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Archive for the ‘Diet’ Category

In the world of training, we are all experiments of one. How much should you run? When should you run? How Fast?  What kind of shoes should you wear? What should you eat? How much should you eat? All these questions get debated endlessly in the running community with few definitive answers ever emerging. Whatever makes you faster is usually the right answer.

I’m not training for anything in particular right now, and I’m feeling like a little experimentation, so here goes. I’m going to try to answer a question I’ve wondered about for some time – can I a relatively big, relatively slow, runner train successfully on a “paleo”, “primal” low carb type diet?

The Paleo/Primal diet thing is based on the concept that our prehistoric ancestors did not eat the type of processed food, nor the amount of grain based products that we eat today and that it would be healthier for humans to return to a diet based on meat and vegetables with little to no carbs or sugar. The science behind all of this is hotly contested, and I am not in a position to judge it. Many people think this is merely a fad, the repackaging of the Atkin’s diet for the crossfit crowd, Maybe it is.

The diet its applicability to the world of endurance sports is still in question. Most of the leading internet promoters of the Paleo diet hate “chronic cardio” and advise against running the kind of distances I run. But, never ones to miss an opportunity to promote the diet, they are willing to make concessions and highlight some athletes, including a triathlete and world class long distance rower, who use the paleo diet with some success. Other corners of the internet more focused on running are generally less impressed with the diet. But then again, that corner of the internet is populated largely by very skinny, very fast people who love beer.

All that said, the diet, broadly defined, has been gaining support in some sectors and has worked for some of my fittest friends. That has made me curious. Would it work for me, A large runner with plenty of fat to burn or would have me bonking on my easy runs? I think it’s time to find out.

So, for the sake of pseudo internet anecdotal “science”, here is the experiment:

What happens when Sean continues to train between 40 and 50 miles per week while maintain a “paleo” style diet? For the sake of this experiment I am going to define the paleo diet as one in which I eat meats, fish, vegetables, fruit and nuts, and do not eat grains, legumes and refined sugar. Dairy, caffeine, and alcohol are debated topics within the world of this diet. I’m going to drink coffee, drink wine (but not beer or spirits), and eat dairy sparsely. I am going to try and maintain the diet for 21 days starting on Monday.

I’ll try to blog here as often as possible describing what I eat and how my runs feel. I am going to make a real effort to go the full 21 days, but if I start to get sick, injured, or otherwise begin to this this is an incredibility stupid ideal I reserve the right to quit. We’ll see how it goes.

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November is going to be a big month of experiment for me. With my running limited, but the fear of getting out of shape and putting on the pounds terrifying me, I’m going to be doing some experiments in eating, drinking and working out. Every year I do a race in my hometown on Thanksgiving morning. This year I was hoping to crush my previous time, but this stupid foot injury is limiting my training.  I just won’t be able to get in the miles I would have liked.

So, if training needs to stay constant, what other way is there to get faster? Lose weight.

In November I am going to do two things to try and drop five or so pounds.How am I going to do this? First, I’m not going to drink as much. E and I have wine with dinner most nights, I am going to cut that back to a weekend treat. Second, for the middle two weeks of the month, I am going to give the much ballyhooed paleo diet a try.

I have some friends who are deep in the crossfit world who have had excellent results on the paleo diet. They have lost weight, felt better, blah blah blah. These guys are serious athletes, very strong and very fast at short distances, and this diet has worked really well for them. For me, I don’t think it’ll work long term. Despite all the injuries which have keep me from the marathon, I am (or want to be) a distance runner. That means I need to log big miles, and if I am running a lot, I need carbs. However since I can’t log the big miles right now, I feel like this is the perfect opportunity to experiment with a diet that has been successful for others and see what it is all about. Its only two weeks. If it sucks, It’ll be over quickly; if I like the results, perhaps I can adopt certain aspects to a more carb friendly diet.

So, the November schedule of fun events include:

November 1 – November 26 – cut out weekday booze.

November 9 – November 23 – paleo diet experiment

November 26- December 24th – row 200,000 meters as part of the holiday challenge.

Should be a fun month!

Additionally, I am thinking of using twitter to track some of this. Does anyone else out there use twitter to track their running?

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If I am going to become fast enough to qualify for Boston (a goal that is at least two years and probably four years off), a number of things have to happen. Most importantly, I have to get faster (duh) but in order to get faster, I need to get stronger and I need to get lighter. No one at my speed, and (probably) no one at my weight, qualifies for Boston. Today I am going to write a little about weight and running. Weight is a serious consideration for anyone doing endurance sports but finding information directly relating a persons weight and performance in running is a little harder to find that you’d think.

Now keep in mind that my thoughts on weight loss and what is a good weight are entirely wrapped up in what is a good weight for someone attempting to take marathon running seriously. Not the average person, not even the average athlete or healthy person but the average guy who is thinking about qualifying for Boston someday. Please also note that I am not a doctor or a nutritionist and this article is based on information gotten from freaking websites, so don’t take it as gospel, take it as a starting point. Ok, with that out of the way…

At six feet and (currently) 190 pounds, I am a pretty big guy for a runner. No one describes me as skinny, but people don’t think of me as obese either (though according to the BMI I am overweight, but more on that later). I doubt this is the shape of the average Boston Qualifier. However, finding out what exactly the physique average Boston Marathon qualifier isn’t an easy task. Matter of fact, with hours of googling behind me, I still haven’t found an answer to that. If you’re reading this, and you’ve qualified for Boston, I’d love to see your stats.

What I have found are some interesting articles on the relation between a runner’s weight and performance at different distances. As Mel Williams at marathonandbeyond has written, up to the point of being dangerously underweight (i.e. no body fat and your body is eating muscle for food or if you start dipping below 18.5 in BMI) in general for every one percent of body mass lost there will be an approximate one percent gain in speed. What would that mean for me? Using the same basic ideas about maximal aerobic capacity, runnersworld drew up a great chart and all other training aside, if I were to drop ten pounds, I could take a minute off my 5k and a whole ten minutes off my marathon time. Twenty pounds and I would take two minutes off my 5k and almost eighteen minutes off my marathon, again not counting the additional level of fitness I would reach in dropping those pounds.

Those rough numbers are pretty impressive, and they make sense. All other things being equal, the less weight you’re trying to move through space, the faster you should be able to do it.

So, how much weight loss is ideal? Obviously, this varies from person to person. Height, body type, and how much you want it are all going to factor in what is the best weight for you. Most of the message boards and articles I have read put “elite” somewhere in a BMI range of 18.5 – 20. That would mean I would have to weigh roughly 145, or thirty five pounds less than I weight today. That isn’t going to happen. I don’t have the body composition for that, and I don’t want to lose the amount of upper body strength I would need to lose in order to get there and besides, I’m not interested in going sub three hours in the marathon. I just want to go sub 3:15.

Plus, I have other interests. I am starting to get into rock climbing. I swim. I like beer. I am willing to sacrifice a lot, but not everything, in pursuit of this goal and I think I can get there with some serious, but not extreme, changes to my body composition.

If I’m not going to get down to 145, and let’s face it, I’m not. What will I get down to? What is a reasonable goal? For now, I am going to set some modest goals. If I were to lose ten percent of my body weight, that would put me around 170 pounds. That is  much skinnier than I have been in the last, oh, ten years. But not abnormally thin for my height. I imagine it will take six months or more, but with a weight around 170-175 I will weigh less than I have in a long, long, time and all other things being equal, it’ll make me faster. From there, we’ll see where it goes.

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