Thursday, November 4, 2010

Food is fuel!

That is something that I have had hammered into me since I was probably about 12 years old. I was so incredibly skinny that my nickname at home was "Jangle Bones" (J-Bones or just Bones for short) and my swim coach put me on a "milkshake-a-day-plus-instant-breakfast-mix diet" in addition to what I regularly ate, lest my body start to "eat itself." Needless to say, all this turned me off strawberry milkshakes for years to come and don't even get my started on Carnation Instant Breakfast. Yech.

When I get pregnant I'll have to bump up my calorie count some other way. Perhaps I will just sit down and eat an entire roast chicken right out of the pan, a la one of my favorite professors at Princeton who stated this proudly (yet another tick on the very long list of why she is amazing).

But this whole J-Bones era raises an interesting point. In a culture where we are so obsessed with dieting and being thin, I think we forget that food is fuel. I know I wax on and on about it fueling the soul and the psyche, but let's not forget--it's gotta fuel the body first and foremost!

Why talk about this now? Well, after a mad three weeks (Vronsky and I lost a house we were trying to buy, scrambled to find someplace else to live, all with our new puppy in tow, plus the fact that work has been cah-RAY-zay), yours truly is running the New York City Marathon on Sunday! I am more worked up about this than any of the triathlons I've done, perhaps because this marathon will easily take at least four hours, whereas an Olympic distance triathlon, not so much (that's a pic of me from this fall's Nation's Triathlon). But I have wanted to run one for some time now and the day is fast approaching!

I've become more cognizant of the fuel aspect of food in recent months, especially once my runs started getting longer. To complicate things, running is a bit different from swimming in terms of how my body handles food. At the height of swim training back in college, or even high school, I would just stuff myself with anything and everything I could get my hands on, from delicious fajitas to stale cereal right out of the box. It is a fairly common thing for swimmers to do. Andy Potts, now a pro triathlete but former captain of the University of Michigan swim team, stated in Triathlete magazine that he still eats like a college swimmer. In fact, the other day he just sat down an ate a Costco-sized back of peanut M&M's just because he was bored!

For me, my eating habits have had to change a bit leading into Sunday. I'll tend to get a bit of an upset stomach if I eat too close to my long runs, so loading up on the heavier carbs and proteins means must be done the night before, and then I will eat a solid breakfast and a blander lunch than I'd usually have just to be safe, with a cup hot water with ginger, lemon and honey just before I hit the road. It calms the tummy and gives me a last little burst of glucose.

The past week I've made sure that I am getting enough fruits and veggies along with the more obvious carbs and protein. I'll be sticking with variations on my mom's spaghetti sauce and chicken fried rice as Sunday approaches. It is not a time to experiment, but to go with the tried and true.

And while I am a big believe that real food is always the best thing, gels and drink powders do have their place. I've heard veteran Iron Men wistfully recall the days when Gatorade didn't exist and they accomplished miraculous feats in Kona with orange slices, water, and peanut butter M&M's (perhaps Potts was onto something after all!), but I fully admit that I am no Iron Woman. A few well-timed energy "bloks" from Clif (which are just jacked-up gummie squares) and some GU packets will never go amiss in my book. And I'm quite loyal to my Lemon-Lime Accelerade as a drink mix. I find Gatorade and other sports drinks too sweet and when you look at the labels, it's mostly sugar and salt. Conversely, the powders tend to have a lot more vitamins and whatnot, even though I know a lot of people have trouble with the slightly thicker constancy, but I don't mind it, nor the fact that Accelerade is an unearthly bright green color.

I say all this, but I will share one little anecdote in closing that basically negates everything I've just said in the last paragraph. While I was on a long bike ride earlier this summer, I shakily reach into my jersey pocket and pull out a shot block or two, pleased with myself that my cycling skills seem to be improving. I've managed to suck down these little gummies without crashing after all! Just then, a man whizzes by me, and what is he eating to fuel up for a long ride ahead? No goos or gummies for him. He is deftly eating what I perceive to be a turkey sandwich. On wheat bread. With lettuce. I swear I even saw a bit of Dijon mustard.

So the question now is: who will hand me a turkey sandwich (or perhaps a nice piece of pizza) on Sunday??


  1. I will follow your advice as I train for my upcoming triathalon. Thanks, Gasto Jess!


    Robert Vargas
    Cambridge, Mass