29 August 2013

Cleaning up nutrition-wise

When I first got into running long, I was in college and would make one grocery store run per month (can you say stock up on non-perishables), and the double-wide dinner - mac n'cheese + chopped up hot dogs - as well as cheese quesadillas were my foods of choice. Quick, fast, and minimal mess. But not the healthiest. I wasn't super focused on my weight, but it was apparent in pictures from 1st semester (NOT training for anything but the beer olympics) compared to pictures from 2nd semester of my senior year (marathon training where every weekend brought my longest run ever) I slimmed down and toned up. The change was gradual and besides the addition of strenuous exercise and subtraction of weekend alcohol, I didn't change my living or eating habits at all, except I was eating larger quantities of said mac & cheese and burritos.

This all served me well post-college when I still kept up with my running enough to stave off any negative effects from my still-relatively poor diet. I was a middle-of-the-pack runner and I knew I was never going to be elite, I didn't own a scale and judged my weight by how my clothes fit and things seemed to be just fine so I didn't see any need to give up the double-wide dinner, processed foods, or limit my visits to the office candy bowl. The trend continued after I moved over to triathlon - again, middle of the pack racer, still learning how to swim, figuring out that being a stand-alone runner does not always translate into running success in the triathlon world, and also realizing that skirts were my friend now that biking had suddenly caused exponential thigh widening. I didn't have visions of being any type of elite racer - I just wanted to someday finish a half Ironman under 6 hours and cross an Ironman finish line in one piece. And if I was never going to be a contender for the podium, why would I sacrifice the food I enjoyed eating?

After working with Jen Harrison for a season or two, I started doing better in races; my swim wasn't such a liability anymore and I could run off the bike relatively well, as long as I didn't overcook myself pushing the pedals. She began reminding me that training can only take you so far - when you start competing for the podium, EVERYONE is doing the hard, long training - what starts to differentiate between athletes are the little things that add up:
- diet
- sleep
- focus
- mental prep

This is when Mac and Cheese and all the other processed junk started to lose their appeal. In 2011 I started racing closer to the front of my age group in triathlons and began to make eating right a priority in order to see how far I could go. Eating mainly whole foods and cutting out the unprocessed stuff has absolutely made a difference both in how I feel and how well I race. I also drink very little alcohol - I will have a glass of wine every few weeks and when I went out for restaurant week last Tuesday and had two margaritas, that was the most I've had to drink in a very long time.

I still love, love, love bagels but I'm trying to not eat them EVERY morning for breakfast and instead have yogurt with oats and fruit some days or oatmeal or an omelette with kale, onion, tomato, and whatever other vegetable we have lying around. We also do not buy cereal very often because 1) zero nutritional value; and 2) I'll eat a whole box for breakfast because cereal, devoid of nutritional value that it is, is also very, very tasty. 

I'm not a vegetarian anymore (I know, short-lived stint). Sometimes I crave meat, whether it's chicken or fish, and even once in awhile red meat, and I take that as a sign that my body needs something and so I'll eat it. But I don't eat meat every day or at every meal, I probably eat it about 3-4 times a week and usually in the form of fish, sometimes chicken. I had steak while on Cape Cod and that was the first time in ages I'd had red meat. Oh, and of course bacon mmmmmm. 

I DO try to fill my plate with healthy food and get my fill of fruits and vegetables each day with minimal processed filler. One of the best, most helpful and wonderful things in the world is the fact that Mr. Sweetie enjoys cooking and he's creative in the kitchen and always comes up with some great dishes, usually ones filled with fresh veggies. We get deliveries from Arlington's Green Grocer and make it a goal to eat all of the veggies and fruits that are delivered to us. Also, since using the Feed Zone cookbooks, I've discovered how tasty sticky rice is. Rice bowls have become a staple meal in our household.

I bring my lunch to work 95% of the time, typically in the form of leftovers from the night before (and that 5% that I don't is because I ate a big dinner and there were no leftovers, womp womp). This saves money and keeps me in control of what is on my plate and in my food. I don't really like going out to eat, I see eating at restaurants/buying lunch as a special occasion-type thing and not an everyday thing. There's also a grocery store near work, which is a good thing because there is no lunch box large enough to hold all of the snacks I eat at work during the day - always hungry. I try not to go snack shopping immediately after doing a run or bike ride because that is just asking for trouble (one time I went in for bagels and walked out with $50 worth of food, whoops). I focus on shopping around the perimeter of the store, picking up grapes, whatever berries are in season, bananas, sometimes a loaf of wheat bread for toast, peanut butter, and yogurt. My splurge is this chocolate and strawberry granola and I have zero self control when that stuff is in my filing cabinet.

We've started making our own snacks and workout fuel, thanks to the Feed Zone. We'll bring those snacks on long car trips and those French Toast Cakes were worth their weight in gold during IMLP by keeping me full and happy.

I still eat chocolate almost every day in some form or another. I have enough willpower to give it up completely for a short period of time, when there is a specific end date and goal race and I have a post-race chocolate party planned (IMLP, for example, I ate very cleanly for about 3 weeks leading up to the race). We keep chocolate chips in the house sometimes and I'll have a mini ramekin of chocolate chips to satisfy the craving. I'll also try to make myself eat an apple with cinnamon/sugar or a frozen fruit popsicle instead to see if that satisfies the craving. If it doesn't, chocolate it is! 

I do feel alot better eating this way, and the difference is especially noticeable when I revert back to processed foods or if I eat something fried. The difference in how I feel is more than enough motivation to keep eating well. I also really like the foods I'm eating and don't deprive myself of something if I really want it, so it's sustainable too. 


Meredith said...

This is something I desperately need to work on and desperately want to work on. But it just seems like a daunting task (oh my gosh, I eat horribly) and I'm not even sure where to start.

Thanks for the motivation and ideas.

Damon Taaffe said...

Why give up chocolate? :-) http://www.organicauthority.com/blog/organic/new-study-dark-chocolate-aids-in-post-workout-stress-recovery/