Readers Roundtable: What’s Your Diet Philosophy?

Running and eating go hand-in-hand, and every runner seems to have a different diet philosophy. Some swear off meat. Some swear off carbs. Some are whole foods purists.

I just finished reading The Endurance Diet, Matt Fitzgerald’s latest book. Known for Racing Weight, 80/20, and How Bad Do You Want It?, Fitzgerald’s latest foray seeks to define the optimal diet for endurance performance by analyzing what the world’s top endurance athletes eat. He found five characteristics that the diets of top-athlete share that he believes makes them optimal for athletic performance:

  1. Eat everything: no banned food-types.
  2. Eat quality: aim for majority of high quality foods, but ok to have occasional junk.
  3. Eat carb-centered: the vast majority of calories should come from carbs.
  4. Eat enough: neither calorie restriction nor over-eating promote optimal performance.
  5. Eat individually: a good diet should not come from a book, but should be customized to each person’s needs and preferences.

We want to know what you think about this: Do you eat all kinds of foods? Do you tend to over-eat or not eat enough? Do you restrict carbs or fats or not worry about it? Tell us:

What’s your diet philosophy?

Interested in getting your own copy of The Endurance Diet? Join us tonight at 8:00 p.m. Eastern on Twitter for #SaltyChat! One lucky participant in tonight’s chat will win a free book! ✯

Salty Running boss and mother of 3 little ones with PRs of 3:10:15 (26.2), 1:25:59 (13.1) and 18:15 (5k). I love to write about running culture, mental training, and fitting in a serious running habit with the rest of a busy life.

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    1. That would go with the “eat individually” tenet 🙂 I liked it too. I think while the premise felt kinda “duh”, just looking around and seeing how many recreational athletes are on restrictive diets and possibly weight-obsessed, it’s obviously not common knowledge. MF does a good job of explaining it, but I’m curious what people who choose their diets for reasons other than performance, like for social or political reasons or long-term weight-management after significant loss, have to say about it.

  1. I totally agree with those five statements. I have tried several diets (vegetarian, low carb, gluten free, etc.) I truly feel that I am the healthiest both physically and mentally when I eat a variety of foods, including junk food in moderation. If I totally deprive myeslf I am likely to over do it at some point. I have gone both ways in the past-under done it and over done it! For me it is important to get a quality protein source that fills me up, stay hydrated, and have a dessert to top off a meal. Last night the dessert was chocolate dipped strawberries. Other nights it is ice cream….but not every night! Balance and moderation are important. Assuming one does not have any food allergies/sensitivities, I think it is smart not to exclude/ban any foods as well. I agree with Wendy above-anti inflammatory foods are great for arthritis and for everyone.

    1. You should definitely read this book, Cayenne! I think you’d really like it. As I said above, some of it feels pretty “duh”, but he lays out what we instinctually know in a way that squashes latent doubts/guilt about trusting our instincts. I also noticed that after reading the book, while I’ve always been health conscious when it comes to my diet, I’m more concerned about overall nutrition quality rather than fixated on certain foods. I feel like I’ve upped the quality of my household diet overall and while we have some “unhealthy” foods in our weekly mix, looking at the big picture of what we eat, we’re doing very well.

  2. I’d say I’m in the 80-85%/15-20% crowd. I eat mostly healthy during training but also do not deprive myself if I want a beer or a glass of wine…and some ice cream or something. I don’t cut any one food group out, and I don’t really restrict much either. I try and make sure my meals have a good mix of fats, carbs, protein but it’s something I could definitely work on when it comes to breakfast and lunch. For a while I didn’t realize that I wasn’t eating many carbs the first half of the day and then was getting more of them at dinner. Spreading them out more gave me more energy for workouts etc.

  3. I think I need to read this book. I’ve recently lost weight (abotu 8 lbs, which doesn’t sound like much but really is to me), but am not sure how to maintain it. By nature I’m a comfort eater, and when I was losing the weight, I was so focused on restricting my diet (healthfully) that it took all my energy. Now I want to find a way to not obsess about food all the time, but still eat healthfully. Sounds like it’s going on my library request list…

    1. Yes! I bet it will help you. Depending on training volume, weight will fluctuate a bit even with mindful healthy eating. It’s normal and not necessarily something to micromanage or worry about. When you read it, would love to hear what you think!

      1. Yes, I’ve gone back through the Salty archives and found the discussions on weight maintenance and natural seasonal fluctuations very helpful in framing my perspective (as in, don’t panic!!). I think I’m just not sure yet how to get on a more even keel, so my fluctuations are in the 3-5 lb range and not the 2-10lb range. I don’t have mileage as high as y’all’s (5K is my preferred race distance), so I never rack up more than 20 miles a week…but yeah, the book will be helpful. I can’t make it on Twitter tonight, but can you consider this comment post as my “entry” into the raffle 🙂 ?

  4. I’m vegan, have lost more than 80lbs, have another 50-ish to lose, and I love this book. It’s mostly how I lost the weight I lost and how I eat now. I think he’s a much needed voice of common sense and sanity.

    I have “How Bad Do You Want It” in my tbr pile.

      1. Nope, but people in general can be pretty negative about veganism. I also got the feeling that he’d be less critical of ethical vegans who go for the “well planned” bit of a vegan diet. I had a feeling he was going after the disordered eating types who go vegan as a way to further restrict their food intake. The ranks of former vegans are filled with folks like that. It’s something the Vegan RD types have been talking about for the last couple of years.

        He and I can agree to disagree on the vegan thing. The limits are not insurmountable. I can still follow his five rules as a vegan and I appreciate his desire to call people to less disordered ways of viewing food (GoKaleo and others have been doing the same thing with less focus on runners).

        1. In my notes I wrote, “But what about ethical vegans? They don’t care that diet not optimal for performance.” I think what he’s saying is that IF optimal performance is your aim, then being vegan will not lead to optimal performance. But the gains from adding animal products are not likely significant enough to recreational athletes, even competitive ones, especially in conjunction with more important dietary goals.

  5. Hmm… does he talk about the number 1 diet principle: ‘Enjoy your food’? I’m saying this only partly tongue-in-cheek. Singapore has a big foodie culture. We love our food. We obsess not over calories or macros but over the best places to find particular street-food dishes, or the newest restaurants and food stalls on the block, and wholeheartedly embrace food trends like whatever chimera croissanuteampufflatte crops up. There’s a notable lack of judgement when women, especially, are seen to be enjoying their food. So there’s no I-can’t-believe-she’s-eating-that camp and no equally defensive supermodel-chowing-down-on-a-burger camp. You just…find good food? And enjoy it? It’s simple?

    Also, I have an abiding distrust of packaged food (for a variety of reasons, including taste and food safety). If I don’t see a sandwich made before my very eyes, wrapped and handed to me, I am not eating that sandwich…

    /falls off soapbox while gesticulating wildly

    1. Enjoying what you eat is so important. I think that definitely goes along with my philosophy with food- I will alter or make modifications to be healthier at times but not at the expense of eating cardboard or something that I won’t even like.

      My distrust of packaged and prepared food was never that bad until pregnancy. Now, I’m WAY more particular about things being prepared in front of me, or from reputable restaurants that I have been to before if we go out. I think the sushi chef thought I was out of my mind when I asked him for a very specific custom roll (swapping the raw with the cooked obv.) and I literally watched every second and made sure he changed his gloves before and didn’t set anything on potentially contaminated space where raw fish might have been.

    2. Yes! He does talk a lot about how important it is to enjoy food and to not deprive yourself of what you like. His diet is really an anti-diet diet. It’s more about making sure you hit a threshold of quality, eat enough but not too much and whatever else you eat is fine.

  6. I’m convinced sugar is evil (not the ice cream kind, but the secret kind that is in so many foods!) I’ve been trying to eliminate some of them over the past few months and definitely feel better. I’m also in the “don’t need to carbo load for marathon training” camp and the “if more of my food comes from the outside aisles of grocery store, then I’m doing well” camp. I’ve been trying to eat more protein during marathon training, but i’m pretty haphazard about it (there’s only so much data i can obsessively track, lol)

    1. Yes, MF stresses the importance of quality foods and to classify things that contain added sugar and taste sweet as desserts for determining diet quality. So, for instance, applesauce with sugar in it is not a fruit, it’s a sweet. But having sugar in and of itself when included in an otherwise high quality diet is not bad. It’s a little nuanced so I fear I garbled it. Did I make sense?

  7. I’m pretty much a no rules diet person – I just eat the foods I like and don’t eat the foods I don’t like. Basically this means I eat very little meat and don’t drink alcohol but on the flip side ice cream and chips/guacamole are very important staples. I will also eat pretty much anything if it is free (except for cake, stale cookies or rolls).

    I started to read “Racing Weight” and got far enough to realize I was already at my racing weight/body fat % (total surprise as I am much bigger than most of my running friends – apparently I am just naturally a bigger person and that is OK). So I figured what I was doing must be working and stopped worrying so much about what I was eating : )

  8. My diet philosophy is EAT. I eat food, sometimes it’s 5 slices of pizza and sometimes it’s brown rice with vegetables and chicken. Whatever I have a taste for. I cook with my kids in mind and they aren’t eating steaks. So we have chicken nuggets and fries or pizza rolls. Sometimes i have a salad and a bottle of wine.I just eat and am happy with whatever I’m eating. I even eat non organic food! I’m still alive!! Then there the die hard eat slow run fast people. Look out racing world- we are going to have Olympians everywhere, lol!!

  9. A while back I wanted to diversify my diet better so I went to eating vegetarian until dinner during the week. It forces me to eat more vegetables, fruits, legumes, etc. — instead of grabbing a breakfast sandwich and then a sandwich-sandwich. I found that my diet was heavy on bread with meat and cheese. Not that those are bad, but I wanted to make sure I was eating a more well-rounded diet. Fortunately, that helps to offset my tendency to have wings or a burger once a week … plus beer and wine and bourbon.

    1. Yeah, MF says eating meat and fish occasionally is fine and much preferable to never – again for optimal performance and likely health benefits. I was a vegetarian for years and started eating occasional meat when I started training hard and my experience definitely was better with including a small amount of meat in my diet. He thinks we’re more likely to not get enough calories from carbs than protein, contrary to popular opinion. If your bread was whole grain and you switched up the types of flour it was made up of, would probably be fine!

      1. I do eat whole-grain fancy-ass bread with my almond butter sandwiches … so healthy fats, too! At some point last training cycle I calculated my macros to be 250g carb, 75g protein, 50g fat per day, but not sure how that fits into his new book since it’s the only MF book I don’t own (yet).

  10. I’ve ordered Matt’s book because I feel like I should read it before I criticize. I have read many of his books, including Racing Weight, Diet Cults, How Bad Do You Want It, and (my personal favorite) Iron War (about the 1989 Ironman race). I tend to eat Paleo-ish, low carb-ish, anti-inflammatory-ish, and try quite hard to avoid added sugars and sweets. I think this works for me. I do know from MF’s other nutrition books that he favors a high carb diet for runners. While I think he is a great writer, and researches his topics well, I do think he comes from a bias of being a youngish male (I know everyone’s getting older), who has always been fairly athletic and never had a serious weight problem. Possibly his conviction that carbs are best does not apply to everyone. I do look forward to reading the book though.

    1. Yes. I’m not sure the diet he espouses could work well for someone struggling to maintain a significant weightloss. That was one of my issues with it. By issues, meaning circumstances it might not work. Many people cannot train at a volume nearly as high as elite endurance athletes and with significant weightloss have to be much more careful about their diets than those who train at high volumes and were never significantly overweight/obese.

  11. I didn’t eat very healthy growing up. It was either a lot of junk food as a kid or calorie restriction as a teen. I think becoming educated about food was helpful but sadly, having access to better food (i.e. the means) was also a contributing factor. I do think there are ways to get healthy food for cheap (fruits, veggies, meats at discount stores) but in a way, eating “healthy” is sometimes looked at as being prude or elitist so those with maybe not as much money don’t even want to hear about how to eat healthier – junk food is much cooler, cheaper, and easier to get.

    I think we’ve improved (thanks to Pinterest and Facebook Tasty videos in this case!) and more people, no matter what income bracket, are showing interests in foods. For me personally, I eat a lot of the same foods every day because I am a creature of habit. Dinner is usually the only thing that changes each week, unless I go out to eat for breakfast or lunch. I eat the things I like that also happen to be healthy and look forward to eating them each day.

    One thing I like about Run Fast Eat Slow (shameless plug, sorry Margaret!) is the focus on fats – it used to be such a bad word. Fat is not only needed but it also creates good flavour and keeps you full longer. Don’t fear the fat!

    Also, while I don’t subscribe to any one diet, I have found that limiting gluten has kept my gut happier, my moods more even, and my skin clearer. Sure, it may be called a fad by some but for me, it works. Trader Joe’s GF bread – yum!

  12. I would be interested in reading this book, as I’m a big supporter of “non diet diets.” I certainly *could* approach nutrition better, but…. I’ve decided that life is too short to get wrapped up in all the details. I struggled with being TOO controlling over my diet in the past, and it significantly impacted my health and enjoyment of life. Over the past handful of years I have embraced running and being a very active person, but I have also really embraced eating the foods I love without shaming myself or focusing on numbers. I have maintained my current weight, +/- 5 lbs for the past 6 years, and I have no other major health concerns (ie good blood pressure, cholesterol, etc) that would warrant any major shift in what I’m doing. I would say that while I’m training, I do make sure I’m eating foods that will fuel me for my runs, but I don’t worry too much if I go a few days eating cruddy. My body will usually let me know when it’s time to drink more water and eat more veggies. I know I *could* run faster if I dropped a few lbs, but that’s not worth it to me in the long run.

  13. I haven’t read this book, though now I want to! MF and I seem to have pretty similar ideas for how to eat, but I also “adhere”-ish to Michael Pollan’s advice: Eat FOOD (non-processed sh!t), Mostly plants, Not too much. I love good food- and as I’ve changed my diet over the years to a higher-quality diet, low quality/highly processed/fast food just doesn’t satisfy like it did when I was younger. By “doesn’t satisfy” I mean I can tell when I’m just full vs nourished. But full of cheap pizza is still an amazing feeling 🙂