Carbo loading – do or don’t?
On being asked to write a blog for the Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon on carbo loading, my first reaction was “are you serious?!” I reckon you will be hard pushed to find a more useless person than me at looking after myself and eating well. In fact, one of the things that crossed my mind was this could be a great opportunity to cry out for help. Anyone keen to cook for me and make me eat properly and not skip meals?! (Not joking!)
So this blog comes with a disclaimer as I quite clearly am not the most qualified person to provide an insight about carbo loading. Well, then again, perhaps I am as good as anyone seeing as though even the experts like Prof Noakes can’t seem to make up their mind on this subject?
But it did make me think of a special lady, Sheila, who owns a restaurant in Langa. Before you eat there, it is customary that she says a few words and I will never forget what she said. She explained what it was like growing up in her household, how there was no distinction between breakfast, lunch or dinner. When you were hungry, you ate. And you ate whatever food was available. There was no such thing as eggs and cereal for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch or a hot meal of meat and vegetables for supper. If you had eggs you ate them no matter what the time, or meat, or whatever it was.
For me, this same principle resonated with the carbs/no carbs debate. I mean, some people don’t have the luxury of choosing what food to eat, but in any case what difference does it make? Even the “experts” keep changing their minds! We have a strong tendency to unnecessarily over-complicate things and I think some runners/“iron men” are particularly bad culprits at this.
For me, the most beautiful part of running, that sets it apart from any other sport in the world, is the freedom it brings. And by that I mean you can literally put on your takkies and run. And you don’t even need takkies if you don’t have any! You don’t need a watch let alone one of these “laptops” that people run with on their arms, you don’t need a training program, and you don’t need to follow a strict diet. All you have to do is run! Running free is euphoric! In my opinion, all these other things that runners spend their lives talking about and worrying about simply take away from the pure freedom and joy that running brings.
Don’t get me wrong! The more you run, the more you have to eat. If you run far, you have to eat while you run. Food is like fuelling your car, but as soon as it goes in, it gets used up and needs to be replenished. One of the amusing anecdotes from Unogwaja Challenge 2011 (10 day, 1,677km cycle from Cape Town to Pietermaritzburg followed by 89,1km Comrades Marathon on day 11 – www.unogwajachallenge.com) is from WP van Zyl, my team mate from 2011 and 2012. He tells a story about his wife, excited about the prospect of him returning from Unogwaja 2011 a slimmer version (similar to the version she married!) but instead of losing weight on his return, as everyone including WP’s wife imagined (hoped!) he ended up picking up a few kilograms!! Jokes aside, this was because we ate like machines during Unogwaja, and we certainly didn’t stick to a fancy diet. Food kept us going! It mainly consisted of chips, fruit, lots of biltong, chocolate, nuts, raisins, tea and biscuits and other things I doubt would be found in many textbooks! In fact, one of the things I look forward to most about Unogwaja each year is the fact that I don’t have to worry about when my next meal is coming, I literally get food shoved down my throat all day by our incredible support crew!
The picture below is of my dad giving me biltong during Unogwaja 2012. I reckon this was the most popular option on the menu!!
Granted if you are Ryan Sandes, then every small percentage matters, and yes I am sure monitoring exactly what you eat will make a difference. (We should ask Ryan!) Well, I am not Ryan Sandes (yet!) and nor are most of us, and I reckon more important to us is the added energy we get from being free, from eating what we want, what works for us and not worrying about what to eat all the time. What works best is if you are like me and totally clueless and don’t really know one food group to the other, and even if you knew the food group you still have to make it anyway so you take what you can get, it’s all food after all, as Sheila once said.
Just as a short aside, a good friend of mine has been telling me all about how going vegetarian has given him and his wife so much more energy than ever before. I must say the debate does intrigue me and I am “attempting” to find more balance in my diet. Having said that, I just got back from Brazil this week where I can tell you isn’t the best place to be attempting to cut down in red meat. This is a picture of me at a traditional Churrascaria in Rio de Janeiro where you will be simply blown away by the amount of red meat served and consumed!
I say, eat a lot and run a lot! And if anyone is prepared to make me food I will eat it, regardless of whether I am running 100 miles the next day or cycling to Pietermaritzburg! Contact me on twitter @johnmcinroy or I’ll see you at the Runner’s World Two Oceans Pasta Party! ;)