Chicago Marathon Nutrition
The rest and recovery period since Chicago has been great. I've been indulging a ton and enjoying easy paced runs with less stress. Over the last 2 weeks or so though, I've started to feel more sluggish and less rested which means it's time to tighten up on my nutrition and get back into training mode with a few more races to go to finish out the season.
Chicago was the first training cycle where I really focused on my nutrition as an essential element to my success. Outside of fueling during my runs, my nutrition was my saving grace from a terrible training cycle, and it kept me healthy at the points in my cycle when my body wanted to break.
Before we start talking about nutrition, to give you some of my background, I've never struggled with weight. I've been fortunate to be gifted with a fast metabolism from my mother, and an athletic drive from my father. My name is Sugar Runs for a reason though - because I LOVE SUGAR. I initially loved running because I could eat whatever I wanted and still maintain my weight. I then loved running because it gave me a competitive drive to get faster and work harder. Since running the marathon distance though and really improving my times, it became more difficult for my body to feel good both during and after my runs. This is a combination of so many things - recovery, nutrition, and training - that need to work together to get our bodies to function at their best. I began focusing on the recovery and maintenance in the beginning of the Chicago cycle by doing physical therapy, massages, and chiropractic work, but my body was still feeling heavy and tired, so I looked outside of my physical training to what I was putting into my body.
I also got help. I reached out to my friend, Jessica Craig from Jessica Craig Health, a certified nutritionist whose been working in the health industry as a personal trainer, wellness coach, nutritionist, and even a gym owner, for the last 10 years. She's also a runner, so I knew she would understand the nutritional needs I had for the mileage I was doing. I gave Jessica my weekly training schedule with the days I worked out, the type of workout (speed, tempo, recovery, long run), and the range of miles I would be running on average per week. We talked a bit about my current diet and the foods I loved. I also set a few parameters for her (had to have something sweet each day and I didn't want to feel deprived - normal requests!), and then she worked on a nutrition plan for me.
Jessica provided me with a few sample meals to understand the types of food I should be eating and the general amount of carbs, fat, and protein I should be taking in each day. I was happy to see most of the foods I was already eating in the plan, just with more thought on their combination and when I should be eating them. It was so hard at first, but I was still able to indulge a bit in my dessert habit in much more strict moderation. After the first two weeks of changing my habits, I felt amazing. I had more energy going into my workouts, and even though they were tough, my body was holding up and recovering faster than before. Here's the significant things I changed that made the most impact.
One of the main things I had to work on was tracking. I needed to see what I was eating and when, to figure out what I shouldn't be eating. I used My Fitness Pal to track - a website and app that has tons of foods so logging and tracking is easy and not overwhelming. You can also import your own recipes so you can find a few you love making over and over and just add it quickly.
Once I started tracking, I realized I was taking in 3,000 - 3,500 calories A DAY. That's ridiculous. While this isn't about calories, most of that was coming from mindless eating at my desk during the day or eating a pint of ice cream every night at 9 pm. I also wasn't burning that off with the miles I was running, so I had gained a few pounds. It was unnecessary and not useful to my body or what I was asking it to do for me. Tracking my food also made me realize I was not getting enough protein.
Jessica didn't put me on a specific diet (paleo, vegetarian, vegan etc), but she did want me to ensure I was getting a certain range of macros each day. Macros are the amount of carbs, protein, and fat you take in each day. I was in a very flexible range for all of these numbers based on my weight. Jessica wanted me to take in a range of 175-200 g carbs, 50-60 g fat, and 100-120 g of protein. Prior to my tracking, I was taking in about 50 grams of protein. No wonder my body was having such a hard time coming back from speed workouts! My muscles weren't getting enough protein to rebuild themselves. Once I started tracking, it was easy to get to at least 90 grams of protein a day from real, good food.
In addition to my protein intake to rebuild the muscles I was breaking down, I needed to focus on anti-inflammatory foods. Sadly, sugar is one of the most common inflammatory foods. While we need simple sugars to fuel us during our runs, afterwards, things like turmeric and tart cherry juice help reduce the inflammation in our muscles and speed recovery. I looked at incorporating these by roasting veggies or chicken seasoned with turmeric, adding tart cherry juice to my smoothie bowls, and having turmeric milk for dessert instead of a sugary treat.
It was super tough at first to cut out all the snacking and to really limit my dessert to a piece of fruit or a small piece of dark chocolate, but eventually, I felt so much better. I was more satisfied after my meals which helped stop the endless snacking, and I ended up dropping the extra weight I'd put on. Again, this is not about weight, but I lost it naturally as I began eating foods that made me feel better and more satisfied.
I'm much more focused on my ultimate goal. I want to get better at running, and in order to do that, I need to respect my body. That idea helps me make better choices and listen to what my body needed to perform better. I'll be sharing more of my nutrition throughout the Boston training cycle and will be adding some recipes that I love. If you're interested in learning more about your nutrition or working with a nutritionist to make your running better, please reach out to Jessica on her website.
How do you manage your nutrition during training?
Do you track your food?