I hate the word diet.
I am sure a “healthy diet plan” brings up the same association words to me that it does to you; fad, not-gonna-last, weight loss, stupid.
I don’t like the idea of making drastic changes to my marathoner diet, and I have made it very clear that I am not a big fan of restriction, especially when it involves the foods you love.
You are just heading for disaster, and never going to keep it up.
I mentioned a few months ago that I have been working with consultant Tawnee Prazak.
Tawnee is helping me get a focus on my health, and this time, the primary purpose is not for my running as a female elite.
I accomplished some major life goals as a marathoner last month, and to be totally honest, I would be okay if I had to retire with those as my stats.
Yes, I definitely want more, yes, I am going to strive for more, and I am not giving up running, don’t worry, I just want to put my health first for a while.
Running is good for you, we know that, but taking it to the level that pro runners do is not exactly what health experts would recommend, no matter what your marathon training diet looks like. Therefore, sometimes you have to make little changes to keep looking after your body, especially when you regularly push it to the limit like I do.
When I first started working with Tawnee, she did a full analysis of my diet. At the time, I kind of laughed at the idea of this.
I knew I ate too much sugar, I knew she would be horrified with just how much of it I consumed, but I also knew….or thought, the rest of it was pretty healthy, and almost balanced it out…….obviously deep down I knew it did not work like that, but I had this false sense of security saying to myself that the running was what kept me healthy, I can get away with anything.
She had me do a food log for a few weeks, and I was honest with her. I went about my usual eating routine with lots of foods high in carbs, and I was running about 80 miles a week, which was a pretty typical week for me.
Other than the one night Steve and I went to a local fried chicken restaurant (a yearly occurrence, and not one we had a plan to eat), I was not too concerned.
However, Tawnee found a lot wrong with my diet, and a lot of changes she recommended I made.
Let’s start with the good; Calories
My caloric intake was enough (actually maybe even a little much), which is good as it shows that not only am I not restricting, but I am not doing myself any harm by being under on my calories. I was eating around 3000-3500 calories a day, sometimes slightly more or less depending on what running I did that day.
Now you have to remember, my body is so efficient at running now, that I probably only burn 60-80 calories a mile, so I do not burn as many as most people think.
But either way, she was satisfied with the overall caloric intake.
She also noted that I am good at getting healthy food in, and my inside tracker results were in optimal ranges for most of the areas, which was a good sign. Remember you can use my code TINAMUIR for 10% off if you want to see what you are deficient in.
Now for the bad.
Starting with sugar:
Tawnee found that some days my diet consisted of up to 60% sugar. Now, I love my sweets, but I did not even realize it was that bad.
That is not just the processed stuff like my beloved peanut butter m&ms or ice cream ect, but I was also consuming a LOT of simple sugars; cereal, bread, and especially, fruit.
I LOVE fruit, and unsurprisingly the high sugar kinds are my favorites.
Tawnee made some recommendations as to how I should change my diet, and gave me a list of things to start adding into my daily food intake to remove a lot of the stodge and add in nutritious foods instead.
She recommended I have lots and lots of fat and vegetables, and animal protein at least once per day.
I had a long list of foods to limit, many of which were foods I thought I was superior for consuming; ancient grains like quinoa, amaranth, bulgur, lentils, chickpeas, whole wheat.
I was very skeptical.
It sounded a lot like a paleo diet to me, and I was not a believer in that. I
n fact, I would roll my eyes whenever anyone even mentioned the word paleo or lchf (low carb high fat).
And that does not even begin to cover the meat aspect.
So much for Meatless Mondays!
I had probably got down to having meat 2-3 times per week, once a week enjoying my sizzlefish, but the other days were mostly vegetarian.
It is better for me (and the environment) I thought, and I was happy with the other protein sources I was getting.
Not any more.
More meat, more eggs, more fish, and a heck of a lot more fat. Not a low carb high protein diet as such, but definitely different to what I was used to.
I can see many of you shaking your head at me.
Oh no, what is she doing. Please don’t fall into that trap.
Trust me, I was in that boat too.
I promised Tawnee I would try, and I was willing to commit to it. I would do what she said; consume mostly fats, proteins, and vegetables during the daytime, cutting those stodgy, empty, processed carbs, and have my regular dinners at night .
As I run so many miles per week, it would have been far too drastic to turn me into a low carb runner, especially when there is a transition period where most people feel absolutely terrible as their body changes over.
I was not prepared to take that risk, and thankfully, Tawnee did not want that either.
As I had my dinnertime meal as usual, it made it much easier to transition into. I was able to add those foods recommended during the day, and then go for the traditional foods in the evening.
Who says healthy food doesn’t taste or look good?
This is the cauliflower crust pizza I made last week. Everyone who has tried it has LOVED it, I mean it! Here is my recipe.
Initially, I was I was in the habit of eating sugar every few hours, so the first few days were a bit of a struggle, but from the start, I declared that I was not going to give up my sugar entirely.
It brings me joy, and even though I know it is not great for me, I enjoy it. Not only have I struggled in the past when I have given it up cold turkey, but I do not want to.
Eating sweets make me happy, so I feel like it is okay keeping it there, but I agreed I would limit it to once a day, trying to gradually decrease the volume from an entire bowl of ice cream/multiple cookies/chocolate brownie every day to just a handful most days, with the occasional full on dessert.
But I did commit to the rest.
No more cereal, no more granola, no more simple fruit (berries, grapefruit, are okay), no more crackers.
During the day at least.
Instead, here are some foods I started to eat a lot of during the day.
• Roasted vegetables cooked in coconut oil or butter (parsnips, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, rutabaga, beets, carrots)
• Fresh vegetables
• Fish (especially smoked salmon)
• Coconut in every form- flakes, oil, butter (LOVE Nutiva Coconut butter/manna by the spoonful!)
• Nuts (although actually decreasing this as I usually eat too many)
If you are wondering:
What should I eat for lunch?
A lot of those foods above are a great option.
Obviously, I had to eat large volumes of these, and I was going through them very quickly.
I would spend multiple hours on a Sunday evening preparing it all for the week so it was within reach anytime I needed something. I explained in this post how to meal prep for success without breaking the bank.
Rather than grazing all day long like I usually would, I was having big meals every 3-4 hours, such as a 4 egg omelette with smoked salmon or one of my favorite lchf recipes, this Recovery Bowl, which I shared with you last week.
To my surprise, I was actually kind of enjoying it, and it wasn’t as difficult as I thought.
Sure, there were moments when other people would be having something that sounded good, and I just had to stick with my other foods, as I knew I would get a “normal meal” for dinner.
Overall, it really was a smooth transition, and then something strange happened…
Within a week, I started to notice my body shape changing. I noticed muscles coming through that I had never seen before. I noticed I was leaning down (without reducing my caloric intake), and I wasn’t trying. I noticed that I did not look as puffy under my eyes, my skin looked better.
But it wasn’t just that, I felt better.
I had more energy, I was less hungry, I would not wake up absolutely ravenous, and I found I could go 3-4 hours without eating.
And then I noticed that I felt better in training too.
I noticed on my long runs that I did not come across that usual haze or fogginess where your brain kinda goes to mush towards the end. I felt clear and confident the whole way around.
I know, I know, this doesn’t sound real.
I promise, I have not been paid to say this, and it surprised me more than anyone, but you know I am honest, and this is what I honestly noticed.
Before you start to panic;
Remember, I was still having the typical foods in the evenings, our usual dinners, but I noticed I wasn’t craving those foods as much anymore.
I did not like the sound of a bowl of pasta, and I craved more of the wholesome foods.
I go through a jar of this a week. I probably have 5-10 tablespoons a day!
How much fat per day was I consuming?
Honestly, I am not sure, but it was significantly more than I ever had before, and I was consuming fats with every meal, as well as for snacks.
My sweet tooth was still there, and it still needed satisfying in the evening, but like I said before, a lot of that is because it brings me joy and I look forward to it.
I switched my pre-race breakfast to a sweet potato with almond butter and a banana.
I switched my pre-race evening meal to jacket potatoes and rice. I had pasta one evening before a workout, and my stomach felt horrible the next day. It kind of put me off.
When I was in England, I missed my Brookview Beef and Sizzlefish (remember to use my TINA10 code for 10% off!) in the US to give me those protein sources, but my parents were great in helping me to get what I needed….even if it meant tripling the price of the grocery bill to get grass-fed beef, sustainable fish, free range chicken, and organic fruits and vegetables.
So yes, I did make some drastic changes, and I am sure I am going to get some backlash for this, but you know I am honest with this, and I have been fighting this high fat, lower carb thing for a while, so I was not expecting it to work, but it did.
Yes, I did fall off the rails after the race, but I told you I would, and I told Tawnee I would too.
I love to indulge and after how much I commit, I deserve it, and I enjoy it so much, BUT within a few days I was looking forward to getting back to this lifestyle change, this is now becoming the new normal and I love it.
If you want to know how to eat more without the excess weight piling on, this is it.
I am 100% a believer, and my inside tracker results showed improvements in a lot of the markers that I had hoped would increase (more about this another day).
I know this is drastic, and I know it may seem scary, but you do not have to go low carb as such, just low compared to the traditional runner diet.
Your evening meals are the same, that means when you go out with family and friends in the evening, you do not have to be that awkward one who can’t eat anything on the menu, and you will find you enjoy those dinners more as you are not eating the stodge during the day.
I am going to dive into this deeper in the future, and I have some high protein low carb recipes for you, but for now, I am a believer, and I look forward to seeing just how good of a fat burning machine my body can become.
Have you ever tried a high fat diet?
I eat a higher fat diet during marathon training as well–it help with my muscle recovery. And I you are still getting in tons of carbs, they just not grainy carbs, and getting the extra vitamins that go along with it!
Out of interest, do you know what kind of percentages you take in for carbs / fat / protein? It would be interesting to know as you are not ‘low carb’ 🙂 thanks!
Hi Sophie, I am not sure 100%, but I would guess about 40-50% fat, 20-30% protein, and 30-40% carbs. But I do not track it so not 100%……that being said, that is another part of this….I found not looking and not tracking was helpful too 🙂 Hope that helps!
I love carbs but I can definitely see where they are making you sluggish on runs and such. I’m really glad you figured this out and your training (and races!) are for sure paying off!
Your diet sounds pretty similar to mine! Earlier this year I made some diet changes because I was going through health issues. I don’t eat low carb (I hate labels) but I focus on getting my carbs from starchy vegetables (lots of sweet potatoes and root vegetables) instead of “traditional” carbs. I eat way more fat and protein than I did before, too. I feel so much better than I did last year and everything is stronger…my running, my health, my strength. I hate the idea of restriction, especially of your favorite foods, but I don’t feel deprived. In fact, I don’t even think about it. I’m sure there will be backlash (always is) but I’m happy you have found something that works for you!
I definitely hit the “horrid feeling” switching from what my body considered normal to what I was supposed to eat. Kudos to you and Tawnee for making a gradual transition! I am still struggling with balance, but it is slowly getting better.
I much prefer protein to carbs. I could easily give up bread but I couldn’t give up meat. And it’s actually quite surprising how many carbs veg and fruit have so even by reducing grains and refined sugars, you’ll still easily be able to eat enough carbs. Sounds like it’s working for you nicely 🙂
Thanks for sharing, Tina! What you described falls in line with the metabolic efficiency theory which is what I also teach to runners… it’s not low carb, but it is about balancing carbs with quality protein and healthy fats so that your body is not overly dependent on burning the carbs/sugar which can lead to the crash and burn in a marathon. And along with more efficient fat burning comes better body composition too, as you found!
I did the Whole30 about a year ago and found that my cravings greatly reduced, but I found it too restrictive and difficult while eating out. Your current diet sounds like a great compromise! What do you typically eat for breakfast when it’s not a race day? I eat breakfast at work so giving up my super portable overnight oats sounds tough!
Planning a post on this soon Katie 🙂 Thanks for sharing, glad it worked for you! But yeah, I have some good ideas for you 🙂
I am currently not running as I am rehabing some niggles, so I thought it was a good opportunity to cut down on my beloved carbs and try this as I am still doing plenty of strength work. I alo have breakfast and lunch at work and oatmeal was pretty much my breakfast everyday. I came up with protein pancakes that I do the night ebfore and then warm them up. I mix, Isopure zero carb protein powder, pumpin puree, coconut flour and a bit of stevia if you want them sweteer and water. you could adda cocoa powder if you like. I have to admit day one was a struggle but I am on day 2 🙂 As i am not running i am not going over board with the high fat
This is such great information Tina. Diet has had a huge influence on my running so it’s interesting to read about what works for other runners, and clearly it’s working! Thank you for sharing!
I want to try this! I like that you had regular dinner and desserts-this is something I could get behind!
Very interesting. The only problem I’d have with it is that, during the week, I train at night, and so I have to be very careful about what I eat for breakfast and lunch otherwise, my stomach rebels. For instance, I cannot possibly have nuts or high fiber foods (think veggies and such). I usually save those for after my run.
What I tried once was high fat, low carb for 10 days before a marathon and then 3-day carbo loading. I PRd by a lot, but go figure if it was because of that 😉
I’d appreciate if, when you have the chance, you could do an updated “what I eat on a regular day” post, so that we can see the changes you made 😉
Planning on it 🙂 Thanks friend!
Loved this post. Thank you! I have been needing to make changes in my diet for awhile. Feeling sluggish and just bloated all the time. This is the approach I am going to go with. Thank you for the motivation. I need to change my mindset that just because I run lots of miles at a decent pace doesn’t mean sugar needs to be my favorite food! ;). Love your blog. I am a member of RC and Jamie Dodge is my coach. Any other resources, websites, or favorite food combos is much appreciated. Thanks! Heather
I am also very addicted to sugar and feel that most of my diet is pretty good. But honestly after reading this post, I am certain that I could benefit with a change in my diet. I love that you only changed your day time foods which would be so much easier to do. We go out alot with friends for dinner, and I do not want to give that up.
This is so interesting, Tina! I had heard you mention a bit about it on some of your podcasts and was curious about the details. I’m glad you’ve found something that works for you! I’m very curious – is it just the sugar content that makes fruits like apples and bananas not a good option? I always viewed those as whole food sources of carbs and am very interested in learning if I should be viewing them differently.
I still have a good amount of bananas, but yeah, apples are very high in sugar, and if I was gonna consume sugar, would rather it be through my treats! 🙂 I always used to view it that way, but its better to have lower sugar fruits if possible.
Thank you, Tina! That makes a lot of sense of picking and choosing when it comes to sugar – all about balance. 🙂
One of my staples for my long runs or any race half-marathon to full is one medium sweet potato, three scrambled eggs and just pinch of coconut oil. I started doing this during my last marathon training cycle. I found it worked wonders for my energy levels and mental clarity. I took water mixed with UCAN on my 20 mile runs. I used this during my last marathon on Halloween. I did not start to feel the marathon wall till mile 24. That has never happened. I was able to keep 7:30 pace or below most of the way. I even ran the last half-mile @ 6:30 . I had a PR by 20 minutes. To be fair, I had taken a 2 year break from Marathons. Some of that big PR is more training time.
I’ve become a believe in the high fat and lower carbs. I’ve gone back and forth for years. Anytime I go back to high carbs I can tell my body does not like it. I’m not as lean and I feel crappy race effort runs. The hardest thing for me is not eat a bunch cookies and ice cream. My sweet tooth is so intense :/
Within a week, I started to notice my body shape changing. I noticed muscles coming through that I had never seen before. I noticed I was leaning down (without reducing my caloric intake), and I wasn’t trying. I noticed that I did not look as puffy under my eyes, my skin looked better. I had more energy, I was less hungry, I would not wake up absolutely ravenous, and I found I could go 3-4 hours without eating.
Hooray for the new convert:) Your body has been craving this for many years! Protein and fats are the log burning in the background for the long effort, carbs are the quick and intense fire flash for smoking the hills with intensity when needed, or the kick at the finish to edge your competitor. Protein allows you to spare carbohydrate metabolism, as you’ve found out. You’ll break 2:30 soon!!!!!!!!!!
I’ve always found over the years with my clients that those who crave sugar and graze all day just do not have their fueling under control, their blood sugar is all over the spectrum with lots of highs and lows, hence the craving.
I’m looking forward to seeing the new Tina Muir over the next few years, I’ll b following:) You are about to change your entire body structure, it will be stronger, faster, and thanks to protein, will have lots more endurance. You’ll be amazed from your results lifting too. You’re going to be a terror on the circuit:)
I love to indulge too, I’m on a See food diet- I see it, I eat it! I’m heavy on the meats, potatoes, and veggies. No margarine here, give me butter and full fat milk.
I celebrated my graduation dinner tonight at El Torito’s (Mexican food), with a macho combo and 2 Margaritas. Lots of protein (steak, chicken, pork), fat galore (guacamole and cheese), and a boat load of carbs (about 2500 cal), sans the alcohol. This type diet has never let me down in Ironman Triathlons to date.
Oh no, what is she doing. Please don’t fall into that trap.. It’s not a trap, it’s normal, that’s what the human specimen has grown on. The world has gone off the edge with granola, quinoa, amaranth, bulgur, lentils, chickpeas, whole wheat, paleo, gluten-free and obscure diets that claim to make you superhuman, BS! They have no idea what the human machine requires to run 80miles/week (I’m sure they could not do that to save their lives). End of rant!!!!!!!!!
Anyway, Hooray for Tina:)
I can’t even begin to say how much I got out of this! Definitely taking it all in and making some changes. I find when I eat oatmeal lately (I had stopped eating it for a while) it bothers my stomach a bit. Same with granola… Thank you for sharing this info and your honesty!
Wondering why coconut butter instead of regular butter? Just personal preference? Also, I just ordered the coconut butter to try, thanks for that suggestion! So glad this has worked out so well for you!
because it is DELICIOUS AND ADDICTING AND….well you just wait and see 🙂
I am addicted to that coconut manna. Spoonful every night 🙂
I usually don’t comment and I don’t mean to sound creepy but I noticed how amazing you look in that picture after you body shape changed! Of course you looked amazing before. I have experienced the same thing – I was always thin but I am so much more defined now and I can eat a ton/same number of calories and still be super lean b/c of the way I eat.
Long term for women these high fat low carb diets have really bad effects on hormones and health of the liver. The female hormonal system is highly dependent on having sufficient glycogen stores. The body can do this deprivation type nutrition for a while you are young and the liver is healthy but it will damage your metabolism and liver health long term. Processing high fat is the number reason for fatty liver disease. There are no long term studies on these paleo type diets. Many overtraining stories from athletes attempting this type of diet for long periods of time. When you are in your 30/40/50s your hormonal system will crash and you won’t be able to repair the damage from years depleting your liver glycogen. Just because it worked for you for a short period of time does not mean it is the best approach for the long term. Please be careful with your advice here as many women will read about this approach. In addition, adding so much animal fat and protein to your diet is socially and environment irresponsible. The number threat to the environment is animal agriculture.
Sorry to read your comment Kel. I encourage you to reach out to Tawnee and talk to her directly if you do not agree with the suggestions. I am just sharing what has worked for me to race as fast as I did. I have also been focusing on my hormonal health, and the numbers are moving in the right direction with these changes I have made. It does not seem a coincidence to me that I felt so much better after these changes, but you are of course entitled to your opinion. Thank you so much for sharing your feedback. I have left links for Tawnee in my blog and she said she would be happy to talk to you if you prefer. Best of luck with your training!
Very interesting, Tina. Thanks for sharing. I’d heard you mention this recent dietary shift on your podcast, so I was looking for more information. I’ve been struggling for the past few years with waking up at 1 or 2 am ravenous and unable to fall back asleep until I’ve had a snack and it’s ANNOYING. Perhaps shifting towards a higher protein/ fat diet might help with that? I’d love to see some more recipes!
This is so interesting! I’ve toyed with a lower-carb diet and felt awful. But I like the idea to still eat traditionally at night. I love my toast and oatmeal! 🙂 So I could have breakfast for dinner I suppose!
Question for you: what brand of smoked salmon do you like? I always like it at restaurants but when I’ve bought it at the store for home, I hate it!
I loved reading your article! I have been eating high fat low carb for a few weeks now. My energy level is fine but have been experiencing horrible muscle soreness. Have you experienced this or know of an antidote? Thank you.
What do you eat for breakfast for a low carb option? I usually find that porridge and/or cereal are my staple breakfasts, but obviously these are basically pure carb! What do you go for instead?
Hi Julia, I talked about that here 🙂 http://tinamuir.com/favorite-recipes/ Hope that helps 🙂