Runners have many quirky rituals ranging from pre-race carbohydrate binges to rolling out muscles, traveling hours for the chance to race a particular race, getting up with or before the sun just for the chance to run a brutal hill session, or making finding time to check out the latest in running gear. For me today was one of the staples of the modern running diet: my long run. I’ve been exploring a group of nordic ski trails a fair distance from town on my longer runs and today I decided to check out an area I hadn’t before. Serendipitously I ended up coming out into a grassy field at the top of a hill looking over the vast expanse of the marsh and farm lands that border the main town of Sackville and decided to try and make my run into a loop…about an hour later I reached my apartment, threw on a shirt, grabbed my wallet, jogged to the closest grocery store, bought ten gluten free coconut cookies and ate all of them over about as many minutes.
While gorging on junk right after a long run might seem to defeat the point it is a pretty common practice of long distance runners to try and consume enough calories and enough nutrition after a long run to return glycogen stores to normal, this is more or less the same case for short workouts as well: there is a much discussed “refuelling” window for about 30 minutes after the end of your workout and you want to get stuff into you body during that window. My question is: is it the right stuff? The oatmeal has a wonderful comic on the feeling of impunity running give people about their food choices (read it here: http://theoatmeal.com/comics/running2 ) and from a more serious perspective I recently read an interesting article in runners world about a scientist in Montana named Dr. Brent Ruby who has been comparing the effectiveness of highly formulated sports foods to that of a greasy McDonalds meal in helping athletes recover from training. I don’t doubt that you can draw benefits from just about any food you put into your body after a long hard session, but I don’t feel it’s optimal, and that’s how I’m starting to feel about a lot of modern food choices.
For one let’s look at the math on the cookies I ate: The label says they clock in at 170 calories each with 10 grams of fat one gram of protein and 20 grams of carbohydrate of which one gram is fibre. Based on that I’m going to estimate I got 90 calories of fat, 76 calories of carbohydrate, and 4 grams of protein per cookie, which means 900 fat calories (including more than 3 times to daily recommended maximum of saturated fats), 760 carbohydrate calories, and 40 protein calories, which totals 1700 total calories. Now according to MapMyRun I used about 1748 calories on my run so the cookies match my overall energy output pretty well, for the sake of simplicity we will just say I burned 1700. Considering I was running aerobically I was probably burning a mixture of fat and carbs with a small amount of protein, in the book “Running with Lydiard” Lydiard writes that during aerobic training energy comes in a ratio of 48% carbs, 48% fats, and 4%protein, based on that I should have needed 816 calories of carbs to restock my glycogen supplies and be fresh for the next day, as well as 68 calories (about 17 grams) of protein. In theory if I was trying to lose weight it would have been fine not to try and restock the fat supplies so I didn’t “need” 816 calories of fat…and I got 900. Even though the cookies pretty much hit the nail on the head for total calories they were about 56 calories short in terms of carbohydrates, now just imagine if my workout had been partially anaerobic and was using 60% carbs and 15% fats, it’s seems like the cookies just carry too much of their calories in fat. Now obviously I recognise that fat can be converted to glycogen under the right conditions, and both protein and carbohydrates can find themselves turned into fats (and protein can also become glycogen) so it’s a fair bit more complex than I make it out to sound above. What I figure however is that if there is an ideal fuelling period, and you want to be ready to train again as soon as possible, then why would you give you body things that will take it longer to convert to what it needs? Also what about maintaining electrolyte balance and providing my body with all the nutrients it needs to thrive? Enter the fruit based diet.
I should mention and this point that I don’t make a habit of consuming large amounts of cookies post run, I just have a day every second week which I call a crazy day where nothing is denied (within reason) that day was supposed to be tomorrow but I choose to take the food end of it today. I do this because I feel you should never feel deprived by your diet or lifestyle and I think it’s hard to do too much damage in one day of less than ideal preparation when you’ve had 13 clean ones to compensate. The other 13 days are what I’d like to talk about now. A little over a month ago I decided to test out a frutarian diet (or 80/10/10 raw vegan diet as it is also known) after watching you tuber Michael Arnstein and deciding to see whether his claims about the impact of the diet were true. In all honesty I was very skeptical but felt I couldn’t really comment on the claims until I had at least tried the diet, plus if even half the claims about frutarianism were true I felt it would be something too great to be missing out on.
The story is pretty simple from there on: I got a copy of Dr.Douglas Graham’s book “The 80/10/10 Diet” and just started eating raw fruits and vegetables as my every snack and meal (as well as some seeds and in my case some occasional eggs) as I read through the book I came across more and more things I hadn’t even thought of as important and promptly making changes to my diet. For example the diet calls for one to two pounds of greens a day, a lot of people seem to forget this part which is unfortunate because if you look at it a lot of the things vegans and particularly these kind of vegans could theoretically be deficient in, they usually show up in green vegetables. Dr.Graham also recommends eating your greens with acid fruit which makes sense to me because with Oranges as an example I’ve heard that the vitamin C and citric acid help with the absorption of the kind of non-heme iron found in greens (keep in mind while I’ve seen this on the internet I haven’t found a source I am fully confident in so as always be your own research folks!). Anyways I could go on for a while about the various elements of balancing this kind of diet but the thing I want to highlight is how I felt eating this way. As context before hand I had been eating a high fat, mostly whole food diet based on things I was cooking myself that included fish, poultry, and eggs.
Pretty quickly things started to happen, for one I found I had to eat a lot more volume to meet my calorie requirements (another mistake people can make is just not getting enough calories, for people trying this I recommend having bananas, dates, or other high calories foods on standby so you always get enough). I also found I was sleeping much better than I had been before, I was also sleeping a lot more but I attributed that to being on vacation. There were times when I found I had to miss a workout and just focus on getting in the calories and hadn’t focused on getting in beforehand so I would be fresh for the next day. I adapted pretty quickly to the higher volume needed though and within two weeks I was not only at the energy level I had before, I was far above it! I started putting in triples which I’ve never done before just because I found as long as I was getting in enough fruit calories after workouts I could train, eat, and feel ready to go an hour later. Digestion was much more efficient and I didn’t experience much of that down time after meals where you don’t want to exercise because your stomach feels full. I also found that I was able to train in summer midday heat (something that’s traditionally been hard for me) because there wasn’t really anything in my stomach and I was so well hydrated from the water in my food. I spent two weeks without gym access while visiting my family and oddly enough found that I had the best away from gym muscle retention I have ever had (usually after about a week I find I have to scale back my training a bit because I can’t keep the muscle tension right). I also noticed I had lost about 4 kilos of weight from a pretty lean frame without any noticeable muscle loss when I stepped on the gym scale for fun recently. I found my skin was clearer and that I could train, recover, and sleep much better than before. Further, assuming someone on this diet is getting plenty of sun, taking some kind of B12 supplement and maybe something for long chain Omega-3s I haven’t actually been able to identify anything they would be deficient in, assuming they followed what’s outlined in the book. That’s not to say there isn’t anything I haven’t done a comprehensive search and I am by no means a medical professional, but I do find it interesting, especially considering someone eating this way I probably getting tons of phytonutrients that haven’t even been discovered or characterised yet.
To summarize I tried out the 80/10/10 diet and thought it was pretty great, it’s changed the way I approach my food. Now I am careful about my fat intake, I eat plant based, I eat pretty much only whole foods, or things I have made myself from individual ingredients (rather than a pre made product with things I can’t pronounce in the ingredients section), and I’m eating predominantly fresh, raw fruits and vegetables local and organic wherever possible. I have reintroduced a lot of different plant foods into my diet (like yams, sweet potatoes, kidney bean, chickpeas, black beans, lentils, etc…) because in our society living off fruit and green veg if relatively expensive and while I’m living as a student without access to a wholesaler it makes more sense to me to have a bit more dietary diversity. This experience has however changed the way I eat and the way I feel, and I believe it will also help me run fast but that remains to be seen. I don’t feel qualified to tell people exactly what they should or shouldn’t eat but I would most surely recommend trying out a few weeks of living frutarian. Just make sure to get a copy of the book, make sure you eat your one to two pounds of daily greens, consider a B12 supplement, and be sure to get enough calories, you never know, it could change your life!