After trying the Whole30 diet for a third time, this endurance runner offers her feedback on the diet's fueling plan.
My Third Try At Whole30
I have learned a lot about nutrition over the last three years. From losing 75 pounds and becoming a runner to adapting to a more “clean” and balanced way of eating, I have done my fair share of research and received great advice from nutritionists. When I first started changing my eating habits, it was a drastic shift from eating quick and processed foods to tracking what I was eating and incorporating a significant amount of fresh foods into my diet.
After a year of learning about and working on my nutrition, I unconsciously cut soda out of my diet completely. Slowly but surely my taste buds were changing, and highly processed foods began to find their way out of my diet, simply because they were making me feel terrible. I came to a point in the spring of 2016 where I was constantly feeling sick and couldn’t figure out why. I decided that is was the time to launch a Whole30 exploratory diet to figure out what was going on.
When I did my first round of Whole30, I was strict on the rules. This also happened to be at a time when I was terrified to run, for fear of a repeated injury. Without needing to fuel for running, it was a good time to give this elimination diet a chance and figure out what was going on with my body. I found through my first round of Whole30 that I enjoyed eating foods with pronounceable ingredients that I could feel good about. Even better: I was helping my body feel its best. Through this process, I found that I had a sensitivity to dairy and decided to keep it mostly out of my diet, with the exception of some really good pizza. I am human, after all!
In the spring of 2017, I decided to do another round of Whole30, mainly to support a friend who was giving it a try for the first time and to reset my body for my upcoming running season. The only problem was that I did not fuel properly this time around. When I started my second round of Whole30, I was seven weeks out from a half marathon and training six days each week. I didn’t understand the amount of carbs my body needed to be properly fueled for my runs or strength sessions. To sum up my second round of Whole30, I made it through 27 days and spent more than two weeks of that time dreaming about rice. I may have slightly lost my mind, but I was determined to stick with it.
So now, here I am, in the spring of 2018, starting a third round of Whole30. Why do I want to do it again? I need a nutrition reset after coming out of my offseason and I want to know if it really is possible to do the Whole30 while training. I currently train six days each week, comprising of two CrossFit days, one medium run, one long run, one short recovery run and one active rest day. I average about 22 to 25 miles each week and I am at the beginning of my training season. (Please keep in mind that I am not a dietitian, just a normal person willing to experiment to see if this is something that is sustainable for endurance athletes.)
Since this was not my first rodeo, I threw in a few exceptions to the rules of Whole30. Though this isn’t exactly a strict Whole30, I realize that if I do not have a few nutrition essentials for long runs, it’ll be impossible for me to follow. Things that are permitted for this trial are: one Nuun tablet a day, Equip Foods Prime Protein when I need added protein for recovery and one Honey Stinger Gold Gel for my long run each week, all things that are not Whole30 approved, thanks to the addition of stevia or natural sugars. Other than these exceptions, I wanted to keep everything by the book. But there’s a catch: I only planned to follow this diet for 10 days—just long enough to do a reset and figure out if this could actually work for an endurance athlete.
Throughout those 10 days, my main focus was to make sure I was getting enough carbohydrates to fuel my workouts. Bring on the potatoes and high-carb veggies. I figured that this, along with eating enough protein and healthy fats, would provide me with everything I needed to do my training. I tried to eat a serving of potatoes at breakfast and dinner, along with fruit and veggies at all meals. This ended up being enough for me to keep going the first week. However, when I got to the second week and increased my mileage, I realized that this was not enough fuel to sustain me.
The benefits of trying to follow a Whole30 diet while training were that I was sleeping better and found a good amount of energy to keep me going throughout the day. I have come to the final realization that doing a Whole30 style elimination diet is not something that I personally believe endurance athletes should sustain. Though there are good principles throughout this diet, like eating whole and unprocessed foods, there are certain things that runners and endurance athletes need to stay properly fueled for training.
I would say that those who are interested in trying the Whole30 diet need to think through this decision carefully, especially as runners. Though it is possible to sustain this elimination diet for 30 days while training, you will find yourself growing tried on harder training days, and you will likely get sick of potatoes, among other things. For most of us, we can use the great aspects of this diet to influence our daily nutrition, like eating foods with ingredients that are less processed and simple to pronounce, along with a great increase in fruits and vegetables. Having a diet that allows us to eat a large range of foods that fuel our body, along with allowing for the balance of life’s unpredictable elements, is what is most important, especially if we want a diet that is sustainable for the long haul.