If you are a Slim Jim/Jane, look away now, this article is not for you. If, however, like me, you have phases where you ditch the exercise for the pleasures of the flesh and the pounds settle around your middle, read on.
Four months ago, I signed on for the Everest Trail Race, when I was at a very low point fitness-wise. I am a bad runner but ultra appeals to me because of the sheer adventure of it and where could be more adventurous than Everest?
I moved to the mountains to start training, got on board with Coach Andy Mouncey, and asked our RunUltra nutritionist, Renee McGregor if she could give me some advice.
I found these initial conversations were difficult and a bit embarrassing as I was talking to people whose whole business is fitness, who work with top-class athletes, and basically I was very fat and not in good form.
Renee was not in the slightest big judgemental. She just took down my stats, talked to me about what I was training for and the fact I would be going out a lot in the mountains and then asked me what food was available to me, living in a small village in Morocco.
I can get good fresh meat and standard vegetables and seasonal fruit but can’t easily get fresh fish or any kind of processed food. I can get milk, buttermilk and yoghurt and cheese.
Not having access to any of the processed food, manufactured bars and sports snacks, or ready made meals is actually really good news in terms of diet but it does mean you spend quite a bit of time cooking and preparing – how I long for washed spinach in a bag!
We also talked about the fact I am living at altitude (1750m) and many of my training runs/hikes go up about the 3000m mark. Altitude burns sugar more quickly as well as dehydrating you, so this was going to be a factor.
In a terrible spoiler, I am going to tell you that I have lost 11kg in three and a half months while training and feel like my whole relationship with food has changed.
Now, on to what Renee told me: the two killer things for me were to eat more carbohydrate before and after high intensity training but keep one meal carb light, and to aim for 3-4 helpings of dairy a day.
More carbs and dairy? What? The two things apparently hated by those who talk about “clean eating”….
Recommendations from Renee
In general, you will be working towards:
- 3g/Kg BW carbohydrate a day
- up to 2.2g/Kg BW protein a day
- 1g/Kg BW fat
Aim for 3-4 servings of dairy or closest equivalent a day; these also make good top up protein based snacks during the day. One serving is equivalent:
- 300ml glass of milk (10g protein)
- match box size portion of cheese (around 10g protein)
- 150g pot of yoghurt (if Greek then 15g protein)
- 100g cottage cheese (11g protein)
Additionally, try and make sure that you consume a variety of proteins throughout the week including chicken, meat, oily fish, eggs, tofu and pulses.
Be mindful about snacks –no more than 2 a day and these should be protein based.
In addition to the carbohydrates and protein, have a minimum 3 servings of the following good fats to help absorb fat soluble vitamins and aid with fatigue. These are on top of your protein choices.
- 15 almonds or similar
- 5 brazil nuts
- 5 walnuts
- 20g peanut butter
- ½ avocado
- 10ml olive oil
- 1 dessert spoon full fat mayonnaise
- 60g portion of hummous
Make the remainder of your meal up with salad or veg; try to get a variety of colours for added mineral and vitamin boost.
Additionally, try experimenting with herbs and spices – add chilli, garlic, ginger and lime to stir fry options – studies have shown that such ingredients contain even more anti-oxidants than fruit and vegetables.
Renee also provided me with a hit list of foods and their values so I could keep it simple. For example a good post workout protein snack is a matchbox-sized piece of cheese and an apple; a good protein breakfast would be a 3x egg omelette with feta cheese; and one portion of carbohydrate could be a bagel or a ¼ cup of rice.
Specific recommendations for the Everest Trail Race
Remember in Nepal, at altitude you will burn a higher amount of sugar and become more dehydrated –not keeping on top of both these factors, could lead to altitude sickness. Practise with hydration, electrolyte and fuelling strategies.
I generally recommend around 30-60g of carbs an hour; 700-900mg of sodium an hour in hot climates and up to 250ml fluid every 20 mins but this can be adjusted, especially if you are already heat adapted.
How it worked in practice
As with all advice, I haven’t followed it exactly or measured and weighed everything, but I have followed the principles and found that they easily translate into real life and because they are flexible, they have worked for me.
I have been able to train properly and have not felt that I have been in calorie deficit or hungry at any time, nor have I felt any cravings for food that I feel is forbidden to me, and I think that is largely down to the fact that this nutrition plan has plenty of carbs in it and also fat.
I found Renee’s recommendations liberating rather than constricting: there was no ban on anything or the long list of food substitutes that you often find in nutrition advice.
In fact, when we were discussing her suggestions on skype, I didn’t really believe that I could lose weight by following them because they seemed too generous but, for once, it is great to be proved wrong!
Renee’s books are available on Amazon.
Or you can contact her through her website.