I Needed More Carbs

March is National Nutrition Month, which is fitting since I've recently learned some significant things about my eating habits that I've been trying to work on. At the end of February I felt like I was doing a lot of emotional eating and reached out to Danielle, my nutritionist for some advice on how to stop. It was about a week before our scheduled monthly session so she asked me to log everything I ate. I didn't need to be concerned about counting calories, or even serving sizes - she just wanted to see what I was eating.

{Side note: One of the reasons I stopped logging calories is because most of my meals these days are home-cooked, self-modified concoctions and it gets tedious trying to calculate the calories of all the individual ingredients that I use.}

I did this for 10 days and found that just knowing that someone else was going to read my log, automatically helped me to start making better choices. For good measure, I also recorded the times that I ate, the number of hours of sleep I got, and when/what workouts I did. It turned out to be a good thing I added these details because it gave her a better idea of the overall "big picture."

When we met the first thing she asked me was, "How have you been feeling?"

Well as I've said frequently over the past few weeks (even months), I'd been feeling really low energy and wasn't quite sure why. I knew I wasn't overtraining because I haven't run more than 31 miles in a week so far this year and have cutback on cross training. I knew I wasn't sleep deprived because I average at least 7 hrs/night (but usually get more).

In a typical week I would start out feeling pretty good but by Wednesday things would start to go downhill to the point where it would take every ounce of energy in me to get through the rest of the week's workouts. It felt like I kept hitting a wall over and over again.

She wasn't surprised to hear this and said, "The reason you are feeling that way is because you aren't eating enough carbs to fuel your workouts." Really?! I hadn't been trying to eat low-carbs so this really surprised me.

What she saw was that I was starting off the day eating pretty well balanced meals, but after lunch, there wasn't enough carbs to fuel my evening workouts, or post-workout recovery. By mid-week I was literally running out of gas and wearing down glycogen stores in my muscles.

This made perfect sense. Since winter I had switched to doing most of my workouts in the evenings because the mornings have been so dark. It hadn't clicked in my mind that I should have also modified my eating schedule to accommodate for this.

Her recommendations to me were:

1. My post-lunch meals were filled with protein and fat but not enough carbs. She recommended eating a piece of fruit and/or drinking 8 ounces (1 cup) of juice an hour or so before my workout.

I have been trying this by eating an apple or banana and drinking a cup of V8 Blueberry/Pomegranate juice. It has given me a little more energy and excitement going into workouts vs. dragging and just trying to get through it.

2. Eat a protein-based meal ASAP after a workout.

She practices Israeli martial arts and said that after her workouts she drinks 8 ounces (1 cup) of chocolate milk. It's one of the best recovery drinks because it has sugar (carbs), protein and sodium. Knowing that I am lactose intolerant she recommended that I drink Chocolate Soy Milk. I have noticed a significant difference when doing this. I feel less sore, I guess less "depleted" after a workout. I try to drink it within 5-10 minutes after finishing a workout and then follow it up with dinner within the hour.

3. Bundle my snacks together into larger meals.

I seemed to be grazing on little things almost every hour so this is one way to cut down on the mindless eating.

She also recommended that I add a piece of fruit to every meal and if my evening workout is after dinner, to have a bedtime snack that includes carbs. But she also advised to experiment with this because different kinds of carbs digest differently.

In just a short time after incorporating these recommendations I've also seen a difference in how I feel before, during and after workouts. And I've definitely made progress in getting a handle on my emotional eating. I'm still keeping a food log, now also tracking portion sizes, sending a report to Danielle at the end of every week. Just knowing that someone else is reading it makes me feel more accountable which helps me make better choices.

Suggested Reading

One other thing Danielle suggested was reading Nancy Clark's Sports Nutrition Guide Book. I looked it up on Amazon and found that Nancy Clark also wrote a book called Nancy Clark's Food Guide for Marathoners. I downloaded this one to my Kindle and found it to be a valuable quick read.

It provided a good reminder to some basic nutritional facts that most of us already know, but also offered some insight into the importance of various nutrients, vitamins and minerals specifically for, and how they impact marathoners. She also gives great advice on how to fuel and hydrate for long runs and races. Really interesting stuff.