Nutrition For Distance Running: An Experiment of Many

April 11, 2016 | By | 9 Replies More

Nutrition For Distance Running: An Experiment of Many…

Disclaimer: I’m not a Doctor (obviously). I’m not an RD either! I simply have a passion for nutrition, the environment and distance running. I took a handful of Nutrition/Chem/Bio courses during my time at Cornell University but most of what I learned is from lay study. Take my advice with a grain of salt (pun intended) – and please consult your doctor before taking any supplements or changing your diet/lifestyle. I’m not liable for any health issues or death you may or may not encounter!

 

The whole “experiment of one” phrase is used a lot in diet debates. While I agree that our individual differences make us unique, I also believe that we all have a lot more in common than many think (and this includes what may be good for us to eat!). But honestly, like a study with a large sample size, I think most “diets” and nutritional choices actually are an “experiment of many.” There is a plant-based/vegan movement, there are crowds of Paleo diet eaters, Atkins and gluten-free groups, and there are all combinations in-between.

 

Like with distance running training, individualization and customization is ideal for “fine tuning the athletic machine.” We are all-different and respond slightly different to various stimuli. However, there are basic key principles/fundamentals in distance running training theory that we all benefit from (i.e. building an aerobic base with higher mileage moderate intensity running, periodization, specific long runs and speed workouts). This is much like diet I think! There are general principles and things that most of us may (or should) all have in common.

 

What are some of those things?

 

Well for starters you probably all know by now that I have a heavy bias for whole food plant based eating. I’m not going to make this diet debate about trying to convert you to veganism though! Instead I want to point out (what I see) as elements to a healthy lifestyle and I feel have helped me in the past:

 

  1. Eat more fruits and veggies (duh). Just like your mom told you! I believe this is somewhat common sense, but for some reason people seem to think whole fruit is bad for you. Yeah, it’s a lot of carbs but veggies and fruit are chock full of essential vitamins or nutrients…and the fiber fills you up. I don’t think any established diet can argue that eating more fruits and veggies is bad for you. Eat a rainbow of colors…never worry about constipation again.
Mango with cherry tomatoes and a Tahini-dill sauce with homemade falafels on a collard green leaf/wrap

Mango with cherry tomatoes and a Tahini-dill sauce with homemade falafels on a collard green leaf/wrap

 

  1. Highly processed food, food with artificial colors and food with preservatives isn’t that good for you! A lot of packaged/pre-made stuff has hidden amounts of chemicals not found in nature. Probably best to avoid these as many also are chock full of extra sugar and sodium and fat that your body simply doesn’t need. “Empty calories” so to speak. Every probably knows this…but they are so addictive and there are so many products out there!

 

  1. It really is all about balance and moderation (but that doesn’t mean eat what you crave!). I’ve had blood panels done as a runner to check to make sure my iron levels, B12 levels, magnesium levels and vitamin D levels are in check. It is easy to get biased with yourself and think you are getting a “well rounded diet” when in fact you may be lacking. If people just ate on raw emotion and “instinct” (probably too often the case in the US) every meal may very well be from McDonalds or contain donuts!
IMG_5209

Typical lunch = rice/beans with salsa, salad/greens, avocado and wheat/flour tortillas. You can say the tortillas are processed, but I’m not that picky! They are natural, organic, and locally made.

In closing, people seem to generalize with macronutrient ratios as the “end all” to describing a diet (i.e. the “standard American diet or ‘SAD’ is 30% fat, and the low fat plant based diet can be 15% fat, 15% protein, 70% carbs, whereas Paleo and ‘low carb’ may be 40% fat, 30% protein and only 30% carbs). I believe that’s a major disservice and oversimplification to nutrition as obviously the details of nutrient/exercise timing as well as the mix/interaction of all nutrients can drastically change what happens in the body. Lots of variables at play there and any study that isolates single nutrients is playing a dangerous game of being inherently flawed to some degree.

Typical "Afternoon Tea Time Snack" with UgoBars and Trail Butter....I like something sweet with my tea/coffee

Typical “Afternoon Tea Time Snack” with UgoBars and Trail Butter.…I like something sweet with my tea/coffee

Personally I’ve found that a lot of antioxidants (from things like Flora Healthy Green TEA as well as Goji Berries!) and a nice source of Omega-3s and fiber (from Flora Healthy flaxseeds) are part of what keeps me healthy as an endurance athlete. While this is an obvious sponsor/product plug, I truly believe that a lot of people seem to need more of both antioxidants and fiber in their diet as well.

IMG_5153

THE GOJI DESSERT?!

 

Fiber = Health!

Fiber = Health!

I think we can learn a lot from “Blue Zones”…cultures of people that have thrived with certain types of diets for long periods of time. Unlike in many first world countries like the US, these people do not suffer from high rates of coronary heart disease, cancers, diabetes, strokes and obesity as much. Why certain “diet cults” don’t focus on these Blue Zones and what they have to offer is beyond me.

 

This is why I believe it’s a “study of many.” We’re all in this together as a human species. The human body is amazing at being able to adapt to eating a very wide variety of foods (we could probably survive on plastic for a while….some highly processed food basically has plastic in it nowadays anyway!)…but some foods definitely are not optimal. Some foods likely lead to cancer, diabetes, obesity and heart disease. Some foods/food sources are much more energy costing and destructive to the environment as well.

 

In the words of Michael Pollen: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly Plants…”

 

-Coach Sage

www.SageRunning.com

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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 (9)

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  1. Guy Mac says:

    Common sense, I’d just add a couple things.
    1) For a broad range of percent carb vs. percent fat, it really doesn’t seem to matter that much in the short term [in terms of athletic performance or health], the body has multiple buffers, etc. It matters much less than most people think or want it to; people want an all-or-nothing approach.
    2) For long term health, the standard Western diet where saturated fat is replaced with processed sugars and by removing fiber seems to be very unhealthy, though of course mitigated by advances in medical technology. So adding saturated fat back into the diet can be a step in the right direction.

    • SageCanaday says:

      Agree. And percentages vary a bit by day (although everyday I personally know I must be well over 50% carbohydrate). I disagree with your point about “adding saturated fat back into the diet.” though. Not saying that processed sugars are good at all (obviously they aren’t), but if there is a drop in processed/refined sugar, it does not follow that there needs to be an increase in fat…esp saturated fat. Nobody should replace anything with processed sugars!

  2. Jeff LaFave says:

    Sage,
    I have heard/seen you on various podcasts and I really appreciate your experienced based wisdom and down to earth attitude. Recently, I have seen more of your comments about diet. I am so glad to see you are a whole foods/plant based person and not on the saturated fat/paleo bandwagon which seems so misguided. I heard you recently on this topic (on TRN or somewhere) and you were outstanding. Glad you see the Dr. Gregor book image on this web page! That is an amazing resource.
    I wish you luck in your upcoming races and very much appreciate the content you have put out on a number of subjects!

  3. Daniel says:

    Do you think there is any truth to what this man says about vegetarianism/veganism? (www.drlwilson.com/Articles/vegetablediets.htm‎)

    Also, what about this on marathon running? (drlwilson.com/ARTICLES/MARATHONS.htm‎)
    I hope none of what he says is true

    • SageCanaday says:

      Well first off it’s impressive he has a degree from MIT. I’d think he’d put a bit more though into sprucing up his website design/blog with that kind of background. I would seriously question a ton of what he writes there though (like pretty much all of ti). Many blanket statements that are surprisingly worded…I mean, “too much yin…” and the sexual fluid part…it’s really off the wall in my opinion. At least he has a disclaimer at the top for as an MD you can get sued for writing that kind of “advice.”

      For sure B12 can be an issue for vegans and is important to get, but other than that….how many people have you met (who didn’t have an eating disorder) who had major issues with being “low on protein” or “high in copper”?

      He cites Weston A. Price as one source (which I think is highly controversial at best).

  4. Trailmomm says:

    I just discovered that you were plant-based from a Trail Runner Magazine article. I had no idea. I’ve been a plant-based ultra runner for 23 years myself and live and breathe this way of eating. I 100% agree with your message and I have a huge passion for nutrition as well.
    I have no real question or anything, I just wanted to say THANK YOU for promoting this way of living. I’ve slowly convinced all of my running partners to look into or convert by just living the way I live and eating the way I eat and continuing to run strong and recover quickly. My spouse of 12 years also converted about 4 years ago and his mountain biking has improved!

    I’ve met and listened to Dr. Greger by the way, amazing speaker and that book is awesome.

    Thanks again! Best of luck at WS. I live near Auburn – great race, great course.

    • SageCanaday says:

      Hey so great to hear! thank you so much for your support…yes, Dr. Greger is a great resource! Keep up the plant based lifestyle and best of luck with your training!

  5. Jeff says:

    Certainly being plant-based is working well for you, but the “experiment of one” phrasing is actually very useful and shouldn’t be considered as a cop out. We are all vastly different and nutrition is a very imprecise science; there are far too many variables in individual biochemistry and lifestyle to make many assumptions, even those long considered “common sense”.

    I was vegetarian or vegan for 10 years for just about all of the reasons anyone can give – environmental, health, animal welfare, global food supply, etc. I have degrees in nutrition and environmental health so I’m acutely aware of many of these issues. Ultimately I was becoming more unhealthy and I gained weight over this time. My experience may not be typical, but eating the high-carb diet associated with being vegan directly negatively affected my mental health, cholesterol levels, and quality of life. I reluctantly moved to more of a Paleo-style diet in the last 18 months and all of these things have improved. In the same period, my mother-in-law went from omni to vegan and feels much better, lost weight, and improved many of her blood panel results. Something like genetic differences in alpha amylase can lead to huge variations in what makes someone healthy and feel well.

    I completely respect your athletic career and a lot of what you say above is great, but I wanted to mention that you’re probably well outside of the mainstream in terms of genetics. You likely also have mental determination and willpower that many of us will only ever fantasize about. Most of us could never achieve what you have achieved regardless of diet, and readers should understand that what applies to a world-class athlete doesn’t always apply to a couch potato. I don’t want to make any presumptions about you in particular, but oftentimes it’s hard for those with the willpower to follow a strict diet to understand those that can’t, and certain diets will be more optimal depending on known and unknown personal characteristics.

    Lastly (and this was more than I intended to write!), diet is one aspect of Blue Zones, but there are other genetic and lifestyle factors that are in play with those groups. For example, these groups tend to be genetically homogenous, which limits applicability to all of us, and social factors play a huge role in the longevity of those Blue Zones.

    Again, I’ve followed your races for a few years and think you’re a great ambassador for the sport of ultrarunning. (I’m about to queue up Ethan’s video of you at WS, in fact.) Keep up the good work!

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