The Memorable Pork Chop

Thursday, February 9th, 2012

Its been a while! Since I opted to share our Expedition Bhutan journey on our expedition blog as well as through the amazing company, Athleta, I’ve been remiss on my own blog. I’ve also been formulating a plan as to how I’ll be sharing our journey in Bhutan—stay tuned for that info! For now, I’m psyched that I’m jumping back in here via a prompt from a good friend—and a memorable pork chop.

Athlete exraordinare and great buddy, Marshall Ulrich just posted some dialog on the vegan diet for athletes, which initiated great sharing on this topic. [To put my thoughts into full context read Marshall’s blog first]

I wanted to chime in on Marshall’s statements along the lines of; the-diet-does-not [necessarily]-the-athlete-make; and that each person needs to sort out which type of diet will optimize ones own performance; by sharing about a memorable pork chop. And mostly so that I can hear from you on what works for you in your diet/athlete relationship. Do tell.

As Marshall mentioned, all quasi-serious athletes will play with their diet now and then to sort out which types of foods will aid them in performing optimally and feeling their best. This is smart, as what works for one person isn’t necessarily best for another (important!). I’ve been no exception and have gone from low fat to vegetarian to high carb to low carb to a balance in everything. For many years now I’ve come full circle to being a happy omnivore with an emphasis on sprouted and whole grains, fresh everything and as organic as I can find especially in meats. I’ll eat veg for a few days, then switch to steak, then hop over to big salads, while throwing in the occasional pasta (which is occasional because I almost OD’ed on it in the early days as a triathlete (that was the low fat phase)).

During my vegetarian stint, I had convinced myself that red meat bogged me down and clogged things up and if that was true then I would race faster if I eliminated meat. I wasn’t really sure if the veg option was helping my racing or not, because as Marshall points out, unless one has special needs or particular sensitivities (as I don’t) our diet will not make or break our performances. But I went with it for while as an experiment.

While traveling in Europe for 3 big races; the Nice Triathlon, Sater Half Ironman in Sweden and the Roth Ironman in Germany I stayed with a family in Sweden for about 10 days prior to the Sater race. This was a big international event with nice prize money and a stunning race venue, all in picturesque little Sater (2 hours west of Stockholm). The night before the race my hostess cooked me this huge meal thinking that I’d need the extra big fatty calories for the event the next day. The main course—a massive pile of gravy dripping pork chops.

I sat and stared for a bit. Unsure of my next move. She had been cooking all afternoon and since we didn’t speak each others language I couldn’t see a way of gracefully opting out of pork chop eating without leaving her quite perplexed. So after a couple years of no meat and only 12 hours prior to a big half Ironman race, I dove in to the chops. They tasted heavenly.

The next day, only 2 weeks after the Nice Triathlon, I was on fire. I won the race and set a run course record for the half marathon that would stand for many years. Must have been the pork chops…. Not.

Our diet choices can help us recover, prepare well and feel as we wish to on race day and in tough training phases. But unless you have special needs, your diet will not make or break your races. Though I tend to eat on the very healthy end of the bell curve I’ve been known to get to the end of multi-day adventure races or 100 mile trail races on potato chips and chocolate. Though I would never touch the stuff at home, cans of Dinty Moore stew always made their way into my transition box at the Eco Challenge and I don’t recall any calorie intake I brought to a multi-day event that inhibited my performance. The depleted body will burn on whichever sources of fuel we opt in on.

As my body ages my needs have changed up yet again, but I still rely on the advice I always give all of my athletes—eat like an animal. Eat what you crave. If you want a steak, find the best quality slab and go with it. If you jones for salads, fresh veggies and hummus. Have at it. If your cravings tend to be ‘unhealthy’ choices regularly then you may need to reset your intake button in some regard, but if you “mostly” eat whole foods with a variety of proteins, carbs and healthy fats, eat what you crave. Your body knows more than our overly analytical minds when it comes to our calorie needs.

What works for you? Marshall and I would love to hear.

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