The Health Guru Who Eats 5,000 Calories in One Meal & Says He's Healthy
How to eat your way faster
Stop eating dairy, sugar, grain-based foods and gluten, came the robust email retort from my trainer Giuseppe at in London the man whos helping to transform me from a marathon also-ran into a . And stop drinking ale! It wasnt the response I was expecting.
I like to think of myself as a normal, healthy eater. Healthier than most, in fact. Id just sent Giuseppe a weeks food diary that I thought was evenly balanced for an endurance runner. I was expecting a pat on the back, not a wake up call.
My list of go-to foods included plenty of fruit and vegetables, staples like porridge, yoghurt, wholewheat bread, quinoa and pasta. All generally considered to be good sources of nutritious running fuel. Add to that the odd pint of ale, a little bit of chocolate and a fondness for a big milky latte of a morning. An admirable diet, right? Apparently not.
When I sent Giuseppe my food diary I weighed 180lbs with 20 per cent body fat, fairly stocky for 5 11, but not overweight. Its fair to say Im not built like a runner. Im more Paul Gascoigne than Mo Farrah. Not that Im likely to turn up at a gun siege with a fishing rod; more that I lack the lithe, lightweight frame of a long distance specialist.
Despite running 2,012 miles in 2012 and completing five marathons, five ultras and a half marathon every day in December in 2013, around my middle youll find a small paunch. Its that blubber Giuseppe wanted to me to focus on getting rid of through a new nutritional approach. After years of trying to lose it, I was ready to listen.
Meat thy maker?
On his advice, from the 11 Jan 2014, I switched to whats best described as a version of the Paleo Diet.
I cut out all grain-based foods including pasta, rice, bread, couscous and quinoa. I dropped anything with a hint of gluten, even stock cubes. Potatoes were off the menu. Porridge was no more. Milk, yoghurt, cheese and all forms of dairy also bit the bullet. Sugar was banned.
Instead I focused my diet on lean meat, fish and carbohydrates from good sources of nutrient-rich vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower and aubergines.
For something sweet I bought 90% cocoa organic chocolate, but ate it sparingly. Now the only time I ever really get a sugary hit is from carb gels while Im running. The silver lining to this sugar-free cloud is that I now actually enjoy the gels. You can see a full list of the foods Ive been eating over at manvmiles.com.
Fuelling fit for purpose
Its important to be clear about the aims of my change in diet. The goal was to increase muscle mass, lose body fat and build a leaner, more muscular frame.
This fuelling approach was carefully designed to work with a specific training programme focused on strength training and lots of long, slow aerobic base building runs. The goal: add power in the right places and create a more efficient endurance running metabolic profile.
Five weeks later the transformation has been remarkable. I now weigh 172 lbs, with a far-leaner 17 per cent body fat. The ale belly has shrunk and there are even early signs of those things Ive heard about called abs. I feel more energised, more solid and, yes, lighter when I run.
But you cant just take my word for it. The proof is in the PBs. My first chance to see if this approach was working was at the Human Race Garmin Race Your Pace Half Marathon, my first organised event where my plan allowed me to go all out.
I ran a 1:27:43, shaving two minutes off my previous fastest time in some horrendous windy conditions at the Eton Dorney Olympic boating lake. Its exactly the kind of time I need to be hitting to be in with a chance of a sub-3-hour London Marathon.
Its also much-needed proof that the sacrifices Ive been making are worth it. And Ive been making a lot of them, like saying no to that pint of Wandle at work drinks, skipping the amazing pasta course on a work trip to Bologna and getting up an hour early to cook poached eggs for breakfast.
I wont pretend its been easy. From a logistical point of view, for one, its quite hard to maintain such a strict regime. Its when you hit places like airports or your local lunch haunts that it can get tough. Its amazing what you discover when you properly examine what goes into your food. Chicken breast from M&S? Roasted in sugar. Vegetable soup? Full of gluten and wheat-based thickening agents.
Adhering to a strict regime is not impossible but it does take care and attention to detail, and it can get quite repetitious unless you have lots of time to buy raw ingredients and cook for yourself. In which case it can be quite fun, discovering killer new recipes like cauliflower tabouleh and caponata.
Its all about the inches
This approach wont be to everyones tastes, but it seems to be working for me and whenever it gets tough, one thing Giuseppe said to me rings in my ears.
If you want to perform like an athlete, you have to start thinking and acting like one. Its the same whether youre an Olympian or an amateur, everything you do will have an impact on the time you get come race day. Its all about how far youre willing to go.
Five weeks in, Im still willing to go the whole way. Lets hope it pays off come April 13 when Im striding down the Mall to the London finishing line.
Kieran Alger is running the Virgin London Marathon 2014 with Adidas.
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