Eating Paleo and Running 100+ miles

2013-10-12 11.13.48Last 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.

2013-10-09 18.55.28During the race I ate the following. I’m really bad at remembering exact amounts, so I will just post my approximate intake. I also provided links, since some of these things can be tricky to find.

-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)

Trader Joe’s freeze dried bananas, strawberries and coconut flakes

Applegate Farms chicken sausage (2 links)

-black olives

-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.

2013-10-11 15.12.47Paleo 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!

11 responses

  1. Mandy

    Your running and fitness habits are truly inspirational. Thank you for being a mentor for all levels of runners. I love reading about your journey and seeing your photos.

    October 25, 2013 at 6:58 am

    • Thank you, Mandy! I appreciate you reading my blog and commenting. Run happy!

      October 27, 2013 at 2:30 pm

  2. Lisa Sewell

    Hi there! Thx for the post. I’m curious about doing a Whole30 and Paleo for endurance training. I’m an Ironwoman and dipping my toes into the ultra world. I’m hesitant to give up grains! Is be curious about your previous diet? What were you eating on a daily basis and to fuel your runs? I’m trying to drop 10 lbs, hate the thought of giving up grains, beans and dairy. I totally agree re: we’re all experiments of one.

    October 25, 2013 at 12:27 pm

    • Thanks for your comment. My previous diet was pretty healthy by most standards (although I realize now how unhealthy it was for me) – I didn’t eat hardly any processed foods or a ton of high carbohydrate foods (pasta, white potatoes…) However, I did have a lot of grains and legumes in my diet, as well as a great deal of cheese. Oatmeal, whole grain english muffins, Ezekial bread, cheese, crackers, peanut butter, hummus, did I mention cheese? – all were a part of my daily diet. I fueled most of my shorter runs using Gu, Honey Stinger waffles and gels and Shot Blox. I would eat standard aid station fare during ultras – pierogies, grilled cheese, turkey sandwiches, potatoes, trail mix with peanuts/M&Ms, oranges, bananas, peanut butter and jelly. I never thought I could give up the grains, legumes and dairy either. Doing the Whole 30 and seeing the results first hand impacted me tremendously. I didn’t realize how good I could feel until I did it. Then, it just wasn’t worth it to go back and reintroduce any of the foods that could be causing me problems. I don’t miss them, so I chose not to reintroduce. If you’re ready to commit – I say try it for 30 days, see how you feel and then decide what works for you! Keep me posted and feel free to contact me if you want to chat any more about it. Good luck!

      October 27, 2013 at 2:30 pm

      • Lisa Sewell

        Thanks Katie. So given that your previous diet was already healthy — I’m always curious because folks who don’t eat healthy to begin with find that they feel so much better going Paleo, but really it’s because they’re finally off all the processed crap. I eat very healthy; so I’m also interested in your comment, “I didn’t realize how good I could feel.” What, in particular did you notice having eliminated the sugar, dairy and grains. I’m definitely willing to try a 30 Day challenge, especially since I’m having a really really difficult time droppng these 10 lbs and I can’t figure out what gives! I do tend to fuel my longer runs with Gatorade and Chomps. I’ve recently tried switching to NUUNs – but of course they have sugar too. I’m a big sweater, so I’m always trying to keep my electrolytes and sodium up — I suppose there’s pills. Thanks for listening and giving your feedback. This is a very interesting journey! I’m interested in hearing from others too!

        October 27, 2013 at 7:51 pm

      • I wrote extensively about how good I feel in this blog post:
        and this one: Let me know if you want any more details.
        I used to use NUUN and electrolyte pills too. I haven’t used either since I began eating all real food on the trail. I carried my S Caps on every long run this summer but never took any. I have no idea what “science” is behind that, but I do know I’ve been able to give my body what it needs through the food I’m eating.

        October 28, 2013 at 9:30 pm

  3. Cat Herrington

    Whenever I think about doing a Whole30, I get this anticipatory anxiety/panicked feeling about not being able to eat chocolate (and also worry about missing the 1 tsp of cane sugar and 1 Tbsp of half-and-half I put in my coffee). Then I realize that this is a sign of addiction. And that is exactly why I know I should try it.

    As a side note, I feel like I could do the whole *moderation* thing like a champ for most of my life (like, I could eat only ONE cookie and then walk away from the cookies)…until I started working night shifts as an RN. It’s been about a year since I had to work a night shift, and somehow I still have not regained my ability to moderate intake of certain foods (mostly sugars). It kind of mind blowing to me.

    Thanks for this post, Katie. Very inspiring.

    October 25, 2013 at 11:11 pm

    • You can definitely “slay your sugar dragon” by doing a Whole30. I have surprised myself, as I used to have a huge sweet tooth, with how I don’t even miss sugar. (even Reese’s at Halloween! That’s huge.) What I’ve found is that my tastes have changed so much that I really appreciate the flavor and “sweetness” of real food – not the processed sugar. Kombucha, cocoa nibs and coconut flakes, bananas, etc… satisfy any sweet craving I may occasionally have, and they don’t make me feel bad with a blood sugar high and then a crash or other bad sugar side effects. You can do it, Cat!

      October 27, 2013 at 2:21 pm

  4. Cat Herrington

    Katie, my understanding is that to speed recovery, it’s best to eat something high in protein within the first 30 minutes of completing a long run. (Folks talk about this first 30 minutes as if it’s a magic window of time.) This, followed by good fats later on. What is your favorite go-to protein for immediately after a long run? I’m looking for something that is portable and easy for those times that you’re an hour or more away from your kitchen.

    By the way, I tried an Ella’s Kitchen baby food today! Really good! And completely pure ingredients. Great rec!

    October 28, 2013 at 8:55 pm

    • Yes! I completely agree. I always bring a cooler with my post-run mini meal. Hard boiled eggs, V8 and some veggies with an avocado dip is my go-to meal. I also have eaten smoked salmon, banana with almond or cashew butter, or chicken sausage.

      October 28, 2013 at 9:24 pm

  5. Pingback: Hot TWOT – 43 Hours on The Wild Oak Trail | I see trails

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