Well, what CAN you eat?
I cannot tell you how many times I was asked this over the past month.
For January, I decided that I needed a bit of a reset of my nutrition. It isn’t that I had completely fallen off the health wagon, but I had next to zero structure post-Wasatch and around the holidays. Having tried the paleo diet for 2 months last year with the CrossFit gym I was a part of, I remembered how great I felt and wanted to try it again. This time it would be even tougher. The Whole30 Challenge.
The Whole 30 Challenge is 30 days of nothing but real whole foods. I kept telling people who asked “What the heck is Whole30” that it was essentially paleo but harder. And no, that does not mean that I have to hunt down my own food. 🙂 It does mean that, as per typical paleo diet, I had to cut out grains, dairy, beans, potatoes (yams being an exception) and sugar. Why is Whole30 so much tougher? It asks that you also cut out the comfort of sweet foods and limit your fruit intake. This means no “paleo-fying” pizzas, pancakes, cookies, or brownies. I was not allowed any agave nectar, honey, or stevia. This makes you look at labels on everything in a package. Seriously, there is sugar in almost everything.
Oh. And no cheat meals. Not one. Not even a cheat tasting. Smelling is ok.
For me, attempting the challenge was not about losing weight or trying a new diet. If I lose weight, fine but my main goal was to regain and improve healthy eating habits. I also knew how paleo made me feel stronger and that recovery from my training was easier. Anyone that knows me well knows I love my lattes and baked goods, so having to completely abandon them was tough.
The first week I found myself back in a rhythm of food acquisition and preparation. That is the key to this challenge: be on top of your weekly meal plan and make sure you have plenty of whole foods available. I ran to and from work once a week during January so I had to make sure I had enough food prepared and waiting at work to sustain a near-marathon between the two runs. At the end of the first week I bottomed out early on a long run. Not an hour and a half in and I was bonking…hard. As many of you runners know, gels and gummy chews are NOT Whole30. So I had to eventually get creative as to what I brought along. On this run though, I had only brought a few nuts and dried fruit but my body was just not yet adjusted.
By the end of week two I was feeling amazing. Working out twice a day everyday was not obliterating me. I brought a small ziploc bag of roasted yams and some turkey sausage for my long run on the weekend and ended up running over 3 hours without feeling the need for any food. It made for a great recovery snack on the drive home. This trend continued throughout the challenge. Towards the end of 2012 I was having a couple lattes a day to stay energized through the afternoon.
During Whole30 however, I stayed ‘normalized’ as I called it. Yes I still had a little coffee in the morning (with unsweetened almond milk) just because I love the taste. My trend of being able to recover continued to increase and my ability to feel stable and strong during my long runs was exceeding any expectations. I could tell my tastes changed as I neared the end of the challenge, I had neglected to bring enough food to work one day and ended up eating a Larabar (technically they are ok but with all the dates they really aren’t) and it was so sweet I could not eat more than a few bites. Wow.
Tomorrow I will have a ‘real latte’ and probably a baked good or two. After that I won’t have to say no to joining friends out to eat or a glass of wine every now and then. I’ve seen the changes it has made in my running performance and daily life and I have decided I am going to try to stay mainly ‘Whole30’ this race season. Realistically I will have to use gels but I look forward to trying to incorporate as much real food in my races as possible.
If you feel you need a change in your eating habits, I highly recommend giving Whole3o Challenge a go. It is tough but so worth it. Click here for all the details, a shopping list, and a meal planning template.
Eat clean. Train hard.