A retired training partner of mine once asked his Kenyan mother-in-law what her favorite food was. She thought that was a weird question. After some thinking she said, “Ugali, I guess.” Ugali is cornmeal porridge of a dough-like consistency. It is a base, used almost as an eatable spoon, and tastes (much like rice, pasta or potatoes) like whatever you are eating it with. Thinking that was an interesting answer (this buddy and I both love varieties of Kenyan food), he asked why. Her answer? “Because it satisfies hunger the best.”
If we ate for fuel alone, the topic of nutrition would be so much easier.
I love food. I appreciate it as fuel, but it is also a passion in my kitchen, a mission on vacation and a social staple.
That said, below are three things that have helped food become fuel for me as a marathoner.
- Eat something within 30 minutes of finishing exercise. I can tell you I feel a difference and science can tell you why. If you do not eat carbs, eat what you normally eat. My diet consists of about 60 percent carbs, so my post run snack is mostly carbs. Your glycogen stores are extra receptive to replenishing immediately following exercise. Now, there is a good-better-best here. Within 30 minutes of exercise, if I can get in 200-300 calories, with as many as 40-50 of those calories coming from protein (and most of the rest from good carbs) then that is a best for me. Fruit snacks are still good. The emphasis here is that if you want to jump start recovery, fueling early upon the completion of a workout is key.
- Eat (or drink) some protein at night. Science says this leaves you resting with higher levels of amino acids in your blood throughout the night, and that likely translates to more muscular recovery. I can tell you I do not wake up starving at 3 a.m. and I feel a little better throughout a training cycle when I’m taking protein at night. 20-30 grams is what I take. And I like Garden of Life Vanilla pea protein.
- Count calories for a couple weeks. This exercise has made a big difference for me. I’m a nutrition facts label reader. I have been for a long time. But measuring and weighing servings of food for a few weeks has left me able to look at a plate of food and tell you about what the macro level nutrition is. This gives me a baseline to go off of no matter where I am training or racing. Even if the food is different, I can get a meal that is similar to what I’m used to in terms of macro nutrition.
If the idea of counting calories is terrifying to you, just do (1) and (2) above. Those are easier, and are going to pay great dividends on your investment. But if you really want to dive in and take control of what you are fueling with, I think the time commitment of a few weeks is worth the knowledge you will gain.
Tweet at me @jwardy21 with any follow up questions.
Photo by: AJ Rich