Jessica Hofheimer: Poor Diets Equal Unhappy Bodies

Jessica Hofheimer enjoys a smoothie with vegan protein powder after her workouts. Photo: Jessica Hofheimer

Perhaps the greatest challenge I have when it comes to my running is properly fueling my body for optimal performance. As someone who has a lot of food sensitivities, allergies and aversions … let’s just say it is not a an easy balance to attain.

I eat primarily a vegan diet, though sometimes I will treat myself to dairy in the forms of frozen yogurt, chocolate or cheese. Whenever I make those choices though, I pay for them with an unhappy tummy, bloating and a depressed-inside feeling. I am allergic to wheat and peanuts and need to avoid them completely, as they cause a pretty horrible reaction, one which I would never ever like to experience again. I haven’t eaten meat in decades.

I am not a scientist but I have learned through experience, research and talking to my really smart science-y friends that a low-sugar diet is going to be best for me. Eating that way will help me tap into my fat stores for energy, which is far more efficient than glycogen as a fuel source for endurance sports. Fat burns slower and lasts longer. Sugar burns quickly and isn’t stored for long—and the body will convert it to fat when you have too much of it and don’t use it.

Basically, the rule of thumb I try to abide by, and have for a while, is to eat my foods from the earth. Foods that will work for my body, not foods that my body has to work for. Mostly veggies, in my case. Limiting high-glycemic fruits (watermelon, pineapple, grapes, etc.) and really trying to avoid processed sugars and foods that aren’t really FOOD. I have a major sweet tooth, but I find that something like a bowl of cherries satisfies my body’s craving for sugar as much as a bowl of frozen yogurt does and doesn’t leave me with that horrible aftermath the next day.

My biggest struggle with the way I eat as an endurance athlete is getting enough protein in my diet on a daily basis. After my runs I typically get myself a soy latte (which has 15g of protein) and/or make myself a smoothie using a vegan protein powder such as Vega or VeganMax (about 25g of protein per serving). I throw things like sunflower seeds, hemp hearts and almonds into my salads and steamed veggies to pack in more protein. One of my favorite snacks is an apple with sunflower seed butter or almond butter on it. I don’t count calories or fat, but lately I’ve been trying to pay attention to how many grams of protein I take in each day. I am pretty sure I used to consume maybe 20 grams a day and that simply isn’t anywhere close to enough. I have been getting somewhere around 60-80 grams a day in these last few weeks and can tell it is making a difference in how I feel.

This upcoming training cycle is going to be interesting for me in regards to nutrition. My hope is that by adding more protein to my diet and reducing my sugar intake, I will be more efficient at burning fat for fuel, I will feel stronger on my runs and will have less GI distress during hard workouts or races.

I want to be fit and healthy from the inside out. What we put in our bodies matters and is very connected to how we feel during training and racing … and really just how we feel in general, whether we are exercising or not. It’s all about the big picture, and there are many pieces to the puzzle—we cannot outrun a bad diet.

For more on the Saucony 26 Strong program, which pairs up 13 coaches with 13 marathon rookies, visit 26Strong.com.

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