Friday, July 10, 2009

Well Blog Fail: One PB&J Doesn't Fit All

The New York Times Well Blog recently hosted a conversation with a fitness guru about eating before a run.

Anyone who read this, and who has read my “Ten Tips for First-Time Marathoners” should have immediately thought, “uh-oh.”

Leslie Bonci, the sports nutritionist consulted by the Times, gives some good advice. As my Tip #9 says, you should think of food “as part of your equipment,” or to put it another way, as fuel that powers your body. But as to her detailed advice on exactly what, and when, to eat…

Re-read Tip #1 (this time in caps): BEWARE OF ONE SIZE FITS ALL ADVICE.

Bonci instructs Times readers to eat “a peanut butter and jelly wrap cut into little pieces” an hour before exercise. That might work well for Bonci, but I recently ran the Fairfield Half Marathon three hours after eating a peanut butter sandwich. Suffice to say that I was repeatedly reminded of what I ate for breakfast as I plowed through the hills of Fairfield. And visited a porta-potty for the first time ever during a race. Three times. And struggled to breathe up the steep hills because of gooey peanut butter lining... you get the point.

The comments section of the Bonci post particularly concerns me – and proves my point. Commenter Sharon writes, “Wow, I do everything wrong!” and then describes a routine that doesn’t fit Bonci’s advice. But it may well work for Sharon, and now she’s going to change her routine to what works for Bonci. Amazingly, Well Blog editor Tara Parker-Pope replies, “You’re not alone… I’m doing everything wrong too!” So, the writer of Well Blog and the bulk of its readers, have suddenly discovered they’re “doing everything wrong” after years of successful exercise, because they don’t do everything exactly like Bonci does? Well Blog Fail.

Everyone is different. You need to trust your own body and experience, not the word of experts. A few years ago, a fitness guru sent me and 600 other first-time marathoners an email saying that stretching is all but unnecessary for long distance runners. This may be true for him, but if I don’t stretch for two days, I can’t even walk without intense pain, and I stretch for hours in the 24 hours leading up to a race.

To take another example, once I was advising two small-framed women on their first marathon, I asked an experienced small-framed woman marathoner to give them advice on hydration. Why? Because I perspire heavily and weigh 200 lbs., and so I consume 1.5 gallons of fluid during a marathon, as repeated experience has told me this is the right amount for me. If these women followed my routine, they might drown, and I can't begin to guess what amount of fluid was proper for them.

I have some recommendations on eating for a race – I eat continuously the night before, and snack lightly on granola bars and orange slices as I run – but you need to test out different strategies when you train. You’re the only expert on your own body.

 If your body chokes up when you chew granola, or orange slices, or peanut butter, ditch them and try something else, and when you find what works, stick with it, no matter what I, Ms. Bonci, or the Well Blog may say.

No comments: