Changing the Way I Eat

During Ironman training, I felt hungry ALL the time. There never seemed to be enough food in the house to keep me full. Because I was always starving (and tired), I was reaching for things that were the quickest to cook/prepare: grilled steak, cold cuts, chicken cutlets (fried), a huge dish of pasta. Add to it that my portions began increasing (tremendously) to the point where I was eating an 8-10 oz steak at dinner at least 3x/week. I don’t think I was eating too many calories – my weight stayed pretty consistent during the high intensity months (May – July). But I do think that I was not making the smartest decisions in regards to food. I was choosing the easiest options to fill me up rather than what made me feel the best and give me the most energy.

Despite being arguably in the best shape I’ve ever been in, I constantly felt “blah”. I would wake up most mornings with a bloated and upset stomach that would often last until midway through my early morning workout. It seemed like most nights after the boys went to sleep, I was on the couch complaining about my bloated stomach or the sometimes sharp, throbbing pain I had.  Tums and other antacids were taken almost nightly to try to combat the pain.

It got pretty bad in the weeks leading up to the Ironman. I knew I wanted to change my diet – but I didn’t want to start experimenting with diet changes so late in training. I decided that I would wait until the Ironman was over and then I would begin making some changes.

Almost immediately after the IM, I starting reducing some things (meat, dairy, wheat) from my diet. I found the more I cut back on these certain things, the better I felt. So I made the decision about two months ago to almost completely eliminate them from my diet.  My “new” diet restrictions had ZERO to do with weight (I will discuss this below) and all to do with how I felt.  Steak, pizza, a massive dish of pasta were some of my favorite meals. But I was tired of being cranky all the time. And was willing to try anything to change the way I was feeling.

(*Note: I didn’t get tested to determine if I was gluten or lactose intolerant. I just began experimenting with things and found that I felt better when I didn’t eat and felt just “blah” when I did. I want to eat what makes me feel good. So for me, cutting out dairy and wheat was a no-brainer. The meat was more of just wanting to experiment. A good number of my endurance friends are plant-based and they have enough energy to train, so I wanted to give it a try.)

I was most concerned with two things – ensuring that my boys were not affected by my diet changes and that that I was consuming enough calories and necessary nutrients. Below are the ways I am addressing those two concerns, as well as some answers to questions I’ve received:

What has changed? I joke that I’m quasi-vegan…but in all honestly, I follow a vegan diet roughly 90% of the time now. I occasionally will have a piece of meat (I have had red meat and chicken a handful of times since August) if I have the craving or if something looks appetizing. I also eat eggs and cheese occasionally. But for the most part, I have almost completely eliminated meat, dairy and wheat from my diet. I have changed what my “normal” meal looks like.  Basically,  more greens, raw veggies, good fats, beans, quinoa and less meat, cheese, eggs, white rice.

What is a normal breakfast/lunch/dinner: 

  • Breakfast: Fruit, tofu scramble with avocado and salsa or oatmeal or protein shake
  • Lunch: Salad over quinoa. Things like lettuce (obviously), black beans, sunflower seeds, avocado, almonds, cranberries, cucumbers, broccoli and carrots are often the staple ingredients.

salad3

  • Dinner: wide mix of things – some recipes from No Meat Athlete, some from the Runner’s World cookbook and some just from experimentation.  I also will occasionally have the normal lunch meal of salad with quinoa.

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  • Snacks: 2-3x/day: apple or banana with peanut butter, handful of trail mix or almonds, small bowl of quinoa with sunflower seeds, cranberries, salt and drizzle of oil

What about my sons/husband? My husband was very much on board with changing his diet too – he has wanted to cut back a bit on the amount of meat/dairy he had been consuming so it was a good excuse for him.  The only difficult part of this whole plan is my children – I still want them to eat a diet with some meat, cheese and the other things that I have cut back on. So there are quite a number of nights when I make grilled chicken (or two – one for my husband) with steamed broccoli and sweet potatoes for them and then a salad and quinoa for myself.  Or we order a pizza for the boys and I eat something different. Yes, it’s time consuming and kind of a pain in the butt. But, I feel strongly about the boys eating a wide mix of foods, so there really is no easy option.

How do I feel? The change is truly indescribable. I feel amazing when I first wake up in the morning. No more stomach pain. No more cramping or bloating. I have more energy throughout the day – especially in the late afternoon when I used to feel like I needed a nap or a cup of coffee. Despite weighing basically the same (I am about 2 pounds lighter than I was during the summer), I am leaner and FEEL healthier. I know I am running more, but I am working out less hours per week than I was during the summer. But most importantly, I just feel happier. Happier with how I feel. Happier with how I am eating. 

Running Performance: This is a tough one to answer. I feel faster, leaner and more fit but I know that this is all also a function of my training. However, I do think that diet plays a HUGE part in running and exercise. There were some mornings over the summer when I would change a workout into an easy run because of stomach pain or just not feeling right. This training cycle has been nothing short of amazing – from start to finish – and I think a large part of that can be attributed to my diet.

Will I continue this diet? I think we are going to mostly continue with this lifestyle change for the foreseeable future. It’s been a lot easier than I was expecting. And quite honestly, much more delicious and filling as well. I guess I had this theory that vegan meals were tasteless, boring and would leave me starving.  It’s been the total opposite. Even though I’m eating salads most days for lunch, there are a ton of nutrient-dense foods in them that leave me full and satisfied. I also don’t have the mentality that there are foods that are off-limits. I am not following a vegan diet 100% – so if there is something I want to eat, I can. If I am craving a steak, I will eat it. No guilty conscience. But I also know that I will likely wake up the next morning with some bit of stomach pain or bloatedness if I eat too much of certain foods (this is mostly true with dairy).

This post is not meant to tell you how to eat or that you should try a vegan and gluten/lactose free diet. It’s more just to share what seems to be working for me {right now} as well as answer some questions I have gotten the last few months. We are ALL different and I think the key is figuring out what makes you feel the best. When I feel good, I am happiest =)

Are you or have you considered becoming vegan (or quasi-vegan like me)?

What are your cheat foods? Ice cream, pizza and milkshakes =)

*Note: I am not a dietitian nor an expert in food, diets, etc. My eliminating certain foods from my diet was not a result of tests or opinions from experts. It’s purely from me using trial and error and seeing what made me feel good/bad.*

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I don’t post here every day, but I post all of my workouts (and other happenings) on Instagram on a daily basis {NYCRunningMama}.

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    41 thoughts on “Changing the Way I Eat

    1. Pingback: Healthy Snacking for Marathon Training |

    2. For 2013, I was determined to train better in order to suffer less injuries. Quite accidentally, I came across an audio book I had bought a few years back but had forgotten to read. It was “Eat to Run” written by the ultra-marathoner Scott Jurek. I found it to be quite an interesting read in general and was quite intrigued by his attribution that it was his plant-based diet that he owed much of his success to. The next audiobook I picked up was “Finding Ultra”, by Rich Roll, who again cited the benefits of a vegan diet in his efforts. Then I read the “Born to Run” book describing the tarahumara tribe. The common thread that appeared to me from these books was that diet was a major part of endurance running success.

      I decided to try some of the food ideas presented in the books before I began my Marathon training program. The first step was to dramatically cut down on processed foods and substitute them with raw and/or minimally prepared foods. For this I bought a Vita-mix and began blending together fresh fruits and vegetables together. The second step was a conscious decision to step up my intake of plain water during the day. And the third was to begin taking a daily amino acid supplement.

      This resulted in a noticeable decrease in recovery time required after my training runs. I also noticed an overall improvement in my energy levels with a corresponding elevation in my sense of well-being.

    3. YAY, this is fantastic! I had the tummy bloat for years and just thought “hey, everyone must have this”. I was a vegetarian for years after that and felt better but not “great”. When I cut dairy out, my skin went crazy for a week breaking out (detoxing) and I had a GIANT food baby (also detoxing, this is common). That was over three years ago that I became a vegan and I never looked back. Never have stomach bloat much anymore unless I overdo the soy, which doesn’t happen often anymore as I opt for almond milk instead. I love that you’re not restricting yourself and saying you HAVE to be 100% vegan, thats not mentally healthy if its not for you. I love the NMA cookbook, Thrive by Brendan Brazier as well as the Kris Carr cookbook (its nice for fancier meals too if you’re having guests)! Congrats on your new endeavor!! :)

    4. I find it interesting that you switched to a more veggie diet after Ironman, since that’s when I did the same thing. And for what it’s worth, I ran my fastest marathon and first ultra when I ate 100% vegan – so it will be interesting to see how it works for you. I do eat fish, eggs, and (very little) dairy now, but I try to keep it plant-based as much as I can. Not so much this week – but usually. :)
      Heather @ Better With Veggies recently posted..Peak Week – Meals on Repeat {WIAW}My Profile

    5. I love the term ‘quasi vegan’. I would describe myself that way as well and have really enjoyed the new foods and flavors that this new ‘diet’ have opened up to me. My favorite recipe website is http://www.ohsheglows.com

      Good luck next week!

    6. This summer I made significant improvements to my diet that were very similar to yours and noticed the same benefits and feelings. I used to be plagued by horrible stomach cramps every time I ran and once dairy was cut out they disappeared. Now that I’m back into teaching I have little time to prepare for meals and am back into the bad habits (and feelings of tiredness). I definitely noticed that greener-eating led to better times and bet that you’re going to get an awesome race time on Sunday. Best of luck!!
      Danielle recently posted..NYCM 2013 – Quick UpdateMy Profile

    7. This is great and timely for me – I read Finding Ultra a couple of weeks ago and have been spending time browsing the No Meat Athlete website and other info as I try to move to a more plant based diet. I like the “quasi vegan” idea and am trying to at least start by having a large salad and a healthy smoothie each day, as well as using flax, chia, quinoa etc. more in things that I make. For the family it is difficult – my husband continues to be of the mind that dinner must consist of a meat, a starch and a vegetable – and he gives me grief for not wanting to do the same. But hopefully we can make the changes over time and let my 9 yr old also benefit from more raw and healthy plant based food at each meal. Hoping this will also help me get leaner and feel cleaner over time, so far, so good….

    8. I really enjoyed reading this post. I tried a strict Paleo diet back in January, and although I ate meat, there was no dairy, grains or sugar (other than what naturally occurs in fruit, etc.). I have to admit, as hard as it was, I felt better … less headaches, less tired, etc. Since then, I’ve added everything back in but trying not to eat things with chemicals or weird ingredients. Perhaps in January I’ll try Paleo again to kick off the year. However, I feel like I’ve finally found my perfect race fueling strategy, which include some pre-race gluten :) It is such a science. How has your new diet changed what you are eating before or during long runs or races, if at all?
      Jesica @rUnladylike recently posted..Race Recap: Run for Justice 5KMy Profile

      • Thanks, Jesica!!
        I really don’t fuel much during long runs these days – only on my 20+ milers. I think b/c I’m not eating just straight carbs the night before like I used to, I have better energy stores. I don’t know. Mostly just a guess but I feel better energized on long runs. For my half marathon in Sep, I only fueled once (at mile 7) and felt great. I mostly eat the same meal the night or two nights before a long run (salads, quinoa, beans) and have felt great. Going to be doing a bit of carbo loading for the marathon though!!
        nycrunningmama recently posted..Saucony 26 Strong Project Video #1My Profile

    9. So glad to see this post as a follow-up to some of your other mentions of your diet changes. I eat a plant-based diet, and have for most of the past 10 or 12 years. Vegan, for me, would be an incorrect term, since I do eat honey, am sure I get some eggs in bakery goods from others, etc. I also do not avoid leather, wool, silk, etc., so it’s not a lifestyle choice for me. It’s easy to avoid most dairy since I have had a number of asthma attacks after consuming it (I think I’m allergic to casein).

      I have tried to eliminate wheat gluten in the past, and I think it was beneficial, but somewhat of a subtle change. I was pregnant at the time, very early, so I cannot really tell if there was a difference. We eat so many sandwiches (PBJ is my life, it seems) that to uproot that would take some effort. Gluten-free bread is pretty darn expensive, and I don’t have time to bake my own, though the Gluten-Free Goddess has some great sounding recipes. We probably eat too many carbs for our daily average amount of exercise, so I do try to pump up the bean and protein shake intake. We’ve make one particular quinoa dish a staple, I appreciate how adventurous my husband (an omnivore for life) is!

    10. I follow a similar diet as well. Occasionally I have a sandwich or a burger or ice cream. I find that following the non-wheat, minimal dairy diet definitely keeps my energy up as well. You should check out The Feed Zone cookbook as well for some great idea.s

    11. I couldn’t relate more to this–my stomach hurts almost all the time after I eat. No matter what it is. I want to try to go gluten-free to see if that makes a difference but it’s so hard with the boyfriend still being in college. When I stay down at his house on campus I don’t have my kitchen and foods I want to eat accesssible. It always ends up with pizza for dinner or something I know I shouldn’t eat (even though theres nothing that tastes better to me than pizza and pasta..)

      I really need to remember how nasty and uncomfortable I feel after eating these things..
      Karla @ Finding My Fit recently posted..All the FootballMy Profile

    12. I like that, “quasi-vegan” 😉

      I don’t eat dairy or gluten either for similar reasons except I did get tested eventually and found I did have food intolerances…it was kind of nice to know it wasn’t “all in my head” (or gut I guess I could say 😛 )

      I use to not eat meat, but I can’t resist a good burger. So I just try to keep it balanced…I eat a lot of non-meat proteins most of the week, and then once or twice i’ll do meat. It works for me!
      Aimee – funfitgirl recently posted..LÄRABAR Winner!!My Profile

    13. I eat quite often meatless but its not intentional it has more to do with preferences.
      I have a very sensitive GI system and can sympathize with the upset stomach/bloating oh so much so that is my main concern. I know if I eat certain foods that I will be paying for it the following morning in my workout. I limit dairy, red meat and cruciferous vegetables.
      My cheats are usually things like burgers/fried chicken/fries :) things I will not eat normally but after a big workout when I know I have “easy” day or rest coming can handle it!
      Gianna @ Run, Lift, Repeat recently posted..NYCM – Nothing ComparesMy Profile

    14. Good read! I love that you know what works for you, and what you want for your family, and actually act on that. I’m a big believer that food and movement are the biggest “secrets” in better and more affordable healthcare. (I’m immersed in it so I sometimes forget how many people out there really don’t know.)

      After this summer’s “clean and lean” program and major sugar detox, I resumed dairy (but on a much lower level than before), wine (1-2 glasses/week tops), and some sugars (local honey, maple syrup, rarely molasses). It’s not that I felt “bad” with what I ate before, but I feel so much better now! I had a sip of my sister’s soda last week — local, basic product but made with refined sugar — first time I’d even though about it in months — and nearly gagged. My former monthly orange soda craving disappeared last summer and never came back.

      This all is by way of saying, our bodies really Know. We know when Something In There Isn’t Right. We just need to listen and be willing to act.

      Cheers!

      • PS – Re: your vegan question — The dairy pretty much answers that. But as I strive to eat more local food, and non-factory-farmed meat and fish, I find it much easier to less of it. So I have them 1-2 meals/week.

    15. Thank you for posting about this… The past week or so I have been experiencing the same bloat and crankiness, and I bet you it is my diet… I’ve been on a Mexican cooking spree for some reason (it’s just been what I feel like cooking at home…) and so that has a lot of dairy and meat. I will definitely start cutting back, I know I feel best when I have healthy loaded salads for lunch, and a light dinner. I have heard that it is really good to have the same thing for breakfast every day, as you tend to keep your calories down when you do that. I usually have oatmeal for breakfast with nuts and a fruit. My husband is not on the healthy lifestyle kick yet… He is a stress eater, and runs his own business, so there is a lot of stress there… He will not have a dinner without meat… I’ve tried… He will order a pizza if I cook vegetarian, HAHA!! But, I will do what some of your other readers have said, and cook a meal that I can give him the meat and I will have mostly veggies… We make it work. My son will eat just about anything, but I have good ol’ grill cheese on hand just in case :)

    16. Great post and I’m glad you feel better eating a cleaner diet. When you’re in Philly this weekend, if you want a great vegan meal, try VEDGE. It’s one of the best restaurants I’ve eaten in AND they have a great cookbook as well!

      Leaner, stronger, cleaner, faster! Good food = good fuel!

    17. I LOVE THIS post!!! I feel exactly the same way–I’ve felt so much better since transitioning to a plant-based diet. I REALLY felt the difference when I went to the State Fair a few months ago and ate anything I wanted. It was like I had a hangover. Animal product doesn’t even LOOK good to me now.

      I’m still working on getting rid of white rice and coffee creamer; until I find good substitutes I will call myself a “75% vegan.” My husband has been tougher to get on board, but using webistes like “Oh She Glows” for recipies, as well as putting salt on everything (and giving him the option to eat chicken/steak/etc) as really helped us.

      Isn’t it amazing how much food affects our athletic performance?? I wish I’d realized it sooner. Good luck this weekend!!

    18. Wow, that is crazy how much better you felt after!! so smart not to mess with things during training but to wait until after. I do eat meat and love my greek yogurt, but I tend to eat similarly in terms of loading up on veggies (galore! hoarder!!), lean meats and fish (for me, these just do it for me!), fruit, not many carbs or starches, usually, they don’t usually appeal to me, oddly. If I could have kabocha or spaghetti squash over a potato or quinoa or rice, I’d choose the first two hands down! it is so interesting how our bodies AND eating habits just evolve and how our bodies respond to it!
      Jolene recently posted..Stealing my own joy.My Profile

    19. I’m not the biggest fan of meat – so I do not eat much it. Dairy and I do not really get along – but it is touch and go. I had orange juice followed by some ice cream last weekend and I was in pain for hours after – never mixing those two again! Gluten isn’t a probably with me – but I do not eat gluten-filled products at every meal.

      My husband likes his meat, so he wouldn’t not be on board with a total diet change in the house. Generally when I cook, I give him more meat and dish out more veggies for me.
      Rebecca@Running.Food.Baby. recently posted..UnrecognizableMy Profile

    20. Glad you have found what works for you–and that’s what it’s all about. Everyone is different. I did vegan for a while and found it didn’t work well for me. My changes that have worked included adding more good fats and eliminating snacks. We are all an experiment of one!
      misszippy1 recently posted..The new world of race securityMy Profile

    21. I cut out gluten foods and dairy about 6 months ago now, and I have never felt better. Amazingly, the chronic low back ache I have had since I was about 19 years old (I’m 33 now) that was getting worse and worse is GONE. Eliminated. I thought I was running too much, not doing the right back exercises, sitting the wrong way, or doing too much gardening…turns out it was the food that was causing inflammation in my body. I am excited for you on this path! The great thing is you can cheat once in a while, but you know what FEELS right so you will get back on the wagon right after!

      PS If you haven’t yet, check out http://www.wheatbellyblog.com/ – it’s not just about weight (although that’s their focus). Cheers!

    22. I eat shit all the time, but I feel good so I’m not looking to change it. :) I have learned that I can’t have Wendy’s for lunch and have a good afternoon run, that’s pretty much it haha
      Kara recently posted..Parades and Blue HairMy Profile

    23. Glad you are feeling better because of this change- Glenn and I are pretty vegetarian for the most part, although I don’t calm the title because we do have meat occasionally- especially if we go to someone’s house and that’s what they are serving. I don’t do milk, but cheese & eggs are regulars here. Marshall is pretty vegetarian just because I don’t buy meat- but he gets his fair share of cheese & plenty of protein- lot’s of almond butter. We also do Almond milk & Marshall has been drinking that instead of breast milk/cows milk since he was 12 months- he loves it.

      I do think eliminating the meat & dairy intake is the way to go- I’m sure you’ve seen the documentary “forks over knives”? If not- watch it! :)
      Lindsey Hein recently posted..First POST Surgery Run. Hooray!My Profile

    24. It sounds like this change has been extremely beneficial for you you and that is terrific! I am 100% vegetarian and I do consider myself quasi-vegan as I do not eat eggs (unless they are cooked in something I am unaware) and I do not eat much dairy. I don’t purchase eggs or cow’s milk for me home so that makes me feel good. I, however, choose this lifestyle for animal rights reasons. The health benefits are just an added bonus!

    25. Love that you are discovering what works best for you and your body! I was a vegan for a couple of years back in University and still enjoy vegan meals occasionally – there really are so many delicious recipes out there! Have you checked out ohsheglows.com? It’s one of my favourite sites and completely vegan. Her lightened up protein power goddess bowl is one of my absolute fav salads!

    26. This is a great post. My friend who got me interested in running also went through a similar revamp of her diet after having many symptoms that you describe. She feels great now. We traveled in September to run marathons in South Dakota and she cooked all her own food for both pre race and post race. It is definitely an effort but well worth it to feel healthy and full of energy. I am probably 70-30 as far as dairy meat and wheat free goes. I eat lots of almonds and dried fruit, avocado and salad but I do keep eggs in my diet and tend to have waffles or soft pretzels most days for breakfast which of course has wheat. I am obsessed with quinoa. I ate whole wheat couscous as a staple for many years but have now replaced it with quinoa.
      Sally recently posted..Bring on the Rain and a HamstrainMy Profile

    27. I’ve been vegetarian for 5 years and have been wanting to go vegan for awhile now but it just seems so hard. I hate being the person when we go out to dinner who can’t eat at certain places or meal times are affected by. I do know my body doesn’t like dairy so the only dairy I eat is Greek yogurt , kefir, and occasionally cheese. I haven’t tried eliminating wheat but I do want to try cutting back on it. I often wake up with the same symptoms you were having
      Shannon @ Mon Amour recently posted..Marathon Recovery & a Knee UpdateMy Profile

    28. I love this post – I’ve been experiencing the same bloat, discomfort, and crankiness for a couple of weeks now and am trying some cleaner eating/elimination diet to try to get to the root of it. I think that a lot of it may be caused by overeating from doing 4 half marathons since May, going from one training cycle to another, and always feeling the need to continue fueling. I have a lot of GI issues, so some of your diet isn’t completely practical for me to try to do but it’s refreshing to know that what I am experiencing isn’t too abnormal. I’m glad to hear it is working so well for you!!

    29. I’m quasi-vegan also! I’m 100% vegetarian, but for the most part avoid dairy and when I really want to feel my best I give up wheat as well. It can be challenging when traveling, so I’m flexible then and when I’m eating at someone else’s home. However, it does make me feel my best!
      Jess recently posted..What To Do After Your Fall MarathonMy Profile

    30. I have considered it because I have had so many issues with my stomach but I’m just not sure where to begin! I have made small changes and I have noticed a difference but I can tell there are still some changes I need to make. I just feel a bit lost with it all honestly!
      Sara @ LovingOnTheRun recently posted..Two Reasons to Smile TodayMy Profile

    31. I enjoyed this post! It rings very true for me as well. A big reason I began running several years ago was due to a very bad pancreas attack … kind of kickstarted a big look into “what I eat” for me and try to rebuild my body with more digestible and whole foods. My husband is a big runner too, but battles cholesterol issues (we think it’s genetic), so between the two of us – a heavy plant based diet was in order! We still eat meat, but the quantity is much less. Our protein is mostly egg or lean chicken/turkey and then only small amounts. We try to make fruit and vegetable the largest portion of our meal. Regarding digestible carbs, I’ve experimented over the years as well and found that I personally do much better if I stick to rice, potatoes, and oats rather than wheats. It really is amazing how much better I feel eliminating wheats! The one thing I don’t eliminate too much is dairy :) It is a challenge when I kick up mileage to stay “full” and I still work on this, but bottom line, I agree with your here … changing to this way of eating is so good for the body! :)
      Christina recently posted..This week’s running plan and brussel sprouts skillet mealMy Profile

    32. I love this! I think being a semi-vegan is great, because I think most people – especially distance runners – need animal products every once in a while to give us the nutrients and vitamins that can’t be found in plants. BUT most people eat way too much meat and dairy. So this way you get the best of both worlds! We are slowly transitioning to something very similar (vegan or vegetarian most nights of the week, except we haven’t cut out wheat). It’s so nice to hear what’s been working for you! Also, good luck this weekend. :)

    33. I’ve been a vegetarian for 18 years, but this summer I started eating too much dairy and eggs. I too noticed a difference in how I felt and in my running performance. I’m glad you found a diet that is working well for you!