Just where do you put all that food?
Written by: Susan Lacke
The other day, I was eating lunch with a colleague. After packing away two trips to the salad bar, a bowl of soup, and a few glasses of lemonade, I realized she was staring at me, her mouth agape.
“Just where do you put all that food?”
I smiled, suppressing the urge to belch. Then I ordered a piece of chocolate cake for dessert.
The feeding habits of the endurance athlete can be quite remarkable. Our friends and family may look at us with a combination of curiosity and disgust as we fill our pockets tiny foil packets of squishy, sweet, artificially-flavored gels and hit the road for a few hours. How can such a tiny meal provide such sustenance? They wonder.
Then we return home for breakfast, and they have their answer. Those gels are enough to fuel us during the workout, but it’s hardly sustenance. That comes after, in the form of pancakes, eggs, smoothies, pizza delivery, bananas, and cupcakes. Lots and lots of cupcakes.
People wonder how endurance athletes can eat like a 500-pound sumo wrestler but look like a 90-pound pile of twigs. It’s simple math: An athlete is a furnace. They burn a lot of fuel, not just during a workout, but throughout the entire day. Though the average person only requires 1,600 to 2,000 calories for an entire day, an endurance athlete can easily burn though that amount in a long morning run, before most of their neighbors have even gotten out of bed!
No wonder we stuff our faces at breakfast, then again at lunch, and yet again at dinner.
There’s much to be said for the physical effects of food on an athlete’s performance. If one eats well, one can expect their performance to follow suit. There’s a multiple definitions of “eating well,” though: an athlete can be an omnivore, vegetarian, vegan, paleo, carb-heavy, carb-light, gluten-free, organic…the choices are mind-boggling. Quite frankly, I’m not a nutritionist, nor do I play one on TV, so I just play around until I found what food works for me. Then I eat it. In mass quantities.
The food-performance connection reaches the mental aspect of endurance sports, too. A good race can be rewarded by a hearty breakfast with friends and family, and a strong group ride is often followed by coffee or beers on a patio somewhere. If you ask an endurance athlete, chances are they’ve got a favorite reward food (or six) in their fridge or pantry for the really good days.
Conversely, the negative effects of a bad day of training or racing can be soothed by comfort foods. I remember one occasion where I had a horrendous training ride. I came home, frustrating and sweaty, and opened the fridge to engage in my favorite pastime: emotional eating. My boyfriend, Neil, came home from his own training ride to find me sitting on the couch in my underwear, unshowered and with helmet hair, eating cupcake frosting from a bowl with a spoon.
Thankfully, he dealt with this situation the way he does with many of my idiosyncrasies: Keep walking and pretend nothing happened.
The relationship between food and endurance sports is one that cannot be broken apart. We eat so we can train, and we train so we can eat. It’s a beautiful thing, stronger than any human bond imaginable. It may not make sense to my friends and family who aren’t endurance athletes, but they don’t judge. They just smile, nod, and wait for me to leave the room before they talk in whispers about my “problem.”
So yes, I know I eat a lot. No, I don’t think it’s too much. And if you ask me where I put all that food, I’ll tell you it goes straight INTO MAH HANGRY BELLY. Silly questions will only get you silly answers, folks.
If you know what’s good for you, you’ll shut your mouth and hand me the mashed potatoes. With butter. And gravy. Wrapped in a piece of pizza. Oh, and cupcakes. Lots and lots of cupcakes.
See you Out There!