Posted by: Kennedy | January 27, 2012

Why I dropped the “standard runner’s diet”

I’ve been, let’s say, inconsistent in writing about running lately. There has just been so much deliciousness in my life lately that food has taken the spotlight.

First, a quick note to report that my sugar detox ended on Sunday evening. I celebrated by digging into a wonderful gluten-free brownie made by my friend and fabulous dinner party hostess, Alayna. I gobbled up the brownie too quickly for a photo, but check out our main course (she also made mussels in a saffron cream sauce and a salad with grilled calamari):

Seafood Feast, part 3

Since then, I’ve made some of my favourite maple syrup-containing recipes, including Carrot Cake Oatmeal, and tested out some new ones, such as my own version of Angela’s On the Glow Oatmeal Squares. I finally dug into that dark chocolate from Christmas. All delicious. But something curious (well, not so curious, really) happened:

– After eating 3 little squares of chocolate on my first full day off the detox, I got a headache.

– I’ve noticed a series of pesky pimples cropping up on my forehead.

So, I’ve decided to recommit myself to eating as little sugar as possible. I like feeling my awesomest. And after having a little bit of the sweet stuff, I’m remembering that most of the time, it’s just not really worth it.

Okay, back to running. Over the past week or two, I’ve briefly mentioned that I’m training for a race. But it’s not just any race. No sir. I convinced myself to sign up for the Around the Bay 30k in Hamilton on March 25th.

Here’s what this means for me:

Another winter season spent bundling up for chilly runs.

Lots of hill training. I hear it really pays off in this race. Apparently there is a man who dresses up like the Grim Reaper and parks himself on the sidelines of a particularly steep incline… so Death literally waits for us. I have a feeling that Poplar Plains repeats, though excruciating, will save my life.

A new challenge. Not to sell the half-marathon distance short – it’s a huge accomplishment, one that I’m proud of – but I’ve finished three since 2010 and I’m ready for the next level. And I might as well let you in on my little secret now: I’m using this race as a “test run” of sorts to see if 42.2 is in the cards for 2012…(!)

Love this.

But most importantly, it means…

A re-vamp of my training diet. Over the past year, I’ve obviously learned a lot about the benefits of whole foods, as well as the negative effects of not-so-whole foods. I was a runner long before I became a nutritionist, so I adopted the “standard runner’s diet” to fuel my training. I stocked up on protein bars, energy gels, and sugary sports drinks. My go-to snack after a run was chocolate milk. And I routinely ate pizza, pasta, and other carb-loaded meals (complete with beer or wine) without a second thought. After all, I needed the calories, right?

Sure I did. But the issues I encountered told me something was a bit… off. I often felt sick to my stomach during – and especially after – my longer runs. These were the runs during which I took in fuel in the form of sports drinks, gels, bars or gummies. All were highly processed, high-sugar supplements (I no longer consider this stuff “food”). It usually took at least two hours for me to re-gain my appetite.

In my sports nutrition class at IHN, I learned that my non-existent appetite and nausea were most likely due to excess levels of the stress hormone cortisol. It’s secreted by the adrenal glands in response to various types of stress – in this case, physical stress of prolonged exercise – and it promotes the breakdown of proteins into glucose, resulting in increased blood sugar. Too much cortisol production leads to: breakdown of muscle tissue, weakened immune function, weight gain, fatigue, insomnia, irritability, anxiety, digestive upset, and blood pressure fluctuations. Basically, lots of stuff that is no fun.

Because I had no appetite after exercise, I was delaying eating and missing the optimal window of opportunity to refuel. Not only did this mean I was limiting my muscle recovery, I was also welcoming hypoglycemia back into my life. All of this was depleting my energy levels, contributing to fatigue and limiting my performance.

In addition to addressing my adrenal fatigue through diet and adaptogenic herbs, I decided to make some changes.

1. I stopped drinking Gatorade. The commercials promote it as a scientifically-researched, performance-enhancing drink that will turn you into an elite athlete. In reality, it has a scary list of ingredients that can contribute to disease, such as high-fructose corn syrup, sucrose syrup, natural flavour (not as good as it sounds), and red 40 (food colouring made from petroleum). Now I either mix Emergen-C powders into water or I make my own super-easy electrolyte drink to take on long runs (2 cups water, 1 Tbsp maple syrup and 1/4 to 1/2 tsp sea salt).

2. I replaced processed gels and chews with high glycemic index whole foods, such as Medjool dates or organic dried apricots. Not only are these foods a delicious and natural form of sugar that contain vitamins, minerals and fiber, they’re energy-dense snacks that fits easily into a fuel belt or pocket. I’ve heard of people bringing bananas or even baked potatoes on runs, and while those are also good, whole food options, they’re also pretty impractical.

3. I replaced chocolate milk with green smoothies. Runners love their chocolate milk. We’re often told that it’s the ideal post-run snack because it contains carbohydrates AND protein. But… it’s also a dairy product (a reported 7 million Canadians are lactose intolerant) with 25g sugar per cup, which means it’s acidic. Your muscles are already acidic after a run, since lactic acid is produced during endurance exercise to keep up with energy demand.

In order to bring the body’s pH back into balance and avoid loss of minerals, it’s important to consume alkaline foods at this time. One of the best alkalinizing foods out there? Leafy greens. Toss a few handfuls of spinach or kale into your blender with non-dairy milk (almond, rice, hemp, etc), a banana, berries, some chia seeds, and a nutrient-packed powder like Vega or raw maca. You’ll be getting a great mix of carbs and protein, PLUS the added benefits of fiber, vitamins and minerals, omega-3 fatty acids, and antioxidants. They taste amazing. And oh yeah, they don’t leave you with that awful gut ache so many people get after they drink chocolate milk.

4. I quit using running as an excuse to eat and drink whatever I wanted. A lot of runners claim they “run to eat.” Fair enough. But think about that for a minute. Say you didn’t run for a few weeks. Would you reward yourself with a box of cookies or a burger and fries? Probably not. But after a 20km run, you “deserve it,” right? Well… after a long run like that, your body doesn’t just need calories. It needs nutrition. Carbohydrates that also contain vitamins and minerals, lean protein, healthy fats… all the things that will help rebuild cells, recover muscles, and refuel energy stores in a way that helps you go out and run 20 km again. What it doesn’t need is calorie-rich, nutrient-void, packaged, processed foods.

These changes have definitely had a positive impact for me. I no longer feel nauseous during long runs. And afterwards, my appetite usually returns within 30 minutes. This means my hormones are becoming balanced and I’m better able to help my body recover. Hopefully, it will also help me run a great race in March!



  1. I LOVE maca. It’s done amazing things for my hormonal issues and almost constant nausea. Piling on the cruciferous veggies helps as well of course.

    Good luck with the sugar detox – it’s so tough but worth it.

    P.S your photo makes me want to a Guinness…and it’s not even noon 😉

  2. Great blog! I’m going to follow those nutrition tips for my training too. Thanks, mon amie!

  3. Great post! I like feeling my awesomest as well 🙂 Good luck in the Around the Bay Run! You are a trooper.

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