Whether or not the meal plan I've outlined below will work for you depends on how you eat in your daily life.
Do you eat the Standard American Diet? You're welcome to give my eating plan a try, but it's unlikely it will work well until your body learns to use fat as fuel. For a greater understanding of fat burning vs. sugar burning, this article gives a good explanation.
I also recommend reading It Starts With Food by Dallas and Melissa Hartwig and The Paleo Athlete by Stephanie Gaudreau. While I found some of its advice outdated, I also learned a lot about fueling from Loren Cordain's The Paleo Diet for Athletes.
Are you just starting a Whole30? It typically takes a couple of weeks for your body to adapt to the changes in your diet. Be patient with the process and go easy in workouts. I don't recommend starting this way of eating if you have your A race in the next 3 weeks.
Have you been avoiding processed carbs and grains and feel you are fat-adapted? My way of fueling should work best for those who fall into this group, but everyone is different. Maybe you don't like chicken, or you're allergic to onions, in which case you'll need to substitute something else.
Do you eat Vegan or Vegetarian? You can sub organic tofu or lentils for the protein in any meal (full disclosure - I haven't tried it myself). If you currently rely heavily on grains for fuel, your body may need to learn to use fat as fuel before this type of eating will work for you. The Whole30 folks have options for you if you're interested.
Below I've listed four days worth of meals I typically eat leading up to an ultra. This is what works for me. You may have success following this plan, but everyone is different. Keep experimenting until you find what works best for you.
At least four days before my long run/endurance event I make sure I am carb loading, Paleo style. That means eating starchy vegetables two or three times a day. The ones that pack the most punch are sweet potatoes, butternut squash, beets, rutabaga and parsnips.
My favorite packed-with-carbs recipe is Velvety Butternut Squash from Well Fed. It makes a big casserole dish full and we nosh on it all week.
Cooking takes time. I love it and can spend hours in the kitchen making wonderful recipes, but I've kept things super simple here so those of you with little time can benefit. My best time saving tricks:
- Frozen veggies: A few minutes in the microwave and they're ready.
- Raw veggies: Sliced bell peppers, cucumbers, jicama, snap peas, celery and baby carrots are quick to prep and portable.
- Make ahead: On Sunday evening, I shred rutabaga, roast sweet potatoes and beets, boil eggs, cook a couple of different meats, chop onions, slice cucumbers and bell peppers, and make batches of food for the week.
- Buy prepared foods like roast chicken or hit a hot food/salad bar when you don't feel like cooking. Just check the ingredients carefully.
With each meal I include:
- a palm to 2 palm sized portion of protein (meat, seafood, poultry or 3-4 eggs)
- good fats like half an avocado
- LOTS (2-4 cups) of veggies (starchy and green)
Below I've given you a protein, fat, green vegetable and starchy vegetable suggestion for each meal. I don't always manage to eat a starchy vegetable at each meal. Sometimes I skip the green veggies or eat a little less protein depending on how active I was that day. Feel free to experiment with different combinations.
I'm not a nutritionist or a medical professional of any sort. This is how I eat to fuel my runs. It may or may not work for you. Please consult your doctor before you take the drastic step of eating the real food listed in this post instead of packaged, processed stuff with preservatives because that would be the prudent thing to do (is this a suitable legal disclaimer?).
DAY 1 (4 days before your event)
Protein: 3-4 eggs OR ground meat with 2 eggs on top
Fat: Coffee blended with coconut milk (the cooking oil I fry my eggs in counts too)
Green veg: Some fresh or frozen spinach or any leftover veggies I have
Starchy: Rutabaga hash (shredded rutabaga + chopped onions + spices cooked in coconut oil, ghee or olive oil)
Protein: Bunless burger or any leftover meat I have on hand
Fat: Homemade mayo on my burger and/or guacamole for dipping my veggies
Green veg: Raw veggies like sugar snap peas, baby carrots, bell pepper strips, jicama
Starchy: 1/2 sweet potato, a couple of handfuls of blueberries & strawberries
Protein: Shrimp or Chicken Curry Bowl (sautee onions & veggies of choice in coconut oil, add shrimp/chicken, stir in 1-2 tsp green curry paste or curry powder, add 1 cup coconut milk, simmer 'til hot).
Green veg: I add broccoli and/or green beans and spinach in my curry bowl
Starchy: Velvety Butternut Squash
DAY 2 (3 days before your event)
Protein: Frittata with spinach, red bell pepper, onion
Fat: 1/2 avocado or homemade mayo + Franks' hot sauce atop frittata
Green veg: I use broccoli or spinach in my frittata
Starchy: Shredded rutabaga hash, strawberries
Protein: 1 can wild sardines and/or hard-boiled eggs tossed in salad
Fat: 1/2 avocado, cubed into salad
Green veg: A big salad. I like red peppers, cukes, arugula. Try different combos.
Starchy: A big helping of roasted beets
Protein: Pan-fried chicken thighs with onions, garlic and lemon OR a grilled steak
Fat: Olive oil or ghee to cook chicken and spinach
Green veg: Sauteed spinach, garlic and pine nuts
Starchy: 1/2 - 1 sweet potato OR Japanese sweet potato fries (if you have any leftovers these are great cold in your lunch salad)
DAY 3 (2 days before your event)
Protein: Ground pork or turkey sauteed with apples and cinnamon + scrambled eggs
Fat: Coffee blended with coconut milk or 1/2 avocado
Green veg: optional, sometimes I skip them or eat a few forkfuls of kimchi
Starchy: I count the apples above as my starch here.
Protein: Leftover chicken thighs or steak
Fat: 1/2 avocado or olive oil and vinegar dressing on salad
Green veg: Big salad with veggies
Starchy: Roasted beets in my salad
Protein: Ground beef, onions, spices, roasted spaghetti squash, tomato sauce
Fat: Large handful of olives or 1/2 avocado. I also use olive oil to cook my squash & greens.
Green veg: Frozen broccoli or spinach, I mix mine in with the sauce
Starchy: 1/2 - 1 sweet potato, a couple of handfuls of blueberries & strawberries
DAY 4 (the day before your event)
Protein: Leftover frittata or 3-4 hard boiled eggs
Fat: Coffee blended with coconut milk (or make homemade mayo and make deviled eggs!)
Green veggies: fresh or frozen spinach, sauteed or some kimchi
Starchy: Velvety Butternut Squash
Protein: Leftover ground beef, spaghetti squash, sauce
Fat: Drizzle of olive oil over spaghetti squash or 1/2 avocado
Green veg: Frozen broccoli microwaved or baby carrots, celery, bell peppers
Starchy: Leftover roasted beets
Protein: Salmon cakes (I use oregano instead of rosemary)
Fat: Coconut milk in the green beans below, homemade mayo on my salmon cakes
Green veg: Green beans sauteed with garlic, spices, coconut milk (from Well Fed)
Starchy: Roasted root veggies - I like a mix of parsnips, butternut squash and carrots, cut into one-inch cubes, tossed with melted coconut oil and a little kosher salt and roasted at 400 degrees for 20 minutes or until done to your liking.
SHOPPING LIST* (approximate amounts. I'm sure I've left something out ...)
eggs - 2 dozen
avocados - 3 or 4
rutabagas - 2-3 medium
onions - 2 or 3
green onions - 1 bunch
Raw veggies: bell peppers, baby carrots, celery, jicama, snap peas, cucumber
garlic - 2 heads
apples - 2 small
sweet potatoes, Garnet or Jewel - 3-4
Japanese sweet potatoes - 2
butternut squash - 2 large
spaghetti squash - 1 medium
beets - 3-4 medium
parsnips - 4 or so
carrots - 1 bunch
blueberries - 1 pint
strawberries - 1 quart
spinach/arugula or other fresh salad greens of your choice
ground beef - 1 lb
ground turkey or pork - 1 lb
chicken thighs OR a steak
shrimp - 1/2 lb
wild sardines in water - 2 cans
wild salmon - 1 15 oz can
kimchi - try it!
green beans - 1 lb
lime - 1
frozen spinach or kale
coconut milk - 3-4 cans
tomato sauce - look for sugar free, I like Rao's or Amy's Family Marinara
green curry paste or curry powder
olives - 1 can
coconut oil (unrefined)
olive oil and/or ghee (clarified butter)
vinegar (to make your own salad dressing)
Frank's Hot Sauce
If making homemade mayo, also buy:
dry mustard (if you don't already have some)
light olive oil (not extra virgin, it will be too bitter)
*In compiling this list, I'm assuming you have some spices on hand already, like paprika, salt, pepper, oregano, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, red pepper flakes, ginger, cayenne - not 100% essential, but it can make the difference between your food being bland or mind-blowing!
For more on fueling for an ultra, including what I eat during a run, go here.
I hope you find my suggestions helpful. Happy eating and good luck in your racing and training. Enjoy the journey!