What is "Personalized Nutrition", and Why Do I Need It?
We live in a world full of information. There was a time when you had to carry a map in your car with you in case you got lost, and you couldn't let someone know if you were running late. If someone told you something that sounded wild, you had to take it on faith until you went to the library or the newspaper to look it up.
Now... things are a little bit different, right? There's so much information out there, and not all of it is correct or helpful - especially when it comes to nutrition. Every day we hear about a new diet to try, 10 foods every runner needs in their diet (or 10 foods runners should never eat), what so-and-so who just set an American record is eating, and so on. Superfoods, nutrition "hacks", instagram posts sponsored by supplement companies - ugh, who has time to try it all?
Of course, it's obvious that you can't follow all of this advice. Not only is there way too much, but a lot of it directly contradicts other advice. Some runners might say they've never felt better than on a Keto Diet or since starting intermittent fasting. Other sources will tell you that runners benefit from carbs and fueling right after their workouts. An influencer might tell you that they "only eat clean" and also that they recommend a highly processed supplement in the same post. You can drive yourself crazy trying to cherry-pick the right advice.
This is where personalized nutrition comes in.
You are the only athlete whose performance you can impact with your nutrition choices. Food and fueling can be complex, and what works for one person may not work for another. Anyone can make you a generic meal plan. You can sign up for My Fitness Pal or Lose It or any other calorie-counting app, plug in a couple numbers, and have it spit out a calorie goal to shoot for every day. You can buy every supplement your favorite runfluencer promotes (some of them work, some of them are probably not effective), or copy the food your fast friend eats, or try out every diet you heard a famous runner follows. But none of that tells you how those strategies will apply to you.
Rather than running in circles, getting nowhere and not seeing breakthroughs in your training, wouldn't you rather cut the BS and get some actionable advice that's been proven to work? I definitely would.
Here are a few suggestions to help you get started on the path to personalizing your nutrition:
Avoid diets that emphasize restriction. A lifestyle that cuts out food groups or requires you to contain your meals to a few hours a day is almost certainly counterproductive to an athlete's training. Even if there's a medical reason to cut something out, the goal should be to find the least restrictive way to eat.
Honor your training and your hunger. If you train hard, you need to be a dedicated eater to see results. Your calorie tracker might say you need 1500 kcal/day, but the reality is - you probably need a lot more. If you're feeling hungry, your body is telling you it needs fuel. If you feel like you're always hungry, it's worth taking a look at what you're fueling with, and whether it's providing satiety and nutrition, or if it's just filling up your stomach.
Stop worrying about your weight. The evidence does not show that pursuing weight loss is an effective long term way to get faster. While it's true that elite runners have thin frames, they're fast because they're well trained, not because they're thin. If you pursue excellence in your performance and fuel to match - your body will land where it needs to land, and you will perform to the best of your abilities.
Be okay with taking breaks. One big mistake I see athletes making is that they don't trust their bodies to handle rest days, easy days, or time off. They go hard every day out of the fear that one missed day will result in slowing down or loss of fitness. But recovery is the secret sauce that helps you build fitness! Easy days help your legs adapt to training demands and provide active recovery from hard workouts. Days off allow your body to consolidate the gains you made during hard sessions. Taking a break is not only okay - it's necessary to be the athlete you want to be. Don't compare your days off with others - you don't know their training schedule or their life. You honor what your body needs.
Of course, since nutrition is supposed to be personalized - I can't really break it down in a blog post for the masses. What I can do is offer you a chance to get on the waiting list for my online course, Fast + Fueled: The Nutrition Roadmap for Female Runners. It's designed for you, the runner who wants to know what all of this nutrition stuff means for her, and is ready to start taking fueling seriously to make your performance dreams a reality. Runners on the wait list will be getting advance access to the first module at a special rate to let me know what you think - so don't miss out! Let me know you're interested here.