Diet and Nutrition for Runners: a study of one

May 2, 2014 | By | 17 Replies More

Let me first start off with a disclaimer: I’m not a doctor or nutritionist…these opinions are my own. 

What to eat (and perhaps more importantly what NOT to eat) is a question that inspires, haunts, intrigues and plagues many of us runners quite frequently. It’s a personal choice for many that ignites fiery debates and even eating contests:

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“Diet” nowadays also often expressed as a plethora of brands that capitalize on labeling , defining and selling various (often strict) regimes (i.e. Paleo, Atkins, RAW, Frutarian, etc). Let me first state that I’m not on any “commercial” diet, I don’t count calories or carbs and I drink an Avery Beer just about every day. Let me also state that I do watch what I eat, cook at home with Sandi a lot, and have seen first-hand the strong correlation between running performance and eating quality food (yes, I have read Jurek’s “Eat and Run” book). In college and at Hansons I used to run pretty well off of beer, pizza and pancakes..so why change? Well, I learned that it was not a sustainable practice (just like Running For The Hansons) that would eventually limit me and/or lead to my demise in the sport (I also met Sandi and started listening to my parents more and more so that helped refine what I eat). Now you can see a sharp contrast in how my personal diet has evolved from my early twenties to my later twenties:

College/Hansons diet days:

local fav in college

local fav in college

homemade buttermilk-chocolate. Layer of real butter between each and plenty of grade A real maple syrup only!

homemade buttermilk-chocolate. Layer of real butter between each and plenty of grade A real maple syrup only!

Ithaca's own: the Nine's Deep Dish pizza. Extra cheese and carbs!

Ithaca’s own: the Nine’s Deep Dish pizza. Extra cheese and carbs!

 

What I eat nowadays:

good ol Avery!

good ol Avery!

Green is gold!

Green is gold!

spicy vegan black-bean sweet potato tacos with an avocado-lime-cilantro sauce.

spicy vegan black-bean sweet potato tacos with an avocado-lime-cilantro sauce.

 

A recent former teammate of mine from Hansons (a 2:14 marathoner no less) recently asked me how I recovered from ultras so fast and didn’t get injured (knock on wood). I thought about this for a moment: Surely having chicken-like bone skinny arms and a low body fat % has helped lessen the force of impact that my legs have to tolerate every day…then of course there’s the HOKA shoes and the fact that I do speed work to help iron out my form (hasn’t worked much, I’m still a heel-striker). Gear and biomechanics aside though, I came to the conclusion that my diet plays a very large role in my recovery and “resistance” to injury.

 

First off, I was born and raised as an ovo-lacto vegetarian..That’s right…I’m built mostly out of cheese and peanut butter! I can thank my parents for that. But it is a diet that I have basically continued for the last 28 years of my life, except now I eat more gluten-free, more organic and (at times) more vegan. I eat a ton of avocados and almond butter. I take Flora Health “7 sources oil” for Omega-3s and eat the occasional egg.  But I’m not here to expouse my high carb- beer infused nearly vegan lifestyle on you. No strict diet propaganda here…

Rather, I invite you to analyze your own diet and it’s role in affecting not just your future health, but your running and general sense of well-being. Obviously I’m biased with my upbringing and living in the “bubble” that is Boulder, CO – however, my personal diet journey is still ultimately a study of one (as yours should be) but there are studies out there that you can take with a grain of salt (pun intended):

An interesting study with some elite marathon runners I know:

 http://www.runvictoriamarathon.com/pdf/Stellingwerf-MarathonCaseStudy.pdf

No long-term low-carb diet restrictions, but rather strategic carb depleted runs as mentioned in my earlier post.  Also check out my the videos on my YouTube channel, “Vo2max Productions” on diet, race day strategy and nutrition:

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In closing, I will continue to ingest some “high octane” fuel (aka Vfuel gels) in ultra marathons and races even as short as a marathon (which I plan to take about five Vfuel gels at Chicago this fall attempting to qualify for my 3rd US Olympic Marathon Trials with a sub 2:18:00 marathon). The name of the game is fitness, and how close your lactate threshold velocity is to your Vo2max velocity. This determines your marathon pace and also how efficiently you can utilize your glycogen stores to hold off “the wall” beyond 20 miles. Of course the more finely tuned the aerobic engine and the running economy (read: efficiency) of your form/stride/structural soundness the more  you can utilize higher percentages of fat at higher intensities. That is the name of the game!  Both Meb and Rita Jeptoo , the recent 2014 Boston Marathon Champions took their special fluid bottles at the last elite aid station (around mile 24)…this says something about putting down a drink late in a race for a strong finish! Sure, I can do 8+ hours in the mountains at 12,000′ on a single gel or less (I did the 10-mile traverse from Frisco to Breck last summer in this fashion) but at higher intensities I’m going to bonk very hard (just like everyone else!).

 

Okay, now I gotta pack for Transvulcania and run the Wings of Life World run in Denver! 

Cheers,

Sage

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About the Author ()

2-time Olympic Trials Qualifier, Mountain runner, Author of "Running For The Hansons," trail runner, videos for Vo2max Productioins, LLC.

Comments (17)

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  1. Mark Garrod (Active4Good) UK says:

    Hi Sage
    A really interesting blog.
    It sounds like your parents care to ensure that your diet was very healthy, balanced, nutritious and junk free, helped to make you the elite athlete you are today.
    You deserve credit for continuing to follow this healthy road. Think yourself and Sandi have it spot on.
    It has taken me 50 years to realise the importance of nutrition and living a healthy lifestyle.
    Diet and nutrition…….we certainly are what we eat. Am sure this explains your speedy recovery from your long endurance races.
    The YouTube pancake training is entertaining and well funny, good on you for putting it out there.
    Regarding your Marathon fuelling strategy, I have read that consuming 1g of Carb per kg of bodyweight, is a strategy that many endurance athletes employ. Is this something that you have found?

    Wish you best of luck and a great red carpet finish in beautiful La Palma. Have visited the Canaries with my wife and children a number of times, but unfortunately never on La Palma.
    Best Regards Mark Garrod (UK)

    • SageCanaday says:

      Hey Mark,
      It’s never too late to get on the diet to healthy eating (and running!). Thanks for the support. I weigh about 65kg, and took 5 gels (25g of carb each) during a marathon. It does depend on the weather conditions, how well-trained the person is very running hills/altitude and how their metabolism is though for the race and timing of carbs during a race. Thank you again for your comment! Cheers,
      Sage

  2. Joaquin says:

    Hey Sage! Good Luck to you at the Transvulcania! Can you also share the tacos recipe?

  3. Roby says:

    Hi Sage!

    Awesome article!! Thank you for sharing.

    You know, that’s one thing that crosses every runner mind’s at least once; I personally believe that proper nutrition plays a key role during the recovery phase, but should it start prior the race? Having a correct carbo load, good race nutrition and a good post-race meal (or meals in my case) is a good practice and the body will notice and learn how to take advantage of it.

    Regarding the usage of Flora Health “7 Sources”, I’ve noticed that you use it a lot, and even read some of the benefits in their site, but do you use it during an ultra? It is kinda hard to find it here in Costa Rica but I try to use a lot of olive oil and cot liver oil, is it a good combination?

    Thank you again for sharing with us your findings, I hope you have a great trip to La Palma and a more spectacular race! Hope to see you soon here in CR.

    Pura vida coach!

    Roby

    • SageCanaday says:

      Hey Roby,
      Thanks so much!
      I think with nutrition we have to always be aware of how it might affect our health/running. I don’t use the oil during an ultra…it is more as a supplement and general, daily thing I eat. Again though, I haven’t done 100 miles (where I might be tempted to have some oil/fat solid food such as an almond butter sandwich and more chips). Sandi and I use olive oil a ton…cot liver is supposed to be good I think but depends where it is sourced from and if it’s really pure. Glad to help you out and thanks for the support!
      We’re coming to Costa Rica at the end of the month! Hope to see you! Keep up the great work.
      Cheers,
      Sage

  4. Michael says:

    Good post and the study you linked was very interesting. I’m curious, have you come up with a good solution for a recovery drink for those times when whole foods aren’t logistically possible (i.e. no refrigeration available, etc) to have right after a run? It seems like most of the commercially-available products are just overpriced mixtures of maltodextrin and whey/soy protein isolate.

    • SageCanaday says:

      I think. It’s always an experiment, but it depends on mental discipline and lifestyle choices (on how low-carb you want to go). I still believe variety is the spice of life and that mixing it up is best for me. I’m going to keep up this program mostly (doing into some long runs with little to no carbs and then eating mostly carbs most days during the week)

  5. Steve Szakal says:

    Have you ever thought about doing a 24 hour race? I have my first one next month and I am really trying to tap into my fat burning system.

  6. Anthony Zimmitti says:

    Question: I myself am a plant based athlete. I have been struggling a bit in the overall energy department and Am wondering if you take any supplements for overall wellness? Hammer products or Carbo Pro etc. thanks

    • SageCanaday says:

      hi, yeah I take some B12 and iron/magnesium, vitamin D, (careful not to take too much though). Flora Health products, Ugo Bars and things like that mainly. I drink quite a bit of coffee as well!

  7. Lior Carmon says:

    Hi Sage,

    Thanks to your previous VO2MaxProduction cast, I was exposed to TEFF. Since last year when I prepared to my first 26.2 – NYC marathon – it only gets better. Recovery is swift, and the general feeling is that you can hold tough tempos and intervals trainings without collapsing at the end.

    Few of my friends started consuming it as well on daily basis.

    Have a good one and good luck with your Rio 2016 practices!

    Lior

  8. Tito says:

    Hi Sage,

    I do love your VO2Max project in youtube.
    I’ve plan training for my next 50K-50Mil, and see a lot training regime on your channel. It’s inspires me a lot. Waiting your update there.

    When i saw your blog, you have nutrition/ diet plan as well. It’s awesome bro! hope you can share it to VO2max as well.

    Hope someday you can visit Indonesia. Mountain Trail Running is growing up here.

    Cheers,
    Tito

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