The bunny is out of the hat: I struggle to maintain a diet that corresponds with the amount of fitness I do. One would that think that as a vegetarian, caffiene-free, runner, I would be at the peak of my nutritional game, a goddess of Health. Spoonfuls of cod-liver oil, arborous bunches of raw broccoli for lunch, a chunk of protein each day. Alas, I am more of a mere mortal than that.
This is not to say I’m not healthy. Nibbling on lettuce leaves or celery sticks or mushroom coins is an every day occurance. I remain faithful to my food journal, scribbling each morsel of food that passes my lips. But I also have habits such as not eating anything except herbal tea or decaf coffee until noon, well after my workout for the day. Or if I workout at night, I’ll not eat for hours beforehand in preparation of the jostling I will enjoy.
A very strength-oriented friend of mine, Hootan, once quizzed me about my nutritional habits, probably hoping for a few pointers, and when I explained that the bulk of my eating was in the middle of the day, and that I did consider what food could do to enhance my fitness endeavors and experiences, he was appalled. After the shock of my lack of concern for my body in this manner, he launched into a half hour lecture about the pros of eating before a work out, eating after a workout, and keeping your body charged throughout the day. “Eat a banana before you go to the pool!” he encouraged.
A banana? At five-thirty in the morning? That is actually more unappealing than sitting through “Elf” again. Can’t I just stick with my children’s vitamin pill?
Hootan had a point though, and even though it has taken a year and a half for me to come around, I am beginning to think that maybe, just maybe, he might have been right about something. It logically does not sound healthy if I tell someone that I often swim a mile, run for an hour, and proceed to not eat anything until three hours after that. How can one even function at that level, after all that exertion?
Of course, Hootan is right. According to Leslie Bonci, director of sports nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, “Often somebody is not having anything before exercise, and then the problem is you’re not putting fuel into your body. You’ll be more tired and weaker, and you’re not going to be as fast.” People who exercise are often not allowing themselves an appropriate supply of energy. Bonci goes on to state the people should eat a “fist-sized” amount of food an hour before they plan to exercise. But, she does not recommend a banana, thank goodness. Trail mix, a granola bar, or half a peanut butter sandwich will do.*
As for afterwards, where I feel like I fail more than before, Bonci has more advice. “Post exercise, my rule of thumb, I like for people to eat something within 15 minutes. The reason for that is that the enzymes that help the body re-synthesize muscle glycogen are really most active in that first 15 minutes. The longer we wait to eat something, the longer it takes to recover.” She does mention that one should not be looking for a meal at this time — just another fist-sized snack to help the body bounce back from whatever strain you put on it.
Okay, fine. Despite evidence to the contrary, I like to believe that everyone is built differently, and we have to act in a way that works for us. I am reminded of a time a swim coach tried to alter my crawl stroke, seven years after I had been working with the stroke I had been taught. Though his way was to make me a faster, more efficent swimmer, it took only two days before I developed bursitis and was unable to lift my arm above my shoulder for over a month, and it was another month after that before I could swim again. The idea of eating before I swim is repulsive. And after I run? I want water. Not even Vita-Water. Just straight, delectable tap water. What if I attempt these changes, and find myself with runner’s d? Or a cramp during my workout?
The opposite argument does cut through my “I don’t wanna change!” attitude. Maybe I will feel better. I have been lethargic lately, and whether it is related to the ridiculous amount of sunshine and heat I now reside in, or to another factor, is debatable. Perhaps, in this heat, I have to eat differently to feel good. Thus, maybe making any change, at least in the name of Runner’s Delight science, would be beneficial. Refusing to change is futile – it happens whether I like it or not. Might as well try to embrace it.
Here’s to feeling good, and eating half a peanut butter sandwich after I run!