Sunday, April 29, 2012

My Marathon Training Nutrition Commitment

I had a two-bag-a-week habit...Bazooka Joe
himself had to stage an intervention for me.

I have been training for the Lincoln marathon, which goes off  a week from now. A month ago, I decided I would get aggressive with my nutrition because I figure an old runner like me (43) needs every possible advantage if I want to crawl across the finish line in under four hours much less 3 1/2. So I set out to eliminate empty cards and refined sugars from my diet about five weeks ago.  I thought that this would be a good means of enhancing my nutrition while also improving my chances of turning in a good performance on race day.  I said goodbye to the chips and candy, and mourned the loss of my fries and popcorn...

There definitely is a connection between intake and output.  How you eat, how you sleep, and whether you're drinking enough water- all those things contribute to outcomes on race day, not just miles and pace. I have thought a lot about what fellow runner and Norris emeritus faculty member John Votta said when he described himself in the past as having been a 'junkfood jogger' for many years, and I realized I resembled that remark. I decided I needed to set a higher standard for myself when I came to my training regimen including nutrition.

Over the last month I've learned a lot about self-discipline and I've also learned that in avoiding refined and processed foods and eating more fresh fruits and nuts for snacks, I feel better and I have more vitality throughout the day.  The afternoon fatigue that used to set in is lessened and I only infer that is because I am better hydrated and eating foods that sustain my energy levels more effectively.

Eat This, Not That - Skretta  version:
Cocoa Roast almonds have become a new favorite for me.
Trace amounts of sugar & good protein 

compared to these chocolate chip cookies.
Eliminating the sugar from my diet proved tricky.  The HS Food Service ladies bake these incredible cookies that we sell as an a la carte item and I had a cookie-a-day habit (preferably chocolate chip, but the snickerdoodle is also to die for).  Fortunately, we also have a great fruit and veggie bar so there's lots of better options to choose from. It was more difficult than I anticipated it would be. Another thing I had to come to grips with was the fact that I am an aggressive, constant gum chewer and I needed to eliminate the hardcore Dubble Bubble. Dubble Bubble has about 5 g of sugar in every single piece and I was chewing at least five and sometimes fifteen pieces a day with my chewing habit.  So I started chewing sugarless gum (Bubble Yum sugarless [nutrition info available at] is the closest I've come to a sugarless that has similar texture and consistency to classic bubble gum).  [For old-school fanatics trying to make the switch, the sugar free version of the classic Dubble Bubble can be ordered online at]

The next thing I realized was that we still have a lot of foods in our house that don't have much (if any) arguable nutritional value and it was important for me to demonstrate the discipline required to avoid
Both of these snack foods actually offer ample sugar.
The banana's a decidedly better choice! But those
little candy buttons on the Cosmic Brownies? Cosmically delicious.
those unhealthy items. It strikes me as a bit heavy-handed and prudish to eliminate every snack food in the place that might not be a great choice.  The thing is to surround yourself with other alternatives that are also appealing to the taste buds and can satiate your hunger for something sweet or something salty.

Here are 3 things I've learned in my quest to maintain better nutrition as a part of an overall fitness program:

*The will to initiate and stick with better eating choices is the same willpower it takes to keep putting one foot in front of the other to keep going and finish strong. It comes from the same place.

* I can reduce the likelihood of making a poor impulsive eating choice by having better options and alternatives readily available.

*The more consistently I eat well, the less attracted I am to junk food.

I don't know what I'll end up running for a time next Sunday, but I am more confident than ever in my ability to make good choices and to follow a healthier diet.

By the way, I'm not a complete fitness zealot or nutrition psycho: when I finish the marathon, I intend to celebrate with a snack - and not just a post-race banana and Cutie orange. I may indulge in a Twinkie and chase it with a can of Coca Cola (fully leaded). But I think the changes that I've instituted over the last month have gotten easier to abide by with each passing day and will help me stay healthier and keep running for years to come.