Why diets work

Diet theme of the month I "10 MONTHS TO ULTRA"

Most of us have probably, at some point in our lives, tried a diet. The stone age diet, the 5:2-diet, Weightwatchers or LCHF (Low Carb High Fat), to name a few. Vegetarians or vegans might not think of their choices as a diet, but when we talk about diets, we refer to all kinds of diet philosophies in which you are making conscious choices about what to nourish yourself and your body with.

Many of us have likely also felt that a certain diet has been successful, especially during the first few weeks or months - no matter if the purpose has been to lose weight, gain weight or muscle mass, or just to become healthier and happier in general. What is so exciting about the concept of “diets” is that it doesn’t seem to matter if you’re following a calorie-counting diet or LCHF - the diet is inevitably going to have some sort of effect. But how is that possible? There must be something that’s right, and something that’s wrong, right?

We believe that there are two main reasons why many diets work, especially in the beginning phase:

  • Almost every diet intended to help you either lose weight or gain muscle mass, eliminate (or reduce) white flour and white sugar.

  • You start to become more conscious about which choices you’re making for yourself.

This knowledge can prove useful in your everyday life, even without having to follow any strict diet philosophy. To be on a diet is like taking a shortcut. It is likely that it will probably work for a certain period of time - even a very long time - but in order to find a sustainable relationship to your diet, it’s enough to implement the two basic tricks above and still achieve a very good result.

As an ultra runner it is more important to focus on what kind of nutrition the food contains, rather than how many calories you’re consuming. During an ultra race it can be useful to know that you’re consuming food that contains enough calories, but in everyday life the body is an expert at adjusting itself to the type of energy it is presented with at a certain moment. In other words, to focus on nutrition, vitamins and minerals instead of the amount of calories is a crucial component when it comes to staying healthy and injury-free. Remember - a healthy diet is never farther away than your next meal!

Eat more vegetables

That we as humans feel good by eating lots of vegetables is something that most people would agree on, but nevertheless it can still be difficult to do what we know is good for us. Those who train and move their bodies a lot are perhaps even more conscious about the importance of diet when it comes to how we are feeling, both mentally and physically. But during a stressful day, it’s easy to take the easy path. We often find ourselves not being able to stick to a healthy diet, and then we go back to square one and tell ourselves that “next month I’ll be more healthy/eat more vegetarian food/become a vegan/stop eating sugar/stop drinking alcohol/reduce my coffee intake” and so on.

There is nothing wrong in going back to square one again and again. But it’s common to start at the wrong end. It’s way too easy to focus on what you’re not allowed to eat and drink, rather than what you actually can eat. Many who decide to start eating more vegetarian food start by just eliminating meat, chicken and fish. And if you’re used to eating “normal food” based on the general nutritional recommendations, what’s left is often foods such as pasta, potatoes, rice with some kind of sauce, and if you’re lucky, a couple of boiled peas on the side. And that’s neither particularly tasty, inspiring or healthy. Start looking instead at what you can eat. Approach the vegetable section at the supermarket with an open mind and start from there, load your pantry with dried beans and lentils, tasty seeds, nuts, olive oil, cold-pressed rapeseed oil and coconut oil.

And here’s another change in habit which can be hard to take on at first - cooking with wholesome and nourishing ingredients. In the vegetable section of the grocery store you won’t find many pre-prepared dishes - you’re going to have to put in some thought and planning to make it work. And we’re not going to lie - you might feel overwhelmed at first, but the key to becoming more conscious about your food is to get the habit in already from the beginning. And it isn’t as much extra work as one might think to prepare food with nourishing, wholesome ingredients. Once you start building up the habit, it will become easier. One trick to help yourself out is to figure out a few favorite meals that you can prepare quickly, and then build further from that basis. In this coaching program we will introduce you to some of our favorite meals that are both easy to make and will provide you with good energy so that your body will be able to run far and feel both healthy and happy.

In the program, we will follow a diet philosophy that we ourselves follow up to 80 % - a kind of vegan LCHF. On the one hand, we believe that this is a sustainable strategy from an environmental perspective, and on the other, we do think that it is the optimal base for an ultra runner or endurance athlete. We love sharing our thoughts and ideas around diet which might not be that easy to find elsewhere. Recipes for classic diets like LCHF or stone age diet are easy to find, but recipes that combine these with a foundation of vegetables is much less common.

Of course you are the one to decide for yourself how you want to eat, drink and live your life! But we hope that we will inspire you to at least try a couple of new ways of thinking even when it comes to diet. The red thread through our program will be vegan/LCHF/gluten-free - and from there we will provide you with suggestions on how best to add eggs, meat, or milk products if you wish to do so.

Be liberal. Or not.

Choosing to be strict or not is entirely individual. And you might have to experiment a little to find out what works best for you. For some, it’s easiest to be entirely strict, to set up rules and then follow these in detail. Many feel strong in having “succeeded” to eat a certain way for a period of time. Such people find power in the feeling of being able to live according to the guidelines they’ve set up for themselves. Johnny is a clear example of this kind of person - once he has made up his mind, it’s really easy for him to follow the rules.

But you could also be the kind of person located on the other side of the spectrum. Deciding to follow a new diet philosophy up to, let’s say, 80 % could be the key to actually creating a long-term, sustainable relationship with your new diet. Depending on who you are, it can actually be counterproductive to try and follow a diet plan to 100 %. It’s really easy to end up stuck in a thought pattern that is constantly focused around what you’re not allowed to eat. Instead, it can be enough just to think that it’s okay to satisfy that sugar craving you’re having right now - but that you won’t give in to those cravings extensively or every day. Ellen belongs to this group, and for her it’s much easier to follow a more liberal diet plan rather than a super strict one, since otherwise she has a tendency to develop an obsession with whatever it might be that she’s trying to reduce her intake on (e.g. chocolate, coffee, alcohol and so on).


Exercise: Run without carb loading

As an ultra runner it is important to work on your fat burning processes. We will dig deeper into this topic in future articles, but for now you can already start going for a couple of runs without any intake of carbohydrates beforehand. If you’ve already tried this type of training before (maybe you’re used to running early morning sessions without having eaten or drank anything) this might not be anything new, but for the person who has never tried it, it can feel both unfamiliar and a little scary. Will I have enough energy to run?

The trick to having a positive experience the first few times you try this type of training - without carbohydrate loading prior to your session - is to take it easy. It’s entirely natural to be low on energy, as well as feeling tired and sluggish before you’ve even tied your shoe laces. And that’s completely okay!

your task is to go for one run during this training period without having consumed carbohydrates prior to the run.

If you realize you like the concept, feel free to run more sessions without carbs in your body, but at least one run should be done this way. We suggest that you do the session in the morning, but after breakfast. The only thing you need to make sure of is that your breakfast contains maximum a low volume of carbs (see tips and recipes below).

To make sure the body is able to go through with this type of training in the beginning (this is especially important if you’ve been eating a lot of carbohydrates before) it can be useful to bring something edible on your run, for instance some nuts, a fruit or an energy bar. Once you’ve ran at least 30-40 minutes, the fat burning process has started to kick in (at least if you’ve kept the tempo down!) and the blood sugar levels will not raise as quickly if you eat something rich in carbohydrates now, compared to when the body is in rest mode.

The purpose of this exercise is to become less reliant on constantly re-stocking your energy storages with carbs during long-distance running, and to work on your body’s fat burning processes.


Recipes

Why not try a salad for breakfast? Below are two examples of tasty salads that are perfect as breakfast/brunch before a slow and easy run. They contain few carbohydrates, a high volume of fat and will ultimately give your body what it needs to start the fat burning process during your run. Eat around one hour before you start your run, or right before if you’re used to running straight after you’ve eaten. It’s entirely okay to drink coffee with your salad, with or without milk, but avoid adding sugar. Don’t drink any juice with your breakfast, if it’s not pure vegetable juice - in that case it’s okay to drink a little. Avoid fruit juice since it contains as many carbohydrates (in the form of fructose) as processed juices. It is also important not to eat any form of sugary snack before you start the run, since it prevents the fat burning process from getting started.

Back to the salad - don’t be scared of eating a lot! Make sure you’re feeling full by eating a dark green salad with colorful vegetables, olive oil, beans ans lentils (or eggs and cheese if you’d like). You will thank yourself later!


VEGAN LCHF: Avocado and chickpea salad with lentil tapenade

“Vegan LCHF” means that the food doesn’t contain any meat, milk products (or any other animal products) at the same time as it is “Low Carb High Fat”. To make sure that the food contains enough fat can be a challenge when you start to eliminate animal products from your diet. One easy way of getting a higher fat intake is to make delicious spreads. We often make several different types of spreads and eat them with fresh, boiled or oven-baked vegetables. This way we consume a larger amount of calories and more fat. The spreads can be varied endlessly, but one of our favorites is to make a simple lentil tapenade. It’s milder in taste than original tapenade, and it works well as a side with the salad.

AVOCADO AND CHICKPEA SALAD FOR 2 PEOPLE

Try to use organic ingredients as much as possible. However, it’s not important that the amount of an ingredient is exact, and of course it is alright to vary the ingredients and use your favorite vegetables.

Chop and cut the ingredients and put them on a plate. Top with olive oil and garnish with fresh herbs and dried seeds or nuts.

  • 1 package of fresh baby spinach or fresh rocket salad (ca 100 grams)

  • 2-3 avocados (at least 1 avocado per person)

  • 10-15 cherry tomatoes or 3 average-sized tomatoes

  • 1/2 cucumber

  • 1 red onion (if you have a sensitive stomach you can skip the onion)

  • 1 pepper (red or yellow)

  • 1 can of chickpeas (ca 400 grams) or, even better, the same amount of home-made chickpeas

  • Olive oil, salt and pepper according to your own taste (don’t be shy to use a lot of olive oil!)

  • Fresh basil or parsley is nice to garnish with

  • Sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, walnuts or other tasty seeds and nuts as topping


LENTIL TAPENADE FOR 2 PEOPLE

Try to use organic ingredients as much as possible. Again, it’s not important that the amount of an ingredient is exact - experiment a little to figure out what you find to be the most tasty. You can also change the beluga lentils for green lentils or black beans. The color can be a little less satisfying with other beans/lentils, but it tastes just as good and provides you with an equal amount of nutrition.

Boil the beluga lentils according to the instructions on the package. Pour away the water and put the lentils in a mixer. Add about 200 grams of pitted black olives. Then add the olive oil, the squeezed lime/lemon and pressed garlic. Mix everything together. Add salt, pepper and herbs according to your own taste.

  • 250 grams dried beluga lentils (small black lentils that reminds you of beluga caviar)

  • 200 grams pitted black Kalamata-olives

  • 300 ml olive oil

  • 4-5 garlic cloves (reduce amount or eliminate entirely if you are sensitive to garlic)

  • the juice of 1 lime or lemon (ready-made lime or lemon juice in a bottle is okay too)

  • salt and pepper

  • oregano, parsley or basil (preferably fresh, but dried is OK too)


CLASSIC LCHF: Chickpea salad with scrambled eggs

The idea behind classic LCHF (Low Carb High Fat) is to eat a large amount of fat and proteins, but only a small amount of carbohydrates. Many people who eat according to the LCHF diet often eat too much protein and not enough fat. If you want to eat animal proteins that’s okay, but try to make sure that the main component of the calories in your food comes from fat - and preferably vegetable fats such as olive oil or coconut oil. You’re fat burning processes will work more efficiently if you don’t overdose the amount of protein - and it’s also better from an environmental perspective.

CHICKPEA SALAD FOR TWO PEOPLE

Try to use organic ingredients as much as possible. It’s not important that the amount of an ingredient is exact, and it is alright to exchange the chickpeas for your choice of beans or lentils. Using iceberg lettuce is crispy and tasty, but it doesn’t contain as many vitamins or minerals as a more dark green salad. Feel free to garnish with seeds/nuts or feta cheese/mozzarella if you like the taste of that. If you feel like you’re in need of more energy, add an avocado or two.

Pour the olive oil and balsamic vinegar into a big bowl. Add pressed garlic, salt, pepper and perhaps some paprika powder and curry powder. Stir. Chop the rest of the ingredients into small pieces and add to the bowl. Mix everything in the bowl thoroughly.

  • 1/2 package fresh baby spinach or fresh rocket salad (ca 50 grams)

  • 1 can chickpeas (ca 400 grams) or, even better, the same amount of home-made chickpeas

  • 1 red onion

  • 1 red pepper

  • 1/2 cucumber

  • 2 tomatoes

  • 1 big garlic clove

  • 50 - 100 ml olive oil

  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar (or use squeezed lemon instead if you want to eliminate sugar entirely, since balsamic vinegar usually contains a small amount of sugar)

  • salt and pepper

  • if you wish, 1 tsp paprika powder and/or 1 pinch of curry powder

  • fresh basil leaves or parsley to garnish with

SCRAMBLED EGGS FOR 2 PEOPLE

Try to use organic ingredients as much as possible. It’s not important that the amount of an ingredient is exact, feel free to experiment a little to find out what you think is the most tasty. You can also add 100 ml of cooking cream, as well as skip the cheese or the curcuma.

Whisk the eggs in a bowl and then add the spices. Melt the butter in a big frying pan and then add the egg mixture. Don’t fry at a too high heat since the scrambled eggs can easily get burned. Stir the eggs continuously, and when it starts to get ready you can add the grated cheese.

  • 7-9 eggs

  • 3 tbsp butter (real butter - not margarine - and preferably organic)

  • dried curcuma

  • salt and pepper

  • 100 ml grated cheese