Workout Fuel: Your Body Knows Best.

This is a hard concept for those of us who have spent a good portion of our lives at a heavier weight that we want. I’ve discovered through massive amounts of trial and error that if I give my body a generally healthy diet, I can trust my food cravings.

When you’re exercising regularly and eating well, you can (generally) trust your food cravings.

This is me, about half an hour after a marathon. Potassium, potassium, potassium! (Image courtesy of stockimages / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)
This is me, about half an hour after a marathon. Potassium, potassium, potassium! (Image courtesy of stockimages / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

This was not always the case. How could I “trust” myself back when I was eating raw cookie dough and ice cream for dinner, after all? Or running to the nearest fast-food outlet for a burger at midnight after making an article deadline at the Olympics? There was a time in my life when stress and a lack of good time management won out, and overrode my body’s basic wisdom.

But once I started to pay much closer attention to doing basic things like getting a fresh fruit or vegetable into just about every meal, taking the time to learn how to cook healthfully, and then emphasizing deliciousness above all else and learning how to make incredibly delicious healthy meals … well, that became the game-changer.

Today I want to tell you about a time back when I still wasn’t eating very healthfully, but my body’s wisdom about what it craved still busted through. Because there is one thing you can put your body through that is so intense and so difficult that your monkey-mind ideas about what “delicious” looks like will be quickly taken over by your cells screaming out for very specific kinds of nutrients – and in a particular order, too.

I’m talking, of course, about a marathon.

I don’t remember which marathon it was – but I think it was before my grad-school weight gain and my subsequent nine-year hiatus from serious running. It was back when I was using exercise to try to control my weight, without a commensurate amount of attention to what I was actually eating on a regular basis. (By the way, if that happens to be your weight-control method, that get-out-of-jail-free card is going to expire on you…guaranteed. Learn how to eat well, starting today. You’ll thank me later, I promise.)

What I remember is this: After finishing one particular marathon, I immediately began to crave Gatorade (or whatever sugared drink was available after the race). When I was training for the Chicago Marathon while living in China in the summer of 2000, back when the air in Beijing wasn’t gross, I’d run for 2-1/2 hours in a local park and then go for…a can of sweetened cola. I needed the sugar. The simple sugars were fuel for a body that had expended all available glycogen. Very simple concept.

Potassium in a perfect package, brought to you by Mother Nature herself. Bake it, don't fry it. Duh. (Image courtesy of Master isolated images / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)
Potassium in a perfect package, brought to you by Mother Nature herself. .P.S. Bake it, don’t fry it. Duh. (Image courtesy of Master isolated images / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Within about an hour after a marathon or a very long training run, I’d start to crave potassium. Now, at this time in my life I didn’t know that bananas, potatoes, and tomatoes are all full of potassium. I just knew that bananas looked irresistably delicious. I knew that I had to stop by a KFC to get a big order of mashed potatoes and gravy (potassium and sodium in one package there). And a couple of years ago at the California International Marathon, the race volunteers were handing out hot tomato soup at the finish line. My brain went like this:

“Huh?”

And about two seconds later…”Oooooh, that looks really good.”

Potassium and sodium, my friends. The two electrolytes we shed with sweat during a long race.

And finally, a few hours after that, I’d crave protein. Lots of it. A cheeseburger, chicken pot pie (my post-Boston Marathon meal these days), whatever. And for breakfast the next morning, eggs and bacon. Yum. Just that once, because my body needed the protein to start rebuilding all of the muscles that got so hammered in the marathon the day before.

That was the first time I realized I could trust my body when it came to food cravings. It took a long time to get myself to a place where I could trust them all the time, but marathoning made my body so hungry for all of the right nutrients that I couldn’t help myself – I had to make the right decisions. It was a great wake-up call. I knew I could trust my body at least some of the time. The trick going forward would be to figure out how to trust it all of the time.

To be continued…

Yesterday’s #every48 workout: BIKE – 50 minutes at my gym. The usual 5 minute warmup, 40 minutes @ 85-90 RPMs at moderate effort, and 5 minute cooldown. Plus about 90 minutes of gardening in the afternoon. Yay for the vegetable garden!

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