Just what exactly is the optimal diet for high-level endurance sport performance? This is the question I have been asking myself for a couple of years now. It seems that ultra-endurance sports have many unanswered questions regarding proper training strategies and nutritional approaches. The lack of science-based evidence pertaining specifically to ultra-running has left many asking the questions: “What should I eat?” “When should I eat it?” “Why?” as well as “How many miles is enough?” “What pace should these miles be run at?” “Is 100 miles per week the magic number?” One thing is for sure; the answers can vary widely from individual-to-individual.
Pertaining to nutrition, there have been many fad diets that have taken hold in the athletic community. You all remember the grapefruit and coffee diet? What about the ‘honey’ diet? I specifically remember two of my college teammates ingesting nothing but honey in the 36 hours prior to a 20km ski race. They did not perform optimally. What about carbohydrate consumption on a day-to-day basis? Should we eat 75% of our diet from carbohydrates? What about complex VS simple carbohydrates? What about sugar? Is that even a carbohydrate? Fruit? How much is enough? Can you eat too much fruit? What about the zone diet? 40% carb, 30% fat, 30% protein… is that optimal for us as endurance athletes? Fructose? Sucrose? Glucose? Animal fats? Plant oils? Dairy? Steaks? “Can I eat Wheaties and become an Olympian?” Soy sauce? Salt? Organic? Beef? Chicken? Soy? Cook my spinach? Denatured proteins? Are tomatoes acidic? “Does that mess with my blood type?” “If I am an O+ blood type, can I still eat rice?” “Avocados are ‘basic’ right?” “What about asthma?” “How about my stomach cramp?” “What should I eat to lower inflammation in my bum knee?” “Hey, didn’t I hear that Kirk Apt eats elk liver during races?” Lastly: “What’s the deal with the dude who eats nothing but fruit?” The questions go on and on.
In short, I suggest reading ‘The Omnivore’s Dilemma’ or ‘In Defense of Food’ … both by Michael Pollan, which advocate that there is no magic diet, nutrient, or strategy to live a wholesome and healthy life. Eat simply, live simply, and don’t listen exclusively to big pharma, big agriculture, or the USDA. I tend to agree with this, but the question still looms: how can I enhance my performance through diet?
The major concept I am exploring now is that of ‘The Paleo Diet’ and also an ‘Optimized Fat Metabolism’ protocol. Simply stated; eat less (or zero) grains, fewer legumes, and drastically less carbohydrate in general and focus more on quality nutrition rather than quantity. There may be many benefits to this way of eating and living. I have been completely ‘grain-free’ and consuming substantially fewer carbohydrates over the past 5 weeks and thus feeling lean and generally good! The caveat? I have only been running about 20 – 30 miles per week. What happens when I actually begin a big block of training? Can I manage a training schedule of 80 – 110 miles per week while consuming 150 grams or less of carbohydrate per day? Is this possible? Over the course of the next few months, I will be detailing my own experience with diet and nutrition. Stay tuned for those updates and in the mean time, let the discussion begin! We (Dr. Scott Drum and I) would love to see your comments on the blog post that Scott wrote up. (This will be posted on Thursday 9/29/11) Thanks for reading. Eat well. Eat simply. DC