The week-long bonk – or "How a slab of meat changed my week"

This week has not been very awesome.

In fact, last week wasn’t either.

With traveling, conferencing, interviewing, meetings, research, and training, I have been feeling the weight of life slam down heavy on my shoulders [although, I can’t even imagine how Marg must feel with her upcoming wedding and job search]. And of all things, its my training that suffers. I feel tired, and my speed work ends with me crapping out. I swim 2000yards and I feel like I am drowning. My plans for running after work end up with me and heading home from campus at 7pm, only to seek refuge in grilled cheese and True Blood on Blu-Ray because I don’t have any energy for anything else. Yesterday, I tried to get in a long road ride, and a flat tire had me in tears and calling my boyfriend to come get me in BFE.

The question I have asked myself every day this week: Who took my energy, and where did they go?

Last week, Baberaham hinted that I might have symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome, and taking it easy is probably not a bad idea. Granted, we were in Florida, where swimming in a lap pool set to 86 degrees and “getting refreshed” by jumping in the ocean (which was 91 degrees) was only minimally satisfying. Not to mention, running at 4pm before lightning storms because that was the only time there was a breeze didn’t really help my energy levels. But I wasn’t having any headaches (except for when I wasn’t injesting caffeine) and I felt descent after napping, so I chocked it up to a shift in the climate and a lot on my plate.

Then I got to thinking about one of the cruxes of endurance training: my diet.

It’s true, I hadn’t been eating as great as I should have been after Rev3 Quassy. I do a great job of hydrating and eating right before a race, but afterwards I don’t care as much. And a trip to Florida, with big meals and glasses of wine, threw me out of whack a little. It wasn’t until I got home, spent a week cooking for myself, and feeling like absolute dump, that I realized what mgiht be going on.

After the failed bike ride of yesterday (55 miles does not equal 130, thankyouverymuch flat tire), I had a craving. Not a normal craving, either. I usually want to eat things like chocolate or ice cream, or a Snickers bar or cheese. No, this craving was unusual, for me, especially since I am no longer a vegetarian. The craving: a big fat juicy STEAK.

Growing up, I was raised on red meat. My parents bought a cow and had it processed, and we’d eat beef 3-4 times a week. Hamburgers, chili, meatloaf, you name it. I depended on finding, during summer weekend evenings, a T-bone steak and an ear of corn on my plate. When I went off to college, I stopped eating so much meat, and when I went to graduate school I became vegetarian. I never had too big of issues with training, but I rarely trained as much as I do now (plus, so it goes, I was younger and could apparently recover faster then… plus during graduate school I was adament about having a protein shake after every big workout).

Now, even though I have reincorporated meat into my diet, I struggle more in recovery, and have found that it takes more time and more discipline to feel good during and after a big training block. Although we don’t eat a lot of meat, Baberaham and I usually fill our meals with a good variety of foods like black beans, eggs, and whole grain rice. I usually make an Ultragen shake after long workouts, but my First Endurance supply has been depleted and my ambition as of late has not been focused on reordering more.

So, yesterday, sitting on our friend’s couch watching World Cup, I saw a Bon Appetit magazine on their coffee table with a big rib eye steak. I then counted the meals I had consumed this week and could count on one hand the number that had either meat, egg, or beans in them. Immediately, I turned to B and proclaimed: “I need to go get a steak dinner.” He looked puzzled, and I continued, “My treat.”

After the US’s disappointing loss, we went to Calumet and both ordered the rib-eye. All 16-ounces of the bone-in, medium rare meat melted in my mouth and slid down my gullet. I felt euphoric, and I couldn’t wipe the smile off my mouth. Baked potato? Gone. Grizzle? Gone. Sour cream? Gone. Of all things, I left the limp green beans on my plate, I suppose as a sacrifice to the bovine gods.

I didn’t know how it happened, but I had put my finger exactly on the issue that my body was dealing with. After the meal, and the post-feast lethargy of more True Blood and muddy buddies, I slept like a baby and woke up in the morning before the alarm. I pulled on my running shorts and darted out of the house, tackling the 3hr run to South Range with more umph than I’ve had all week. I felt like I was flying during the last hour, and I felt strong, fluid, and forward. I felt good.

True, part of that could have been because my ride yesterday was cut so short and I let my brain and body rest all afternoon. But I really, truly believe that the thick, juicy, delicious slab of meat I ate last night changed my week, and my week-long bonk will happen again if I don’t pay better attention to the protein I put in my body.

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About megankillian

Assistant Professor of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Delaware. I love biomechanics!

Posted on June 27, 2010, in Food, health, training. Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.

  1. Heh – I can relate with a lot of this seeing that I had a similar week. In fact, yesterday I was barely about to get out the door and run when it occurred to me that I’ve only eaten red meat like…once in the last couple weeks? (maybe twice.) Gets me EVERY time – largely because I discovered that I’ve got iron absorption issues, probably not helped by a coffee habit. And its something I’m aware of, yet its funny how those little details slip our minds when we’re busy…

    Enjoy the energy boost. πŸ˜‰

    • I drink a lot of coffee too, and I guess I never really put the two together. Eating meat can be expensive too, but its an easy way to get a lot of calories, so I really need to make sure I do it!

  2. Wow! Awesome, and thanks! I get crap from fellow endurance athletes who often comment on how I can possibly eat steak several times per week and perform optimally. Like you, I pay attention to my food intake, sure I am taking in the right amounts of protein, carbs etc. In addition to supplementing, I credit a lot of my ability to perform and recover to eating the right kinds of and variety of proteins.

    Thanks for sharing. Now, I’ll be sure to share your post with my doubtful group of friends.

  3. This reminds me of a recent interview with Devon Crosby-Helms where she talks about her former vegan/vegetarianism and how reincorporating meat into her diet has paid off with leaps and bounds: http://letthemeatmeat.com/post/622113606/interview-with-an-ex-vegan-devon-crosby-helms

    Glad to hear you found what was missing to bring your energy levels back!

    • I hadn’t seen that, which I am surprised by because I follow DCH on twitter/blog and she’s super approachable. She rocks, simply put. We’ve had a few discussions about food and endurance training, and she definitely helps me embrace my meat-eating desires.

  4. Gee thanks…. now I need to find a steak for dinner. πŸ™‚ My mouth is watering…

  5. I think that is one of the best benefits of endurance training. We end up knowing more about our bodies and being able to diagnose random emotional, physical or nutritional problems easier than most doctors could.

    Now get your ass back in gear!

    Nomnomnomnom.

  6. Mmmmmmmmmmmmmm, meat. I had the most delicious steak the other day, too. Kyle’s parents have some highland cattle with friends so we get some often. They usually label it with their names – this steak was Lucy. πŸ™‚

  7. I’m with ya on the meat! I pretty much just listen to my body and feed it what it asks for. πŸ™‚

    Oh, and I am pretty sure I’m coming to Cedar Point! πŸ™‚ My family actually lives right outside of cleveland so our thought is to take Moana there to see them and I’ll race at the same time. I’m registered in the half, have briefly thought about the full, but think I’m back on the half plan now. I have to get healthy again b/c when you’re not 100% any type of training just sounds bad. πŸ˜‰ Looking forward to meeting you though!!

  8. Only learned of your blog yesterday, but this post just screams Anemic.

    OK, maybe not screams, maybe “subtly suggests” as 1 or 2 other commentors indicated.

    Recalling my training log from a few years ago, I was terribly fatigued, randomly diagnosed as anemic (at a blood drive) and immediately after taking iron supplements regarded my next pool workout as “best swim of my life!”

    Very cool to see that a simple meal made such a significant difference in your bonky week.

  1. Pingback: Healthier snacks for a busy gluten-free girl « in training

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