Eating Paleo and Running 100+ miles
Last March I did a Whole30 and I have stayed pretty strict Paleo since then – only reintroducing honey and alcohol occasionally. I had such amazing results and felt so incredibly good, it just wasn’t worth it to me to reintroduce any of the foods I got rid of during the Whole30. One of the biggest results I’ve seen is how the Paleo-diet and lifestyle has impacted my running, training and recovery. I’ve run 4 50Ks, a 70 miler, a 100K, a 50 miler, multiple back-to-back races and long training runs, and most recently a 109 mile race, all on a strict Paleo-diet. If you are curious about the science behind all of this, I strongly recommend reading It Starts With Food, The Paleo Diet and Paleo for Athletes. I won’t go into the science here, but what I will share here is what my nutrition looked like for the Hot TWOT – a 109 mile race with 32,000 feet of climbing that took me 43 hours to complete – and how it worked for me. We are all an experiment of one. This is what works for me and I hope it helps others who may be struggling with the nutrition piece of training, like I was before going Paleo.
As I mentioned, my diet is already strict Paleo. This means I eat grass-fed, pastured meats, seafood, eggs, lots of veggies (organic as much as possible), some fruit (again, organic) and a good amount of healthy fats (avocado, olives, nuts, coconut). I do not eat any grains, legumes, dairy, sugar (I read labels very carefully – sugar is hiding everywhere), or processed foods. I occasionally eat honey and drink alcohol but I did another Whole 30 starting on Labor Day, so I didn’t have any alcohol in the month (actually 5 weeks) leading up to the race. The week before the race I made sure to eat a lot of carb dense vegetables and fruits like spaghetti squash, acorn squash, sweet potatoes, bananas and zucchini – Paleo “carb-loading” you could say. I had some of these veggies at every meal in the week before the race. The morning of the race, about 2 1/2 hours before race start, I ate spinach, mushrooms and chicken sausage stir fry, 2 poached eggs on an avocado half and I had a banana about 15 minutes before the race started. I carefully chose my race day food based on what foods I knew were good fuel to sustain my energy, tasted good, had no sugar/dairy/grains/legumes and were easily portable or stored in a cooler. Since this was an unsupported race, I had to plan food that could be in my drop bags, cooler and car. It really wasn’t that hard to do.
-sweet potato gu (my homemade concoction, stored in EZ Squeezees pouches, consisting of 1 cup sweet potato baby food, 1/4 cup coconut milk, 1/4 cup applesauce blended) (approx. 6 – 6 oz pouches)
-GoGo Squeeze fruit pouches (approx. 8)
-Ella’s Kitchen baby food (approx. 4)
-bananas (approx. 8)
-cashew butter (2 pouches)
-Applegate Farms chicken sausage (2 links)
-sweet potatoes (3)
-chicken broth (with no sugar – very hard to find – the Imagine brand is the only one I’ve found, small containers will keep in dropbag and you can drink without heating – ideally your own bone broth would be best, but I wanted some to keep in dropbags so the vacuum sealed containers worked well)
-Key West Pink steamed shrimp (cooked beforehand, packed carefully in ice packs in lunch box cooler to keep cold)
-sweet potato chips
-tomatoes/sweet peppers/cucumbers and Goddess dip
-V8 (really tasted good late in the race and has good sodium too)
-Epic meat bars (bison and turkey – 2)
-1 hamburger with an avocado (from Jack Brown’s in Harrisonburg, delivered warm by my mom – ahhhhmazing!)
-Kombucha (2 bottles)
-Tazo Awake iced tea (kept in my Hydro Flask bottle with ice)
I had strong, steady energy throughout the 43 hours of running and was hungry and able to eat easily. I stuck with the GoGoSqueeze, sweet potato gu and bananas/cashew butter for the first part of the race until about mile 27, and then added in other things as the race went on. I ate shrimp and olives at mile 93 and they were pure heaven – as was the hamburger after Loop 3 – and the Boulevard Wheat Beer – totally not Paleo – that I had at the finish! I didn’t have any nausea, stomach issues or other common intestinal issues that I’ve had before in a long run. This experience was similar to the other runs I’ve done fueling this way. As I’ve said before, we are all an experiment of one – and this is what truly works for me. In the days after the run I continued to eat carb dense veggies and plenty of protein. I ate when I was hungry (which was quite often in the days after the race!) and made sure to replenish my body. I felt almost 100% recovered body-wise by Tuesday – 3 days after the race finished at 3:30am Sunday – and was able to easily run 6 miles on trails. I was still really tired, but again, following a Paleo lifestyle has helped me see the value and importance of sleep. I took 2-3 hour naps for the five days after the race and went to bed early, making sure I had at least 8 hours of sleep. I listened to my body and gave it what it needed. As a result, my recovery was super fast and I felt completely recovered by the following weekend.
Paleo has worked for me in so many ways. It’s worth a try, especially if you’re struggling with nutrition in your running adventures. I’d love to hear from you if you’ve tried this and if you have any other real food ideas to add to the list of food to fuel with. Happy running…and eating!