30 Day Challenge: Race Weekend & Eating Paleo…Did it Work?

Posted on May 31, 2011


PS: My hair looks ridiculous in this pic, it was 100% humidity & my hair was in a sopping wet ponytail, thus, I look like I’ve got nothing but a curly mop on my head. cute.

I posted on FB what I ate for a pre-race dinner. 2 shrimp skewers, pile of asparagus, 1/2 a sweet potato. No pasta. No rice. No quinoa. No bread. None of that typical “pre-race” fare associated with endurance events. In fact, there’s been none of that grain-based stuff in my diet for the majority of my training leading up to this race, the Soldier Field 10 Mile.

I’ve done weekly long runs, ranging from 6 miles to 11 miles. Had weekly track workouts that were absolutely gut-busting. Had too-many-to-count short distance/tempo/just-get-the-mileage-in runs. All without grains, dairy, legumes/beans/peanuts & refined sugar. And leading into race weekend, I knew my training had gone well. Sure, there were a few “off” workouts, that’s expected, but I’d never failed a workout because I was carb-deficient…even though I dropped my carb intake from 200ish grams per day to under 100 grams some days, and between 100-150 grams most days. 50 grams of carbs would be approx. 2 slices of wheat bread & a 1/2 cup of dry oats (which makes about 1 cup cooked). Many folks eat that for breakfast & lunch, so imagine not having those & replacing them with vegetables, some fruit, proteins & fats instead. That was me the last 28 days. All while training for a 10 mile race.

So how’d it turn out?? I ran it 5 1/2 mins faster than my goal pace. 2 1/2 mins faster than my stretch goal. And I felt awesome doing it. *Awesome in the sense that it frickin’ hurt the last 2 miles, but that’s exactly how it should feel! So I’d say it went EXCELLENTLY well! 

I really had no idea how the event would go because I’ve never gone without grain carbs for a training or race day. And I don’t know any other athletes doing it, although there are many, many high-level athletes eating Paleo & doing so successfully (from MMA to soccer to endurance events, athletes across the sporting spectrum are seeing that they can, in fact, perform at a high level without dairy, grains, legumes & refined sugars). But the reality is, I had no reason to be concerned since I was working diligently to do this properly. There was no malnourishment here. No eating a handful of nuts & calling it a meal.

This is key – Paleo is the farthest thing from deprivation. In week 1, I ate 21 different vegetables. In week 3 I rotated through 6 different sources of proteins. Weeks 1 & 2 did not include eggs for any meal or snack, yet I found a multitude of breakfasts to put together that were even more filling than my old-standby eggs/gluten free toast breakfast! 

So dinner the night before the race was done. I slept well, was up at 4:40am, threw a few blueberries in my mouth & headed downtown. On the way, I drank a protein shake & when I got there, I ate my sweet potato topped with 2 Tbsp unsweetened applesauce, 3 crushed pecans & a dash of cinnamon. I’ve said it before, this is hands-down my favorite pre-race/endurance workout meal. A sweet potato provides complex carbohydrates (will be useful later on during the endurance event), the applesauce provides simple sugars (quick energy), the pecans give some healthy fat & slow the carbs down just a bit as they hit your bloodstream, & the cinnamon tastes good plus it is known to balance blood sugar.

I was fueled, full, & ready to go. Since I still had an hour before my race, the timing of the potato was good – it wouldn’t be sitting in my stomach when I began the race & all the blood flow in my body went to my limbs & away from digestion. In-race I ate 1 Hammer Gel & on the way home from the race, I ate 1/2 a pint of blueberries. Once home, I ate bacon (yum!) then had Chipotle about an hour later as we were running around with babysitting duties. I spent the rest of the day (and the next day, catching up on nutrition .s.t.a.r.v.i.n.g!) Given the intensity with which I pushed myself, the hunger is understandable.

I have to tell you. Not once did I feel lightheaded, lethargic, or like I simply couldn’t “go” more. In fact, practically every mile of the 10 I descended my pace. That could not have happened if I was not fueled & trained properly. To train properly, I needed to eat well (rule #1 in training for results, fuel your body to perform its best!)

The body can run on fat as a fuel source, but most of us never give our body the chance to return to its optimum ability to do that. Yes – RETURN to – when you were born, you didn’t even have the enzyme needed in your gut to breakdown grains until your 28th month of life. You easily broke down fats & proteins, veggies & fruits early on, and ran much of your development via fat as a fuel source…which is why it is so important to babies to eat lots of fat! So you do, indeed know how to run on fat as a fuel. As an endurance athlete, you do, indeed need a slightly increased amount of carbs from starchy foods. But not the almost 300 grams that the USDA guidelines recommend.

I’ll be posting more about my final days of the 30 Day Challenge this week, but wanted you to know that YES – you can, indeed, train for & successfully complete an endurance event WITHOUT simple, starchy, garbage carbs as a primary fuel source.