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Nutrition Tips: A Look Inside Diets and Nutrition

It’s March and in our world, that means two things – training has officially started for summer and fall race season and it’s National Nutrition Month! We sat down with a few of our Impi team members to offer up some of their nutrition advice for the diets they choose to follow, and the benefits they see as it relates to their running performance.


First, we heard from two of our ambassadors, Amy Carrion and Courtney Schwind, both who follow a plant-based diet and who have seen many benefits related to this lifestyle choice.


Q: How did you first learn about a plant-based diet and what made you want to try it?


Courtney: I’ve been an avid runner since 2010, and by 2013 I joined a run club and had a coach with a detailed weekly workout routine. I worked my butt off and improved, but then I plateaued. No matter how well rested, hydrated or trained, hard runs always fatigued my body and mind to exhaustion. I got into a cycle of starting a training week off strong but finishing it feeling unsatisfied and depleted, and I couldn’t figure out why. I ate often and well; I had the suggested servings of meats, veggies, dairy, carbs, and water was/is my drink of preference. Despite being healthy with what most would call a pretty well-rounded diet, I didn’t feel like my body was responding the way it should, so I started to do some research, and what I discovered was astounding. After making a radical change in my diet and strictly adhering to a “plant-based” diet, I started to notice huge improvements and haven’t looked back since.



Q: What major benefits can a runner see as a result of following a plant-based diet?


Amy: If runners can focus on including as many anti-inflammatory foods in their diet, this helps dramatically with recovering after exercise and reducing exercise-induced inflammation. Foods such as ginger, turmeric, berries and leafy greens are great to add to a smoothie or to cook with to help aid in reducing inflammation.


Courtney: Less pain and inflammation (especially in my joints after long runs, hard efforts or races), quicker recovery time physically and mentally, less mental fog and fatigue. I wasn’t drowsy after a big meal or after lunch and felt lighter/bouncier, and more importantly for the first time in years, I was able to train harder and longer with less negative side effects while keeping my energy levels up (without caffeine).


Q: What’s a nutrition myth that a lot of athletes believe?


Amy: Athletes think they can burn off any food whether it be a donut, cake or fast food meal. You may burn off the calories but not necessarily the damage being caused to your arteries and heart. There is no denying the best way to keep our bodies as healthy as possible is through limiting the intake of junk food, even more so when your body is recovering from a race or event where it has been under stress for an extended period of time. My favorite post long run meal is a huge bowl of quinoa with berries, dark chocolate and raw nuts!



Q: What’s your go to nutrition during races?


Amy: Despite eating a whole food plant-based diet 99% of the time while I am running marathons or in a trail race, I do consume energy gels and energy bars. I find these provide the best source of quick energy, minimal fiber which can cause stomach upset, and simple carbs.


Next, we wanted to learn about a newer diet that is growing in popularityintermittent fasting. There seems to be a lot of incredibly promising intermittent fasting (IF) research done to support that IF can result in weight loss, improved blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar numbers as well being a good diet to follow for diabetes prevention. However, according to Monique Tello, MD, MPH, “Studies in humans, almost across the board, have shown that IF is safe and incredibly effective, but really no more effective than any other diet. In addition, many people find it incredibly difficult to fast.”


One of our Impi members, Nathan Zipper, has been following the 16:8 plan, which means he only eats during an 8-hour period of time each day. The other 16 hours are “fasting” hours. To read more information from the professionals about recent studies related to intermittent fasting, click here.


Nathan said, “Basically, I take my last bite of food before 8:00 p.m. and I don’t eat again until 12:00 p.m. the next day. That means then that my 4:30 a.m. workouts are in a fasted state. Admittedly some of the workouts are harder than others but I feel like I’ve adapted well.”


According to the study linked above, a couple of key takeaways and known facts about fasting in a general sense include:

  1. Avoid sugars and refined grains. Instead, eat fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats (a sensible, plant-based, Mediterranean-style diet).
  2. Let your body burn fat between meals. Don’t snack. Be active throughout your day. Build muscle tone.
  3. Consider a simple form of intermittent fasting. Limit the hours of the day when you eat, and for best effect, make it earlier in the day (between 7 am to 3 pm, or even 10 am to 6 pm, but definitely not in the evening before bed).
  4. Avoid snacking or eating at nighttime, all the time.


Balega Impi Mandi Hart also commented on fasting and said, “There seems to be a heightened discussion around exercising from a fasted state. I have a friend who is a marathon runner and he has been trying it for a few months now. He says that his speed is increasing, and he’s lost quite a bit of weight. That being said, he also said that he was never a big breakfast eater and only eats between 12 p.m. - 8 p.m. every day now.”


If only consuming certain foods like Amy and Courtney or consuming them only at certain hours of the day like Nathan doesn’t sound like something that you’re game to try, we heard from other Balega Impi team ambassadors who offered some more general advice on nutrition, that provide good tips for anyone looking to think a little bit more about what they consume.


According to Impi member Gavin Wendon, “Diets can be overrated but nutrition is underrated. Get the basics right to start and then play around with performance.”


Mandi Hart offers the below advice, recognizing that nutrition is “critical and important to a runner or any athlete for that matter. Every single person is different, but the basics remain the same.”


  1. Keep hydrated, drink lots of water (I think we are mostly under-hydrated) and this is a constant challenge - to drink enough water throughout the day.
  2. Eat enough protein and eat a diet that increases your energy levels rather than depletes it. That means that we need to pay extra attention to our bodies, how we feel when we exercise and live life and what gives us the endurance we need.
  3. A woman's body has different nutritional needs to that of a man, so I think it’s good to be aware of those needs and the season of life one is in. It’s definitely not a one-size fits all approach to eating and training.
  4. Do your own research.


In summary, Mandi commented, “I have also noticed that my nutrition really impacts my ability to run longer and faster and my lack of attention to it has let me down in the past.”


Our key takeaway from all this valuable feedback and insight: find what works for you and get to know your body. There is no ultimate solution to nutrition but there are key things we can all do to live healthier lives and to feed our body with food that supports our athletic pursuits, not make them harder.