Something Clicked

Hi everyone! My name is Marissa and I live outside of Philly.  Throughout my life I have always been active and athletic, from starting ballet at the age of 3, to playing sports every season during grade school and college, to now doing CrossFit a few times a week and training for my next race.

My CrossFit gym has a nutrition challenge every year which is really to get everyone to come together and support one another.  For one month, we clean up our diet and most go the paleo route while the other option is gluten and sugar-free.  The first year I said “screw this”, I thought I ate pretty damn healthy and that there was no point to this torture.  Also, I LOVED my bread, pasta, and rice.  I’ve always been a runner/athlete and I’m used to carb loading before major events (hello, high school pasta parties and eating at Italian restaurants before a half marathon!).  That was 2013.

Something changed in 2014, I don’t recall exactly what it was, but I do remember I was sick of feeling exhausted in the afternoons.  That summer I borrowed Enter The Zone Diet: A Dietary Road Map by Barry Sears from my gym’s little library.  Even though the book was technical, I read it every chance I got while we were on vacation with friends in Peru – the plane and train rides mostly (there was a lot of beer and wine involved most days).  The book resonated with me and convinced me that a balanced diet of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats would be the solution to my exhaustion problems.

So that fall when the gym did their annual nutrition challenge, I participated but on my own terms, of course (I don’t like being told what I can and cannot do).  I agreed to follow the zone diet guidelines and my coach may have convinced me to at least go gluten and sugar-free as well.  The next 30 days weren’t easy – no more pasta (what would we eat?! We ate pasta at least twice a week), PB&J’s (having to go out for lunch every day is going to cost a fortune!), or RICE (I’m half Chinese and I may have had a small obsession for rice and soy sauce).  My meals were very bland during the challenge, I didn’t really know what to eat or how to cook; but after 30 days I did FEEL a difference and I NO LONGER felt exhausted during the day! My “athletic” performance may have improved only slightly, but that’s okay it wasn’t my main concern.

For two years after that challenge, I’d say for the most part I followed the zone diet loosely – only strictly following it (measuring and weighing my food) every few months.  My husband, Zach, even came to me about a year after I started and said he wanted to try it since he saw how great I felt and was sick of coming home beat up from work.  The caveat was, I was charged with meal planning and prepping for both of us as well as proportioning his food out and making sure he had enough to meet his daily goal.

Fast forward to today, my husband and I are mostly gluten and sugar-free (even our 8-year-old dog is, who has as much energy again as a puppy), but we aren’t perfect and we also LOVE beer and ice cream – I, this doesn’t apply to Zach, just don’t have them all the time.  I haven’t measured out our food since September 2016, it just became too time consuming, but we do have a pretty good idea of how much we can have of meat, veggies, starch, snacks, etc. at every meal and throughout the day.  Overall, I think we eat healthy with a focus on grass-fed or pasture-raised meats and local produce (thankfully, we have a pretty sweet farmers’ market year-round as well as local grocery store that contains sustainable and local products).  And yes, I’m still in charge of all the meal planning, shopping, and prepping but Zach is slowly portioning his own meals without my help.

Unfortunately, I still have not figured out the whole eating during races or competitions.  Basically, anything that requires more than an hour of intense cardio my body starts shutting down.  Since college, I’ve done a few half marathons and 5K’s every year (more at the push from my best friend, HIII…) and although I’ve improved over the years, my times have also plateaued.  For the life of me, I CANNOT break a 2-hour half marathon, it is very frustrating!  I feel okay during the races lung-wise, but my body (specifically, my hips and FEET – they are the absolute WORSE) starts shutting down around mile 10, making the last 3 miles a real struggle.  I’ve tried the chews and sport drinks (the gels just gross me out, yuck!) – they just don’t work.  This lead to me maybe completing one or two races the last couple of years , I kind of gave up hope that my body would support my goals.

So for 2017 I decided I need a change and figure out my body.  For the past year or so I’ve been following Emily Schromm on social media and even done a few of her 21 Day Superhero challenges (mostly for the information).  She’s a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner (NTP) and a lot of the information she provides made me think and try some stuff on myself.  Like FAT, we should eat it and not only that probably need to eat more of it (but need to lessen our carbohydrate consumption).  There are some other personal things I am struggling with (mostly stress-related) but at the beginning of the year I started considering the NTP program with the Nutritional Therapy Association (NTA) and researching other nutritional programs/certifications.  With the encouragement of my best friend (Zach was supportive but didn’t really understand what I was trying to do), I literally jumped head first into the NTP program’s winter session two weeks late.

It has been a complete whirlwind the last two months but I am learning so much about our bodies: how we digest food, blood sugar regulation, nutrient deficiencies, and functional evaluations. I’m finding myself looking forward to watching lectures or reading books – I was terrified of going back to school.  Don’t get me wrong, it is overwhelming!  There is a lot of information flooding in and hard to remember it all, but I’m not discouraged by it.  I’m excited to be able to utilize this new knowledge so I can maybe finally get that sub 2-hour half marathon.  That would be amazing!  There were even talks about doing my first marathon, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves!

Baby steps though, this summer I plan on completing a couple of sprint triathlons.  I’m hoping that over the next few months I can play around with all the information I’m learning from the NTA and apply it to my training and race days.  Let’s see how this plays out!

Has anyone else struggled with fueling their athletic performances? If anyone has any tips or recommendations, they’d be greatly appreciated!