RealTalk: Runner’s and Nutrition

Sorry for being MIA again, the holidays kept me busy and running has been quite uneventful. For the most part training was going well until I had a little bump in the road and strained my back. This caused me to take about a week off and now I am 3 weeks into my training and prepping for the Redondo Beach Super Bowl 10K to gauge where my fitness is. In the meantime, I’ve decided it was time to talk about another topic–nutrition.

Nutrition is a touchy topic, especially when it comes to female distance athletes. Proper nourishment is key, it is our fuel as well as our aid in recovery. Society has these perceptions of what it means to be healthy, as well as fit. For a distance runner, many have this idea of being lean and having as low body fat as possible. While at UCLA, I was apart of Dr. Natiiv’s study on the female athlete triad, which has not only monitored my health and bodily functions, but also educated me on the importance of fueling properly. I am by no means an expert in this area, but like many, I have my own views and experiences in this subject.

I come from a petite family. Being of all female athletes, my family has always seemed to have a standard–being skinny. Growing up, we were all skinny, and we knew little to nothing about nutrition. I grew up eating fast food multiple times a week and living off Ragu after school; at home, my nickname was garbage disposal. It was always fun seeing how much I can eat, almost a competition with myself with each meal. It was awesome, I ate as I pleased and had no consequences. When I encountered my first injury my sophomore year of high school, everything changed.

Initially, being high energy, I channeled my time away from running into working out at the gym. I would spend at least 3 hours a day going between the bike, elliptical and weights. Due to my vigorous training, I ate more than ever and was in the best shape of my life. At the time, I didn’t realize you can overtrain and as a result was burnt out as far as running fitness. Due to overtraining, I was soon limited to two grass laps per day. Unfortunately, the decrease in my training did not affect my appetite and before I knew it all my hard work in the gym was gone. Before this, weight meant nothing to me, I don’t even know if I ever weighed myself until I realized I no longer fit in the same clothes I had been wearing since middle school. Suddenly, I became conscious of everything and everyone around me. I no longer wanted this reputation of the “garbage disposal”, the weight made running difficult and family members unknowingly made comments that forever changed my perspective of body image. I came to realize the importance of diet and nutrition.

This new realization started off positive; I was motivated to get in shape and wanted to learn how to fuel for optimal performance. Overtime, I became more fit and felt better in my training. I was quite successful during my junior year season and began talking to several universities as well as meeting other runners in my state who were at the same caliber. I began to notice the prevalence of undernourished runners as well as their sudden and deceptive success the smaller they got. Because of their great success, I became quite intrigued but continued to follow my own while observing this peculiar method among some of my peers.

Upon committing to SMU, I felt determined to prove my worth not only to my new coaches, but also to my peers. I still remember this day like it was yesterday: I was visiting my new college coach at the Mt. SAC Relays and she said “We’re going to make you a mean, lean machine”, this innocent comment unknowingly struck a chord in me that made me believe I was not skinny enough. I felt like a disappointment; I was going into college on a full scholarship and I wasn’t doing my part as an elite runner. Right then, I decided I needed to make greater changes in my life. I do not remember the specifics of my regimen, but it was strict. I logged everything I ate and would often give my boyfriend at the time my lunches. I then noticed if I restricted calories and then increased it before a major workout or race, I had a lot of energy and in my eyes “raced better”. I thought I was happy, but I was a nervous wreck.

College became a stressful environment. I hated the dining hall because I wanted to eat it all but also feared I would gain weight due to my starving body–food consumed my world. I remember one teammate took note of my strict eating regimen and commented to other teammates inquiring whether she should bring her concerns to our coach. I feared being exposed, cancelled my meal plan and moved to a dorm with a kitchen. At this point, I felt isolated and unhappy with my body. I found myself binging and then stressing about the weight I felt I was gaining. Luckily, I was meeting with an off-campus nutritionist whom I trusted and would monitor as well as suggest additions to my meals. I couldn’t imagine going on this way forever.

Upon leaving SMU, I no longer wanted to live this way. When I started at UCLA, I wanted to start a new lifestyle, a healthy one. Unfortunately, along with injury came my downfall and I again found myself obsessing over calories but not living a healthy lifestyle that promoted optimal weight loss. Years of injury led me to seek help through our Counseling and Psychological Services, where I made it a point to make healthy changes in my life for both running and my own personal health.

Now, I am healthy and happier than ever. I am finally at an ideal weight, though I do not weigh myself to know what it is. I do not have a diet, rather I follow a healthy, balanced, life-style. I must admit, I am a picky eater, but this is due to the many stomach issues resulting from food intolerances and IBS. Aside from avoiding gluten, dairy, and alcohol, I do not restrict any foods. I do, however, practice nutrient timing. By this, I mean I allocate my carbs strategically around physical activity and increase my protein intake later in the day. A typical day for me would look like:

Breakfast

  • Overnight oats (soaked overnight)
    • oats
    • seeds
    • soy milk
  • Cold Brew Coffee
  • Fruit of Choice

Post Run

Lunch

  • Gluten-free turkey and avocado sandwich with arugula
  • carrots and hummus
  • apple sauce

Snack

  • Banana and almonds/almond butter

Dinner

  • Chicken and arugula salad with watermelon
  • 2 slices of gluten-free toast
  • 1 cup of Soy Milk

I just want to stress the importance of watching your words when dealing, not only with female athletes, but people of all types–including male athletes–in relation to diet and their body. Our society has so many expectations and standards of the “ideal body type”. Being that I am an elite athlete and hoping to turn professional, I do realize my body and the food I eat is important. Like Matt Fitzgerald states in Racing Weight: How To Get Lean for Peak Performance, I believe I do have a certain weight I must be at by the peak of my season, but I do not strive to stay at that weight year round.  Because nutrition is part of the job, I am careful with what I eat, but I do not restrict foods nor do I fear gaining weight. If I am craving a gluten-free donut or a burger, I am going to have it. Luckily, these cravings are infrequent, and I strongly believe it it because I am eating a balanced diet. When I am having an unusual craving, I’ve noticed it is due to either my heavy training from the day, or I failed to adequately fuel during the day and my body is trying to make up for it. I do not plan cheat days, I know this may work for some, but I am not going to let food control my week, rather I take control of my own life and eat as I please.

Currently, I am in the process of creating a page on my site that will feature my staple meals and snacks. They are all extremely simple and fit those with a hectic schedule like my own. I hope my own experience with nutrition has put some sort of impact on your own experiences.

For further reading, below are my favorite running nutrition books:

  1. Racing Weight: How To Get Lean for Peak Performance -Matt Fitzgerald
  2. Ultimate Sports Nutrition -Ellen Coleman & Suzanne Nelson Steen

Feature Image Courtesy of: http://www.stampedecrossfit.com/getting-started/nutrition-programs/