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Can Runners Get Enough Fuel On The Whole 30 Diet?

You've heard of the Whole 30 Diet, but is it sustainable for runners? A dietician shares what runners should know about the diet.

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Whole 30

As a sports dietitian, I see many runners who run for two big reasons: the first is that they love the sport and the second is that they want to lose weight. Lately, many of my clients have been asking me about the Whole 30 Diet. They want to know if it’s worth the hype and if they should try it. Although I’m more of “eat a well balanced diet and ditch the crazy diets” type of dietitian, I figured I would look into this diet to see what it’s all about.

What Does The Whole 30 Diet Entail?

Created in 2009, the Whole 30 Diet makes huge claims “to change your life in 30 days.” Although it’s advertised as a “short-term nutritional reset, designed to help you put an end to unhealthy cravings and habits, restore a healthy metabolism, heal your digestive tract, and balance your immune system,” the Whole 30 Diet is also definitely a weight loss diet. The diet asks you to give up alcohol, sugar, grains, dairy, legumes and some fruit for 30 days. Excluding all of those foods will cause anyone to lose weight! Following the Whole 30 Diet also requires a strong sense of willpower, as there is no room for slip-ups or “cheat days.” The authors expect you to have a “suck it up” mentality and follow the exact guidelines for 30 days.

What exactly can you eat on The Whole 30 diet? Meat, seafood, vegetables, eggs, nuts, seed, oils and some fruit. After the 30 days, you are allowed to slowly reintroduce each food group back into the diet.

Is There Any Runner’s Fuel In The Diet?

The main fuel source for any runner is carbohydrates from grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes and dairy (yes—lactose is a carb). Carbs break down to sugars in the body, which provide the energy for your run. The amount of carbs you need depends on the length of your run. If you are low on carbs, the body will break down fat or protein to use as fuel. Unfortunately, this is a very inefficient use of energy and requires the body to work harder than when it uses carbs.

The Whole 30 Diet only allows two sources of carbs: fruits and vegetables. “If you insisted on following the diet, it would be possible to get enough fuel from carbs,” says Abbey Sharp, Media RD and Blogger at Abbey’s Kitchen.  “You could capitalize on eating a lot of sweet potatoes, winter squashes, white potatoes and dates,” says Sharp. Yet, it might be difficult for people eat enough of these low calorie carbohydrates to feel energized throughout a run. “I’m skeptical that most of us could get enough carbs during the Whole 30 to support optimal athletic performance,” says Abby Langer, RD, owner of Abby Langer Nutrition in Toronto. When restricting carbs during running, you might feel like you lack energy or may “hit the wall” during a long run. And don’t even think about using sports products, like sports drinks, gummies or GUs. Those are big no-nos on this diet.

The bottom line is that you can get enough fuel on this diet if you try really hard, but that might not be so easy for most people, without the help of a dietitian.

Should A Runner Follow The Whole 30 Diet?

Personally, I wouldn’t recommend this diet to any athlete. “I don’t like this diet overall for both it’s physiological and psychological implications, so I probably wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. That being said, if one of my clients wanted to try it, I would support them. After all, everyone is different and it’s impossible to predict how individuals will respond to a particular way of eating,” says Langer. Sharp agrees, “Even though there are carb options, the focus of this diet seems to downplay carbs and a runner really does need more carbs than the average person. I think you will quickly get bored of these options so it doesn’t seem like the best diet for a runner at all.”

Try These Tips

Extremely restrictive diets aren’t sustainable in the long run. Although this diet is only meant to be followed for 30 days, what happens when the 30 days are done? Do you gain back all the weight? Probably. Does your digestive tract go awry again? Most likely. Instead of following a severe diet, try these 3 tips to build a healthy diet.

Meet with a sports dietitian.

Maybe you want to lose weight or alleviate stomach issues. A dietitian can help. Find one in you area on the SCAN website.

Make a plan.

Planning out your meals for the day means that you are never too hungry and won’t seek out junk food in a moment of weakness. Aim to have that is half fruits and vegetables, a quarter protein and a quarter whole grains at each meal.

Recover properly after a run.

Ever heard of runner’s hunger? It’s when a runner becomes absolutely ravenous. To prevent that, eat something that contains both protein and carbs within an hour after a run. Good options are a smoothie with yogurt, chocolate milk, or some turkey on whole wheat bread.