Exceptions and Rules

Sunrise on Tam. An exceptional day.

This morning I headed out to do my tempo workout of the week. I was scared, I was intimidated and nervous. I knew how significant this workout would be. It is a big week in my training for Houston which is just over three weeks away. I also knew that I had struggled through my "track" workout on Tuesday and been reduced to a crying, shaking bag of bones and not necessarily in a good way. Needlesstosay, I knew that this workout would be telling. The workout was a very stout 10x 1 mile tempo run at race pace minus 10 seconds. Ideally, I wanted to hold 5:58s or better. As I ran my warmup down to the polo fields in Golden Gate park, I pondered whether the paces I have been holding in previous weeks tempo workouts were the exceptions or the rule. I knew THIS workout would make that clear. And it did.

The main reason I had been contemplating the concept of exceptions and rules is because a friend of mine inquired about my reference to being on an athletic diet leading up to Houston and urged me to write a blog post about what that means to me. The friend is a world class Ironman athlete and even she says that she gets confused. I can relate to that, I think a lot of athletes understand a bit about nutrition but not necessarily enough to implement a plan for themselves that coincides with training.

I was hesitant to write this blog because I don't believe in defining myself strictly and also because in the past giving myself rules created a great deal of anxiety around my food choices, including peanut butter. In the past year, I have had the healthiest relationship with food in a long time and while that meant I raced slightly heavier in 2010, the reduction in anxiety and obsession and time spent thinking about nutritional content and quality was worth it. I raced well and learned to trust myself. I realized I eat very mindfully, healthfully and don't need to stress about my food choices, since even my indulgences are most people's health foods.

A morning on the trails, currently the exception in my training :(

My training for Houston has been different in a lot of ways as I have discussed. It is also significant because it is the first time I have put myself on a strict race related diet. As I prepared for this race, I finally was able to synthesize the idea of periodization for my food/diet just like I do for my running/training schedule. I made modifications to my diet, changed the rules and exceptions and even implemented some things with no exceptions. The final two weeks of December I transitioned to the eating plan but let Christmas eve/day include exceptions (after all, I needed a glass of wine-believe me and HAD to have a slice of my mother's Stollen on Christmas morning, it's tradition) but after that, it's been on the plan! So what does that plan look like? With the help of my trainer Josh and my friend Ronda and my own experience, experimentation (as well as a few tests which determined food intolerances/allergies), I developed the following plan, rules and practices.

Typical day:
Addendum (1/7/2011): This is the baseline plan, I don't weigh my food and add in additional items as I see fit based on hunger or need. I developed it as guidelines to help me with timing, general portion and content.

Example of a dinner from two nights ago: Ka Pra Grow (fresh ground pork, garlic, gluten free tamari, red chili, coconut oil), Quick cooked Asian Greens (cabbage, mixed braising greens, coconut oil and gluten free tamari) and a side of roasted carrots (for my starchy veg, while Nathan had rice).

Last nights dinner: Bacon, shallots, garlic, red pepper flakes and brussels sprouts topped with homemade fire roasted bell pepper one pan "stir fry" and roasted winter squash.


Rules and Practices:

DO NOT EAT
  • Wheat/Gluten
  • Sugar (refined)
  • Sugar (non-refined)/ artificial sweetners
  • Alcohol
  • Dairy
  • Grains (except oats), Sweets, pastries, cereals, or baked goods
  • Avocados, Pineapple (allergic)
  • No processed foods
Practices (notes from my trainer):


  • Practice a modified paleo type diet- focused on the vegetables and lean meats. 
  • Add back in a select few natural, starchy carbohydrate sources to support training. Time these to support workouts and recovery.  Still keep less ideal sources – sugar, juices, pastries, bread, pasta, flour, cereals, etc. OUT of the diet.
  • Starchy tubers would be a good choice – yams, sweet potatoes, regular potatoes. Corn tortillas and oats are other options. 
  • If carbs goes up, dietary fat should come down.  
  • Reduce added sources of fat (condiments, oils, nuts, seeds, etc.), and just get your dietary fat as by-product of your animal protein sources (eggs, fish, meat, poultry).
  • Spread food intake out over 5-6 meals. Drink lots of water.
  • Eat 1g of protein per 1lb of lean body mass.
  • Eat 1-2g of carbohydrate per 1lb of lean body mass.
  • Combine a serving of protein with a serving of starchy carbohydrate – both about the size of a deck of cards – with each meal and snack.
  • Starchy carbs (rice and potatoes) are better than fruits for athletes because fruits are sugars, natural sugar, but sugar nonetheless.  They are preferentially stored as liver glycogen whereas starch is preferentialy stored as muscle glycogen (which is what we want as athletes).
  • Continue to eat unlimited amounts of vegetables with any meal or at any other time.


My training and body have really responded to this nutrition plan and I feel great. It is not that terrific of a departure from how I normally eat. I normally eat approximately the lunch listed above, but was eating it in one sitting instead of split into two. I actually like splitting it up. My nutritional timing is way better and more effective. In fact, I have been more creative in the kitchen than ever before and plan to continue to eat this way long term but with room for exceptions. Outside of peak training, if I want something from the "no" list than I can have it, its a welcome exception as long as it is an exception. I have learned that peak training nutrition just means NO Exceptions and that normal eating whether during building phase or time off can be more flexible. As much as I joke about it, I am not chomping at the bit to have the foods I am currently excluding.  I look forward to a post-Houston treat, enjoying a celebratory toast but I also value how I feel currently and plan to continue to be a mindful eater. This plan is currently working for me, it is personalized to my needs and based on my own personal experience and understanding of how my body works. I don't for a second think that it would work for everyone, I don't believe in one size fits all nutrition. I also believe that being neurotic or a perfectionist about your nutrition intake is infinitely more harmful than helpful, so even in times of peak training nutrition a light hearted approach is encouraged. I think the one thing that everyone can take away from this is that peak nutrition is a time to eat a very clean healthful diet, it really does support the hard work you are doing out on the roads and trails. There is a time for (gluten free) muffins and a time for perfectly timed carrot sticks. Right now, I am enjoying food as much as I always do and loving just as much the nutritional benefits I feel.