Sunday, January 5, 2014

Eating Paleo as an Endurance Runner

Run like a Caveman
Before I started eating Paleo, I had a laundry list of minor health complaints similar to what everyone else complained about, and I thought that's just the way it is. Since making the change, I feel SO MUCH BETTER. More energy, easier cycles, steadier mood, better digestion. Most importantly, my autoimmune symptoms are almost completely gone. And as an added bonus, I've lost 33 pounds. It's also affected my running for the better.

I made the switch June 2, so I've now been about 95% Paleo for seven months. The other 5% is the occasional cheat, eating out, and things like family reunions and church potlucks. Even on those occasions, I try to stay within the guidelines as much as possible but don't worry too much about eating a slice of Great Grandma's famous peach pie. And yes, my body does let me know it isn't happy when I do that, which just reinforces that I'm on the right path.

I did have to make some adjustments to the plan because I'm an endurance runner. I need carbs for energy. I used to carb load on things like pasta, rice, and white potatoes. I've given all of those up. Instead, I eat a lot of sweet potatoes, squash, and tapioca. These are carb-heavy veggies, great for children and athletes. They may not be the best choice for someone who is less active and trying to lose weight, but they're essential for me. I also eat a lot of fruit. The natural sugars are great for energy, and they come with the bonus of good, solid nutrition, as compared to cookies and candies. Lastly, I generously salt my food. I didn't realize how much salt I got from processed food, and when I started making everything from scratch I wasn't getting enough sodium. Once I realized this and started adding salt to everything, I felt a lot better.

I used to carry Jelly Belly sports beans and drink Gatorade/Powerade on runs. I had no idea how much high fructose corn syrup are in those things, not to mention the food dyes! I replaced the sports beans with dried cranberries. I make my own sports drink by chopping up a lemon to throw in my Camelback, add a teaspoon of salt, fill with water and shake. I add water as needed, and carry a salt packet to add on longer runs (16+ miles).

And what has been the result? Previously, even after 5 years of running, I felt like I was doing well if I could average 13:30/mile. Now I regularly run 12 minutes/mile on longer runs and recently had a personal-best single mile of 8:51! I've set PRs in both the half by 17 minutes and the full (race report coming soon) by 18 minutes, and expect to set another PR in my next marathon in two weeks. After that race, I plan to increase my running interval even more and hope to finish marathon #6 with an average pace around 11 minutes/mile.

I originally planned to give this eating style an 8 week trial. I now plan to stay strict with it for at least 3 years. At some point, I may experiment with adding small amounts of gluten free grains and raw dairy in, but I want to give my body time to heal first.

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