Paleo” because I’m not real sure what Grok (the caveman) ate anyway, and also I love amazing cheeses. I mostly would call it just eating real food. Gone are the grains, sugars, processed foods, and all goo’s, gels, bars, and sports drinks. Today Jay works out less than half of what he did when he ran the Ironman, yet he is 20 pounds lighter! Believe me, he is not 20 pounds lighter because he doesn’t eat. He EATS! I think that filling your plate with real food that truly nourishes completely changes your body. This has proven to be even truer than a pounding workout schedule. As my friend, Nurse Tracy, at the gym says, “You can’t outrun your diet”. Not only that, his athletic performance has improved! Maybe all those healthy whole grains, sugars, carbs, gels, goos, and magic performance drinks aren’t all they are cracked up to be!
So, if he is eating all these healthy veggies, healthy fats, and grass-fed meats, and eliminating all the high carb processed sports products, how does he maintain energy in his long athletic events? Traditional thinking is that endurance athletes have to carb load before an event, and then keep their body fueled on quick energy carbs all during the event. Where does eating real food come in to all this? My instinct is that all of the sugar and processed junk that so many athletes eat can’t be good. Dr. Volek and Dr. Finney wrote a book called “The Art and Science of Low Carb Performance”. In this book they discuss the body’s amazing ability to burn fat as fuel instead of sugar. If this is true, can you eat a high fat breakfast and go compete in an event without worrying about keeping fueled on goos, bars and gels? Jay has proven this to be true. A few weeks ago he ran the Stumpy Creek Triathlon with no processed foods, drinks, or sugars. He drank water and ate a homemade peanut butter athletic food we affectionately call his “fat bomb”. This consists of coconut oil, butter, peanut butter, organic cream cheese, almonds and sugar free cocoa. You mix it all up in a food processor and spoon them out in blobs on a cookie sheet. Then refrigerate them until they are solid and you can remove them and put them in a bag in the freezer. Jay took two of them in a cooler to the race, but he only ate one. He took six minutes off his best run time. He said he felt amazingly strong all the way to the end. He plowed right up the hills at the end of the race without even slowing down. He said he has never run a triathlon and felt that good at the end. Not only that, his guts held together well. He had no midrace potty problems. Sometimes Jay (and plenty of other athletes) will get halfway through an event and have to find a port-a-john. For sure this type of problem will take minutes off your time. I wonder if all the processed foods might contribute to those types of issues.
So my conclusion from watching Jay’s nutrition and performance for the past ten years is that how your body looks and works may be more a result of nutrition than how many hours you work out. I have also learned that athletic performance is enhanced by healthy food, and that all of the “carbo-licious” gunk that is marketed to athletes may be more about marketing and money than good health and athletic performance.
Now, eat your veggies, then go for a run!