Friday, February 6, 2015

Eating for Fuel; My Current Diet

In a separate post I'll go into the full details of how I got to this point but here I'll just discuss what I currently eat and why.

  My current diet is plant based.  Which is to say that I eat very little that isn't plants but I don't completely ban myself from eating meat or other animal products.  To give that context.  In the last two weeks I haven't actually eaten any meat but I have made some dinners that had chicken broth, I have had some cheese, I have had some things made with eggs and I regularly put a splash of milk in my tea.

  Why am I eating like this?  The short answer is my wife made me to try it and how I feel makes me to keep doing it.

   My personal journey with food over the last 15 years or so has been in the general direction of eating less and less processed foods and more and more "real" foods.  I grew up eating very healthy but during college sort of jumped off that path and since than have slowly found my way back.  I have fully plant based for the last 3 months or a bit more.  In that time I have made a solid jump in fitness and increased the quantity and quality of my workouts.  I have also lost around 15 pounds without trying.  I have done so without feeling weak or that I'm on the verge of getting sick which was common for me in the past when I dipped much under 160lbs in the past.

  We went plant based because my wife was reading the China Study which is a fairly well known study that spawned a bunch of books and a movie or two.  Summing up something that has been described in multiple books in one sentence, basically these researchers found that if you eat less than 5% animal protein in your diet cancer can't grow.  People who then followed this diet found they had more energy and better health all around.

  We were already eating pretty healthy, basically no processed foods.  I haven't had something you would call fast food in literally years.  In short we ate real food.  The stuff from the outside of the grocery store instead of the aisles.  This was working ok.  Though I did notice if I was eating yogurt instead of salad for lunch I would be much more likely to get sick.  I was running a lot but I would not describe myself as having much energy.

  Since going plant based I have not had some amazing awakening of feeling like a million dollars all the time experience.  I have made big jumps in fitness and you may have noticed I'm posting 5 or 6 blogs a week and still training and working like I was before so I certainly have more energy and I have returned to going hard or moderately hard every other day so 7 times every two weeks.  For the last few years I have only been going hard twice or sometimes 3 times a week so about 4 to 5 times every two weeks.  All of this adds up to a pretty darn good step in the right direction.

  The number one question I have been getting is what about protein for recovery.  I totally understand this question.  It was my number one concern heading into eating like this.  I have long taken either protein powder, kefir, or chocolate milk after all hard workouts and the vast majority of runs.  I have not replaced this with anything.  I generally eat something right after a run but nothing specific. Often it is just some fruit or toast. I have tried energy bits which are spirulina for post run recovery and like them so that may become my regular routine but currently I'm not doing anything.  I do eat a decent amount of protein but not nearly as much as I was eating before switching to plant based.

  Here is the funny thing.  I'm recovering better. I'm not sore.  I'm bouncing back for another hard run or workout quicker.  I feel pretty darn good.

  I have told you what I'm not eating.  Which leaves what I am eating.

  For breakfast I have either steel cut oats that I cook in the slow cooker over night with cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla.  I eat it with some fruit, whatever is around, and almond milk.  If I don't have the oatmeal I have ezekiel toast with cashew butter or peanut butter, the kind that is just ground nuts, no oil, no salt.  I also have a large cup of water and a large cup of tea, 24 ozs each.

  For lunch I have make a peanut butter jelly smoothie.  Which tastes totally like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich but with a smoothie texture, which is a bit of mind screw at first but you get over that.  I think melissa found the recipe on 100 days of real food or kris karr's website.  Basically it is peanut butter, almond milk, apple juice, two bananas, some baby spinach, and a bunch of frozen berries.  I make it in the morning and stick it in the fridge at work.

  Dinner is different every night.  I make a lot of soups, I always use low sodium organic broth.  I generally use veggie broth but sometimes chicken broth. A real quick meal is a BIG salad and veggie burgers.  Other than that we have been just trying out a ton of things.  We had a CSA in the fall and I would just google recipes based on what we got in that each week.  Now in the dead of winter no CSA so we google recipes and then buy the stuff for them.  We eat pasta dishes pretty regularly with a lot of veggies mixed in.

  For snacks I eat mostly fruit, toast, and whole wheat cookies when Melissa makes them, I don't do much baking.

  The biggest positives have been the loss of weight and being less hungry.  I have heard the term 'toxic hunger' used to describe the cravings for fatty, sugary, salty foods we eat.  The first few weeks you don't eat this food you crave them like mad.  Basically more like an addiction than a real hunger response.  Now as I said I gave up most of that stuff years ago but I did have that reaction for sure.

  The other type of hunger when you don't need calories is hunger from a need for nutrients.  The concept is simple enough your body needs some vitamin and even though you have eaten enough or more than enough calories to satisfy your needs your body tells you to keep eating until you get enough of whatever else you need.  If you read the nutrition labels on most of the processed foods we eat or the nutrition info on meat you will notice that there are calories but very little else.  What this means is that you can eat and eat and as soon as your stomach empties out you will be hungry again because you are desperately short of nutrients.  Even when I was eating very well by american standards before going plant based I was hungry quite often.  After a few weeks of the veggie based diet I noticed I was not nearly as hungry.  A quick glance the nutrition info on my meals told the story why.  Instead of a small amount of a handful of nutrients you have dozens of nutrients represented and many in very high quantities.

  Problems. The biggest problem is fiber.  Too damn much fiber.  Ok really it is probably the right amount of fiber but it is more than I am used to.  This has lead to a lot of unplanned bathroom stops on runs.  For a few weeks this was pretty out of control.  However I started drinking a lot more water and that pretty much got me back to normal.

  Weak points.  Ok don't tell Melissa, she pretty much just glances at the blog so I'm not too worried, but I sneak at least on soda a week.  Usually a virgil's root beer.  I swear that stuff really tastes like it was made in heaven.  It also has two days worth of sugar and zero nutritional value.

  Yup that covers it.  After the first couple of weeks I really stopped wanting any other junk food or meat. I don't want it. When I'm hungry I want fruit.  I want a salad. I want a nice colorful dinner. To be clear this took a few weeks.  The first couple weeks all I wanted was a damn hamburger covered in cheese and bacon.  Now that kinda grosses me out.

  Now I do eat some meat.  If I get a salad from a restaurant it generally has some chicken or cheese or whatever on it.  I eat that.  I did get a 'super salad' recently that was a little too super for me and I ended up leaving a lot of cheese and meat behind but generally speaking I will eat a bit of meat once every week or two.

  If you want greater detail or real info on the hows and whys of all this post a comment asking Melissa to do a guest blog because she is the brains behind this part of the operation.


Anonymous said...

Great post again-on a potentially touchy subject for an elite runner. I seem to remember you once saying when you let your weight drop in 2006 you ended up with mono and your powers of recovery never really...well recovered. Very interesting thank you.

Anonymous said...

As an addendum to your blog last week where you were considering introducing 5k-hm session weekly, I was looking through your logs and prior to the 5 mile race it was weeks and weeks since in a sustained fashion you worked above threshold, now training theory discussions aside I think it's no wonder you struggled. Mona are the only workouts I can see where you went quicker than 5 min pace and 100m strides. So 15-90seconds.
So the EXTRA muscle fibres to propel Nate from 5.10 pace to 4.45 have worked for a maximum of 90 seconds before a rest since ?november.i can see that 5.10 you are really efficient and strong and at a point in your life that work transformed you, but would love to see you adding in a weekly 800-2400m old fashioned rep session at 4.40 to 5 minute addition to your canova sessions.
Just my "2 cents"-so chuffed to see you back-looking forward to seeing some 14.00-29.00-63.00-2.13 action from you!

Nate Jenkins said...

A1- I was light when I got mona in '06. There was a lot more going on. I was working, training very hard and dating, I was burning the candle at both ends and I got burned. Certainly a similar thing could happen now. I simply don't get enough sleep. I do what I can to get as much as I can but that is a risk.

A2-That is exactly right, as I said in the blog, the Mona and Strides were the only faster stuff I had done.
Now I will not be adding weekly sessions of 800m to 2400m repeats. If the goal was to run a great 8k or 10k then of course that would be the next step but it isn't. The goal is to run a great marathon. Your not going to be in your best shape for all events at the same time. IE I ran 13:56 for 5k at one point. If I had woke up with no coordination problems the next weekend and raced a marathon I would have struggled to run much under 2:20 despite the fact that I was in the best shape of my life. When I finished 7th at the trials If I had tuned up with a 5k it would have been an over under on 14:35.
What I'm saying is that the lack of speed has been purposeful. I need to get strong and I have been. Still there is some balance because my goal is to run 5:05 to 5:10 per mile. I have some concerns being uncomfortable at 4:55. I would like that to be more at 4:45 to 4:50. At the same time I have no doubt with a change in focus on the workouts I could in 4 to 6 weeks be running 4:40 pace or quicker but that would not be a good set up for the marathon at this point because I'd have to sacrifice strength to get there.
So the middle road. I do want to make sure that I'm comfortable at a bit quicker pace but I want to keep the focus on strength. So I'll be adding in one session per two week cycle that has some faster running. Most likely Alternations which still have a strength bend to them.
However I do want to runs a quick road 10k at some point this year so you can bet at some point after Boston I'll be thrilled to mix in some faster reps along with the strength to get after a quick road 10k.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the replies, and agreed on all points....except....I don't believe 13.56 minus co-ordination issues(past tense) would have struggled to break 2.20, I think you under estimate yourself!

Beastman said...

Nate, are you concerned about iron? I recall you've had iron problems before. As I understand it, iron from plants is difficult for your body to absorb, e.g. "non-heme" iron or something like that.

Is vitamin B-12 a concern with a low meat diet? I only vaguely recall.

Very interesting how your energy is higher and your recovery is better.

Nate Jenkins said...

Beastman- I have had a lot of anemia problems. I have now for a few years taken a pretty significant amount of iron as a supplement. I will continue that and adjust it if my blood work shows a drop in my ferritin. I don't know much about B-12 but I have heard that can be a concern. The energy bits have 687% of a daily value of them and I don't believe that it is harder to absorb that from plant source so I think I'll be ok there though I do plan some more expansive bloodwork as the months go on to trouble shoot any areas that may come up.

SJ said...

Nate, I've been on a similar diet for a year or so. My wife and I started using one of those vegetarian mail order boxes, where they deliver 3 recipes/ingredients a week. Really helped the monotony of cooking and looking for new recipes Etc, when you're super busy. Thanks for the post.

Nate Jenkins said...

SJ- I didn't know such a thing existed! I'll have to look into that. Thanks!

RunningwithUta said...

Regarding iron, Nate & I both take a ferrous sulfate supplement. I am not too worried about becoming anemic on the plant based diet as long as we take the supplement.

Regarding B12-- the issue with B12 is that our soil is depleted and so there's less B12 in veggies than there used to be. Nate & I take a Whole Foods Multivitamin which has plenty of B12 and we cook with nutritional yeast, which also has tons of B12, and other B vitamins in it.

Regarding protein-- we eat a lot of nuts, nut butters, and legumes. No more protein powder for us, even if it's plant based because in order to put the protein in powdered form it has to be highly processed to the point that it is denatured, meaning you are basically not absorbing any protein from your protein powder. You are wasting your money.

We joined our CSA in the fall but we are fortunate that this farmer (Farmer Dave- he is amazing- check him out: offers a bundled CSA so we can get fruit/veggies 41 weeks a year!!!! So our CSA starts in March and will be running up until next winter. Each week a box of 20++ pounds of fruits and vegetables is delivered to our door. Nate and I spend that night planning meals for the week to utilize all those veggies. We eat a lot of stir fry with brown rice, quinoa, etc. We also make a lot of soup.

Being plant based seems a little extreme, I never would have imagined a year ago that I would no longer be eating meat or animal based products. I do a lot of nutritional counseling at work and so I'm constantly reading some of the latest nutritional studies. I started seeing a lot of articles about plant based diets and their benefits, and then I read The China Study by Cornell professor T. Colin Campbell which really blew me away. It was just so compelling. Then I read a book with a rather sensational title, "Stop Feeding Your Cancer" by Dr. John Kelly. He's a primary care doc in Ireland who read The China Study and put it into practice with his patients. The book is what he learned after ten years of advocating a plant based diet and it's pretty astounding.

Moreover, there's a cardiologist from the Cleveland Clinic, Dr. Esselstyn, who has done some pretty amazing work with plant based diets and cardiovascular disease (watch the documentary Forks Over Knives).

There's a lot of heart disease and cancer in both Nate's and my families (my grandfather died of a massive heart attack at age 56, just minutes after breaking an American Record in his age group in the 3,000 meters). It seems that this diet directly addressed both heart disease and cancer. It was a very clear sign to me that this might be how I work around some faulty genetics.

That, along with the knowledge of the treatment most animals who are grown to be food experience led me to switch our diets from whole foods to plant based.

So there's a little more background into our plant based diet. It's actually been a fun experience learning new recipes and trying new foods. Nate & I both feel a lot better, and plant-based left overs last a lot longer!!! So there are many upsides. I could really go on and on but I'll leave it at that for now.

Anonymous said...

Nate, I am a college runner and I'm curious on any suggestions for implanting some of this diet into a college setting. Any thoughts?

Nate Jenkins said...

For those who read Melissa's comment no I haven't been able to convince her to write all of my blogs so you have to keep putting up with my shit writing. Sorry!

College is about the best place to eat in the world in terms of variety and options, particularly in todays cafes. I would use the Meb guidelines for college eating at the start. Drink water with meals and start you meal with a HUGE Salad. The salad bars tend to be very good and have great variety. From there you can vary based on options as they have them. You may even be able to get some of the fringe foods like ezikial bread etc.. I would suggest buying the nutritional yeast and you can shake it on most anything for the vitamins and for flavor. In terms of snacks look at veggies and fruit- a lot of which can be tossed in your bag on your way out of the cafe. Oh and don't drink too much on the weekends! You crazy college guys.

SJ said...

We're using hello fresh now but there are a couple start ups breaking into the mkt.

Anonymous said...


How do you meet your caloric requirements on a plant based diet or is that not an issue? Maybe I'm just indoctrinated with the calories in / calories out theory and this question is irrelevant. It would seem at 100+ miles a week you would need at least 3500 calories per day but it doesn't seem like you could get there on the listed diet.

Do you worry about calories or do you just eat well and often?


Nate Jenkins said...

SJ- Thanks!

Anon- Well I have lost a lot of weight so obviously there is some issue with not getting enough calories there which in the short term has been good because it has got me down to racing weight but certainly if it were to continue too far would be bad. I do eat a lot of snacks. So I probably eat 5 to 10 pieces of fruit in a day and I often will eat nuts or a nut based trail mix and I might eat 8oz of that in a day. Also Melissa makes some sort of natural based cookies 2 to 4 times a week so most nights before bed I will have some of those which though plant based do have sugar and flour which provide some solid calories.

RunningwithUta said...

The thing is-- a calorie is not a calorie. When Nate dieted in college and shortly out of college, he dieted the way most Americans do, by restricting portions. What happened? He lost weight but he also got sick and frequently injured. He also felt hungry and fatigued.

Contrast that to how he currently feels eating plant based-- he feels good and has more energy than he did before. A calorie is NOT a calorie. They absolutely do not function the same once ingested. The whole "calories in calories out" idea is old science and has been proven in study after study to not be true. Now I'm not saying that eating plant based will make it so you can't get sick or injured, but it's clearly having an effect that is different from traditional dieting.

Here's an article from the NY Times about the documentary "Fed Up" where they explore this idea of all calories not being created equal. They discuss this in relation to obesity, but the science is the same.

Just think about it, 100 calories of soda vs. 100 calories of an apple. How do you think that would be metabolised in your body?

Jim said...

As someone who was a vegetarian for 4 years and still eats mostly vegetables, I know the fiber can be brutal for mid run bathroom breaks. I started drinking a ton of water about a month ago and take psyllium husk at night, but it still isn't perfectly dialed in. Running in a city with lack of bathrooms also makes this tough.

Any other tips/strategies on managing the increased fiber in relation to managing the bathroom around runs?

Nate Jenkins said...

Jim- you've pretty much covered what I have done. It seems that drinking a lot of water consistently really helps me so I haven't done too much more on top of that. Other than that I would suggest trying to be consistent about your running times so your body can get used to a schedule. Lastly when I was taking a ton of iron at one point I would my first couple miles of every run as a sort of warm up and swing back by the house for a bathroom stop before heading out for the bulk of the run.

Caitlyn Germain said...

Nate, awesome to see this change in diet! I love that you (and Melissa) are taking this on and shedding some light to people that think you can't be an athlete without all the meat! I've been plant based (vegetarian) for 4 years now and only once had trouble with anemia... but that was because I didn't pay attention when I first made the transition. Melissa covers the B12 issue nicely in the comments... but in addition, not only are the vegetables lacking B12, but so is the meat we consume. Most animal protiens come from a very unhealthy animal who isn't going to give us the nutrients we need...even grass-fed, as Melissa said, the soil that the animals are eating the grass from doesn't have the nutrients. Either diet, B12 is extremely difficult and most everyone can benefit from a supplement.

One thing I used in my (one) marathon as a staple for long runs/pre-race was chia pudding. Tons of great stuff in those tiny seeds, and if you have a high tech blender (essential for vegetarians, but I think you guys have one if I remember correctly) the pudding is really smooth. I use chocolate almond milk in mine. Soooo Good! Good luck! I know Melissa is a wealth of knowledge, but we've got lots of info over here if you need any other opinions/recipes!

Good luck! Excited to see you run Boston!!

Nate Jenkins said...

Caitlyn- We do have a professional blender so that is not a problem. I will have to try the chia pudding. There seem to be a ton of recipes online for it is there a certain one you use or recommend as a starting point. -thanks, Nate

Caitlyn Germain said...

I stick to what is easiest for me. I've tried lots of different things to create variety... But I don't try to get fancy anymore I generally just do a 2:1 ratio with chocolate almond milk and chia seeds, soak over night, blend in the morning. I add fruit on top for extra taste and that's how I mix it up. If I'm feeling fancy I'll add honey or some dates prior to blending for sweetness, but generally I'm not going for award winning flavor, just function. It's still pretty good just plain and it sustains me for a long time. Longer than oatmeal did!

Nate Jenkins said...

Awesome! Glad to know it is so simple. I will try it out tonight, with dates as I love the sweet. Thanks again!

Anonymous said...

Hi Nate! I was a mediocre, central Mass runner back when you were tearing things up at Narragansette. Congrats on all of your accomplishments since... in the meantime, I spent my twenties getting fat and watching my racing flats collect dust.

A year and a half ago I went plant-based, lost 30 lbs, and started wearing embarrassingly short shorts as I attempt to call myself a runner again.

It's cool that you guys have started this plant-based journey. I'm sure that you've been doing a load of research and digging deep into nutrition, but I just wanted to leave some names and sites that I consider to be zeitgeists in this realm... maybe it can help.

The Rich Roll podcast:

Dr. Greger

Brendan Brazier's Thrive

I kind of edit the Thrive diet (no protein powders, nothing too expensive, and more to what I have access to here in Brazil), but the recipes for energy drinks, gels, and recovery foods are worth every cent, as well as his philosophy on food as fuel for endurance athletes.

Also, B12: get a methylcobalamin supplement, it's easier for you body to absorb.

Iron: Keep up all the non heme iron (beans, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds...), cut back on coffee during the day, and start adding lime to all of that water you're drinking to keep a regular level of vitamin C in your system to help with iron absorption.

I figure you know most of this stuff, but just in case.

Your blog is great and thanks so much for all of the info, experience shared, and inspiration! Will I see you at Boston this year? OK, let me rephrase that... Will I hear about you being way ahead of me at Boston this year?


Nate Jenkins said...

Roger- I'm pretty sure the only requirement to be an official runner is to wear super short shorts and move around. Plus your doing Boston so you get shirts that prove your a runner.
Being serious now… I have seen the thrive stuff I haven't looked at the other two before, though to be honest Melissa is in charge so she has done the research and I have just followed along. I hadn't thought about the lime in the water that is a great idea.
-Thanks! Good luck at Boston!

Jame Bond said...

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