Eat and run; Koper style
(The title of this post alludes to the great book by Scott Jurek: "Eat and run").
I never cared much about my eating habits. I like to eat, I have a sweet tooth and for me running was essentially something that allowed me to eat whatever I wanted without the consequences of inflating like a balloon.
Still, over the years I accumulated a number of habits that I knew I should change, such as:
- eating exceeding amounts of chocolate,
- drinking sugary sports drinks after almost any run and
- getting hooked on (addicted to?) Red Bulls.
What opened my eyes to a more general problem was when I stopped running in December last year. Day after day I was stepping on a scale with growing horror, as my weight was, slowly but steadily, going up. That was hardly a novelty. I'd see this phenomenon every time I stopped running for a bit, be it because of an injury, sickness or something else. However, this time there was an important difference: I was considering stopping running altogether. So this time waiting for the weight line to drop to its place as a result of coming back to running was not a viable option.
This is how I got a bit more interested in the subject of nutrition and how I came across the concept of intermittent fasting. I could try to explain what that is but I won't do a better job than the linked article so all of you dear readers that are interested I refer there; or to "The Fast Diet" book. I got curious.
In its basic form intermittent fasting is extremely simple and comes down to not eating during some predetermined parts of the day/week. I decided to follow a slightly more structured approach outlined in "Six Pack Abs 365". Essentially it involves sticking to the following regime:
- Saturday: treat day (eat however/whatever you like),
- Sunday: fast day (no food),
- Monday: low carb
- Tuesday: low carb, low calorie (as Monday but smaller dinner)
- Wednesday: low carb
- Thursday: moderate to high carb
- Friday: high protein, low carb, low calorie
When faced with this plan I was worried of two things: limiting carbs most of the days and the fasting itself.
Concerning carbs it sounded almost impossible to me. I already mentioned that I like sweet stuff. But also I could not imagine meals without side dishes, be it pasta, rice or potatoes. I sometimes like going to good restaurants but I was always perplexed by the fact that dishes there usually consist of: lots of meat, fair amount of vegetables and very little of the sides.
The main strategy of avoiding carbs seemed to be salads. But I dislike salads! Or, to be more precise: disliked. I'm not going to say it was love at first bite but gradually I grew to like them. In fact I realized that with good meat they make a really nice meal, as the flavor of the meat gets nicely accentuated instead of getting diffused by the sides.
As for the fasting day, it's actually easier than it sounds. After a while I actually got to like the challenge of going through the day without food. But more importantly I think there's something to be learned there. These days we don't know what hunger is, as we never experience it. In fact we eat not only when we are hungry, we eat when we are bored, we eat when we are down... we eat (or snack) all the bloody time (I do, at least). I think there's value in reflecting more on eating and I think every once in a while going a full day without food is an excellent step towards this goal.
Results? Results were beyond my wildest expectations. I still wasn't running but on this plan -- I purposefully avoid the word diet as I think it has all the wrong associations these days; diet = loosing weight and that was not my goal at all -- my weight started dropping as fast as it was increasing before. Much more importantly, my body fat was decreasing fast, eventually reaching the lowest readings I ever had, much lower even than at times when I was running like crazy. Just take a look at the chart to the right.
I'll admit that since then I started running again and slowly went back to my old ways when it comes to eating, mostly because on that plan I was loosing weight and that's certainly not my goal. But this experiment somewhat opened my eyes to the importance of nutrition in our lives and I did keep few of the adjustments along the way, such as limiting carbs and eating salad meals.
Finally I'll finish this post with an admission. I mentioned the six-pack book that I used as the base for my food experiments. Indeed having a nice six-pack was my dream for quite a while. "How vain", most of you will probably think.
Well, perhaps it is. But having spent a large part of my life being physically active in the extreme (as I'm assuming even these days regularly spending ~10h weekly on sports is substantially above average), I think I kinda deserve to entertain one of my body fads.
And as such fads go, I think I could haven chosen worse. There's a good reason why, in spite of beauty standards changing along the centuries, well defined abdominal muscles -- or what we know these days as a six-pack -- were always a symbol of attractiveness. If you don't know what I'm talking about just glance at the above photo of the famous 16-th century sculpture of Michelangelo's David.
So to conclude, I start to understand why Scott Jurek, one of the most famous ultra-runners of all times, wrote a book called "Eat and run" and thinks that those two subjects -- nutrition and athletic performance -- are so closely related. I'll admit that I read this book with an eye only to the running parts and am now considering re-reading it properly.