WOOT member Beth Greer recently completed a 30-day food challenge which required her to eliminate certain food groups from her diet. While WOOT does not endorse or discourage any type of food restrictions or recommendations, we are open to hearing the views of those who have experimented with dietary modifications in order to improve their health and fitness. We enjoyed reading Beth’s account of her “Whole-30” Food Challenge:
By Beth Greer
After a friend (ultrarunner, ironman, and trail race director) and his wife (swimming coach and iron(wo)man) proclaimed, via social media, their successes following The Whole 30, I was thoroughly intrigued. This diet, as in food consumed on a regular basis, challenges you to eat only meats, vegetables (minus corn and white potatoes), fruits, healthy oils, coconut milk, some nuts and seeds, and oddly enough, ghee. That means for 30 days, you cannot eat legumes, gluten, dairy, sugar in any form (cane, corn syrup, maple syrup, honey, agave), grains, or alcohol. All of which can cause inflammation and other possible negative responses within the body. The scientist and athlete in me had to conduct this experiment.
I will tell you right now that the first week was not fun since you are basically going through sugar and complex carbohydrate-withdraw. My energy levels were painfully low. So much so that I had to take naps between work and dinner. I was also fighting a barrage of nearly constant and all-consuming (pun intended) cravings. One minute I HAD to have garlic bread in order to go on living, and the next minute the twix in the vending machine was yelling my name from across the building. And then there was running. I couldn’t even make it two miles during this transitional period. All of these are normal according to the website and testimonials; however, I felt anything but normal.
By the time the second week rolled around, the cravings had slowed and then vanished and my energy levels increased. And throughout the 30 days, I began sleeping better, I no longer felt those familiar mid afternoon energy slumps, waking up was easy, my skin cleared, and I felt… good… mentally and physically. And while I was not doing this with the intention of losing weight, I lost about five pounds. During week three, I did have a bad day where I felt nauseous every time I thought about healthy food. All I wanted was pizza or tacos. But I fought through it, and it passed. By the end of the 30 days, the only thing I truly missed in a non-craving sort of way was dark chocolate.
But how about the most important part you ask?!
During week two, I ran my fastest PFT in 5 years. Up until that point I was running once a week with WOOT averaging 12-15 minute/mile and riding the road bike 20-30 miles once a week. I had done no tempo runs and no speed work. As I crossed the start line, my legs felt like they had been fill with half-dried concrete as everyone sprinted by me. I accepted my fate to be one of the last ones to finish with an embarrassingly slow time. But before I even hit a quarter of a mile, I began passing people, and I continued passing people at a steady rate. At the halfway point, the monitor shouted out the time elapsed; I was beyond shocked but excited. During the second half of the 3 mile run, my legs never felt lighter, but I continued to hold my pace.
This was a turning point in this diet. All following runs and rides reflected my new found speed and energy and by week 3, my legs no longer felt heavy during feats of athleticism. They only time my energy waned was if I did not eat enough the day before. Sweet potatoes and pumpkin became my good friends in the absence of those complex carbohydrates that we athletes tend to love for endurance energy. I also never hit the wall or felt the need to replenish calories during a run or ride and did not lust after every McDonalds, CoCos, and Soba shop on the way home as I normally do.
After day 30, I began adding things back one at a time, but I didn’t notice a difference until the day after adding gluten. I woke up feeling groggy, bloated and horrible, and I ran incredibly slow for the first half of my run as was the norm prior to the Whole 30. And now, two weeks later, my running has returned to pre-Whole 30 state.
Was it worth it? Absolutely. I learned quite a lot about how what I eat affects my body, and I intend to continue to experiment, especially with gluten. I also find myself less interested in highly processed and fast foods. I feel that if I am going to consume the less healthy foods, they are going to be of good quality (I mostly mean the expensive chocolate, homemade baked goods, preservative free breads, fancy cheeses, etc). And if nothing else, I came away with some great, healthy recipes that I would be happy to share!