You Can’t Get Enough of What You Don’t Really Want
February 18, 2019
I really want doughnuts. Plural. Like a box of doughnuts. Cake doughnuts with icing and sprinkles. Apple Fritters. Simple, light and fluffy glazed doughnuts.
If you read this blog, you know I’ve figured out that too much sugar makes me feel blerg. I don’t sleep well, my energy level goes up and down all day, and I can end up sporting a doughnut-like layer of blubber around my middle despite running 20 miles a day.
I still want doughnuts. All. The. Doughnuts.
This quandry has led me to…adulting. I’ve always been a believer in “eat what your body craves”. I think our bodies are much smarter than we think. We are so conditioned to abdicate responsibility for what we really need, that by the time we reach a certain age, we have no idea what that even is.
When I first started running competitively, I always ran fasted. Wake up. Glass of water. Run. No food, no Gatorade. I didn’t know any better. I did my long runs with a few fig newtons and water. During races, I avoided the aid stations and just ate stuff I was craving – peanut butter, hamburgers, Starbucks double shots with extra cream. The night before big races, I ate a steak with a loaded baked potato (butter, sour cream, bacon, and cheese).
As the years went by, I was told I wasn’t “fueling properly”. I needed to be consuming 250 calories per hour from carbs while training and racing, and then make sure I sucked down MORE carbs immediately afterward so that I recovered properly. AND, I needed to carb load the night before races. If not, surely I would DIE! The experts told me so. (Not really. No one told me I would die. But they did tell me I would suck. And I definitely didn’t want to suck.)
Over the 10 years I competed at the national and international level, my diet morphed from a fat/protein heavy diet with some delicious desserts, to one that was about 75% carbs (“good” ones, of course…ahem). I started to eat oatmeal (which I don’t even like) with fruit for breakfast, and pasta, rice, and potatoes for dinner. I felt worse and worse. My sleep got all wonky, and my stomach became a mess. Worst of all, I had a hard time finishing races because I was barfing all the time.
But still I persisted. I just needed to eat the “right” carbs. Cut out gluten. Eat whole grain pasta and white rice. Drop the dairy.
Nothing worked. I felt worse. And I was getting fatter.
I started hearing about people doing Low Carb High Fat, but I thought they were morons. Come on, I thought. The EXPERTS say we need CARBS. And LOTS of them.
Then, Tim ended up crewing for Zach Bitter during a 24 hour race in South Carolina. Zach was famous for being VERY, VERY FAST, and eating a lot of fat and not a lot of carbs. Weirdo. Yes, Zach ate some carbs, but way fewer than I was stuffing in my pie hole. I ended up dropping at mile 70-ish because I was spending part of every other loop hurling into a trash can. Sadly, I didn’t immediately change what I was doing (I didn’t trust myself), but I did file Zach’s plan into the cobwebby filing cabinet in my brain.
Fast forward a couple of years, and for every great race I had, I had three crappy ones. I couldn’t predict when my stomach was going to go south, taking my energy and motivation with it. It was beyond frustrating.
Somewhere in there, I decided to experiment removing all the sugar from my diet for a few weeks. At this point, I was eating a TON of sugar. Sugar in my coffee before I ran. Gatorade and candy during my runs. Full-on carb meals after my runs. I hd no plan to go “low carb”, just to cut out the white (and so delicious) poison.
I. Thought. I. Was. Going. To. Die.
Seriously. I was one step away from tweaking. During the first week, I could not walk up a flight of stairs without getting dizzy. Every afternoon, I had to lie down simply to muster up enough energy to make dinner. I was loading up on electrolytes just like everyone said, but I was suffering major sugar withdrawals. It was scary, no kidding.
Fast forward a year and a half later, and I feel like my “old” self. I sleep through the night. My stomach is my friend, not my mortal enemy. I never get nauseous when I train or race. I have unlimited, stable energy – no ups, downs, or bottoming out. I effortlessly stay at my old “racing” weight from when I was most competitive.
There is a lot of debate about whether keto, LCHF, or high carb is best for endurance athletes, and you can find an “expert” to support each approach. I don’t believe there is a “one-size-fits-all” solution. Everyone is different and different approaches work for different people. And while it is really important to do research, and try to fuel your body as best possible for the amount of work you are doing, I do believe you have to listen to your body. When I did that, I felt strong, stable, and capable. When I started ignoring my body, supplanting “expert” opinions for my own, I spiraled slowly towards feeling and performing like crap. I had to get back in touch with what I really needed, what worked for MY body.
Today, I’m basically back to where I was when I felt my best. Back when I didn’t know there was a label for the way I ate. Back when I just ate what I REALLY wanted, and avoided what made me feel like crap. For me, that is hearty food full of fat and protein. If I eat carbs, I make sure they come from stuff I truly want. Like really good fruit. A loaded baked potato. Chips and guacamole.