MAXIMAL RESULTS WITH MAXIMAL EATING!
by Peter Holleran
This is the second in a two-part article, which at one point I considered entitling simply MAXIMAL RESULTS WITH MINIMAL TRAINING/ MINIMAL EATING!, but then realized this would give some readers the wrong expectation, or even false hopes, so the subtitles have been added, but only after the reader's interest has been perked and he has clicked into the text! There are no sure formulas or shortcuts, but there does exist an amazing and idiosyncratic range of possibilities. We have so far contrasted awesome extremes in training among long and mega-long distance runners with those of middle distance runners, with mind-boggling exceptions to the norm being duly noted in each case. We have noted that beyond a certain level doubling ones mileage produced a very small percentage of performance gain. The example was given of Roger Bannister running 3:58-3:59 for the mile, on a cinder track, with only fifteen miles a week consisting of HALF-HOUR sessions of interval quarter-miles. In contrast, current record holder Hicham El Gerrouj (3:43) trains FIVE HOURS a day, with perhaps half of his sixteen second advantage attributable to a state of the art track. (Bannister himself had prophetically written that a ten second improvement would require four times as much training). Of course at this level of competition the extra effort is probably worth it. Our purpose in all of this, however, has been to entertain as well as inspire. An impassioned argument with many examples was also given on the benefit of combining ‘transportation’ and ‘training’ whenever and wherever possible to economize and ‘aerobicize’ one’s daily life, and thereby allow one to either get by with relatively modest training mileage or to surreptitiously maximize ones mileage. Our purpose here was also to entertain and inspire.
How and what runners eat is about as fascinating as how they train, and perhaps even less conclusive. Our purpose here, however, is mostly to entertain! Nolan Shaheed, 50, miler and world M50 half-mile record holder, who runs 65 miles a week, eats just once a day during training, once every other day when not training (he takes a month off each year before building another base), and fasts for 22-23 hours before a race. “I did a lot of reading on the subject,” he says, “and the message seemed to be that the digestive system shouldn’t be working all day. I found that to be true. I have much more energy when I eat only one meal a day.” Rice, beans, vegetables and fruits constitute most of his calories. He eats meat only once or twice a week. Bill Rodgers, on the other hand, when training 120-160 miles a week in his prime, was known for consuming mass quantites of everything he could see, including the grossest, gooiest donuts and pastries. Not only was he known as “King of the Roads” but also “King of the Junk Food.” Albeit somewhat of a media exaggeration, including tales of his gobbling down pizza and mayonnaise late at night, he did eat a lot of sugar to satisfy the craving brought on by his high miles. Other than that he confessed to eating a balanced, nutritious diet, with a lot of complex carbohydrates, and believes that was one reason (along with good biomechanics) that he only missed three days of training due to sickness or injury in his entire career.
All right. Shaheed trains once a day and eats once a day. The Kenyans follow suit by training twice a day and eating twice a day! Only the hardest of the hardcore, who do three workouts per day, get to enjoy breakfast. (This idea of “one meal/ one workout” has intellectual appeal. Perhaps the famous Dr. Kellogg would extend it to “one meal/one workout/one bowel movement”!) Everything the Kenyans eat is geared towards allowing (and recovering from) hard training. They have tea with lots of milk and sugar before and after the morning runs (this is their “sports drink”, containing caffeine, sugars, and fairly easily digested protein), with the three-workout-a-day man getting a breakfast after the run of bread and butter, two boiled eggs, or thin corn gruel with milk. For snacks they have fresh fruits, no fast food or junk. Lunch is fairly light, consisting of more tea, a thicker corn dish called ugali (their dietary staple), or rice and potatoes, with cabbage and other vegetables, preferably collard greens or kale (good sources of iron and other minerals) and maybe a few pieces of chicken. The large meal of the day follows their second (or third) training session, and consists of more ugali, topped with a vegetable stew of sauteed greens and small pieces of beef. When you think about all this the logic is readily apparent: quick energy for the morning run, some carbohydrate replenishment for the afternoon run, and more carbohydrate replenishment as well as protein for tissue repair in the evening. The copious quantities of tea with milk and sugar provides quick energy during the day to keep them going as well as small amounts of protein to aid recovery after each workout (a bit like Endurox and other such products), while saving the major recovery for the evening meal and nightly rest. The Kenyans also have an off-season where they allow themselves to gain 20-30 pounds. This sounds like a healthy practise, and is the way things used to be for those of us who ran cross country and track in high school and didn’t live in sunny California.
Whatever works best for the individual is obviously the bottom line. Until shown otherwise, however, I will side with traditional cultural wisdom, and especially that found in “running cultures”, like the Kenyans and Tarahumarans. Social anthropologists have also recently investigated other, more “sophisticated” contemporary running cultures and found them split into three camps: “effite Mediterraneans” (feasting on salmon/salad/vegetables, and taking pride in being efficient “fat burners”), “California vegies” (new-age carbo-loading brown rice-and-burrito-eaters), and “gross fuel stokers” (indiscriminate scarfers of pancakes, sausage, beer, and assorted junk) - with many alternating between camps one and three. (Camp two, the vegies, are generally true to their calling and rarely mix). Actually, fuel stokers can be subdivided into two more groups, browsers and scavengers, but complete data is still in the process of being gathered... Runners can be weird indeed, and it gets even weirder. Bay Area legend, Walt Stack, perhaps only partly in jest, professed to getting “four miles per beer.” Those late 19th-early 20th-century runner/ walkers, the “pedestrians”, ate rich fare known to produce gout in the royal family, such as beef steak, mutton chops, dumplings and gravy, ale, eggs-and-sherry - and that was DURING their races! Paramahansa Yogananda, by contrast, in his groundbreaking book Autobiography of a Yogi tells us of noted stigmatist Theresa Neumann who for thirty-nine years ate only one communion wafer a day (though I don’t think she logged too many miles), while a modern self-professed 120-pound "breatharian” named Wiley Brooks claimed to abstain even from that, while being able to do a standing lift of 1100 pounds over his head, which he demonstrated on a national talk show in 1980 (although someone claimed to have seen him sneak a burger off the air). His business card read “Wiley Brooks, Breatharian - call 23 hours a day”, implying he didn’t need much sleep either. In defense of this possibility the philosophy of yoga suggests that when blocks between the spirit, mind, and body are removed the life force can flow unhindered, liberating great energy and also reducing the need for sleep and gross food. Trouble with this is, you practically have to be a saint, and perhaps live like one, too. Fortunately, for the majority of mere mortals, that is not the only model of spiritual life that there is. If you train aerobically, however, you ARE getting more miles through efficient fat-burning than when training anaerobically, and may not need to consume as much food. I don’t think that Sri Chinmoy or the marathon monks of Japan eat a huge amount, nor have the Tarahumarans been known for heavy eating, subsisting mostly on parched corn gruel sweetened with sugar (alot like the Kenyans - maybe there’s something to it?!), and possibly one special herbal ingredient. The Tarahumarans also do not carry Camelbacks nor do they drink that much on their long, long runs, in contrast with modern theories on hydration, which, however, I tend to favor. Could it be that they eat mushrooms while running through the desert that make their runs SEEM shorter? - or (a la Carlos Casteneda) that ACTUALLY MAKE their runs shorter?! (alternatively maybe some researchers are full of alot of what those mushrooms grow in).
A transcontinental run is somewhat different, however - or IS it? I seem to recall that Dick Gregory made it across the country on a diet of only raw fruit and vegetable juices, mixed with spirulina - but we’ll conveniently ignore that. In contrast, according to his website, Stu Mittleman's per diem intake on a recent cross-USA run consisted of the following supplements (with some taken hourly): Z-Link Myco Detox II Borage Oil Orthoplex II Super Greens Imflamex Mega Min Mega Multi Heart Plus Adrenal Plus Prime pH Silver Plus Catalyst Complex Aminos Plus Myco Detox I Vitamin C Tr Minerals Orthoplex I Calcium Boron Chromium/ Vanadium. He also consumed 2-4 gallons of enhanced “antioxidant Merlin Water” mixed with “Super Powder”, and 4000-6000 calories of support-team-prepared high quality food, including 5 Phil’s bars! Unfortunately, he never explains how he managed to get all those calories on a 25% protein/ 75% vegetable diet (which his book Slow Burn argues is optimal for fat-burning and hence endurance) - perhaps he only eats that way when doing his more modest 20 mile-per-day “normal” workouts. (Ultrarunners sure are strange, aren’t they? When asked why he runs 20 miles a day Mittleman replies, “because that’s all the time I have.”) One can only imagine what 48 year-old Don Shepherd managed to eat on his 73-day solo, unassisted cross-USA run in the relative dark ages of 1964, when there were only two natural food stores in the entire country - one in San Francisco and one in New York. Assuming there WAS a third store, in L.A., he might have started out with a few Tiger’s Milk bars (state of the art for energy at the time), but would have quickly run out since he traveled light, carrying with him only a small canvas sack. For the next thirty-two hundred miles he would have been lucky to have: burger w/ fries (White Castle), blue plate special (truck stop), short stack/ coffee (Howard Johnson’s -- but only if they let a dirty, ragged runner into their nice, clean establishment), kool-aid (some kid’s front-yard sale), grilled cheese on white bread/ cole slaw (Woolworth’s lunch counter), root beer (A&W), ice cream (Good Humor or Dairy Queen) , m&m’s, Geritol, and chlorine enriched “ANTI-antioxidant” tap water -- restaurant, gas station, or garden hose variety (when available). Mm-mm-good! No wonder he lost 38 pounds. On a diet like that I would have konked out before reaching the state line - way before. How times have changed.
A recent study argues (perhaps questionably) that several of the high priced energy bars do not offer that much advantage over their common cousins in terms of glycemic index or energy replenishment (with the possible exception of Phil’s, which, however, along with Power Bars, are a workout in themselves to chow down - well nigh impossible when it’s cold), so I have recently experimented with Snickers on long runs. The BEST that can be said of them is that compared with the others for only 50 cents each there’s a dollar left over for gas so I can DRIVE to the trailhead, thus saving precious wear and tear on my bike (yes, I know, so much for the convictions I maintained in Part I regarding pedal power). Not to push my luck, however, I’d eat just one of these, but only if my blood sugar is approaching zero, saving the rest for any diabetics I meet on the trail. On a REALLY long run I’ll eat REAL food (like ultrarunner Scott Jurek’s mid-run snack of pita pockets-hummus-and-kalamata olives - now that sounds good), and perhaps even work on a Phil’s or Power Bar - after all, there’s plenty of time to chew. And I’ll make sure to start my day with a big bowl of corn gruel or ugali for that slow burn. (Wait - hold that ugali - it has been suggested that the real reason behind the Kenyan success is not diet but an inherited ability to tolerate pain based on a tribal history of excruciating circumcision rites. Help me, Lord! Runners sure ARE different, aren’t they?
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“Eat Like a Kenyan,” by Suzanne Girard Eberle, Running Times, 2000