A friend who’s training for the Boston Marathon sent me a Facebook message recently. “I need to change how I eat on race day,” he wrote, “so I don’t bonk like I did last time.”
A delightful expression, “bonk.” It means to hit the wall, which is itself an expression that means completely running out of energy, so you’re unable to finish the race.
Until now, my friend wrote, it's been his custom not to eat anything on the morning of a race, so as not to upset his stomach. He doesn’t even toss back cups of Gatorade or packets of energy goo while on the run, as many competitors do. This approach has worked for him in the past -- he’s completed eight marathons -- but his last one was different. His legs turned to Jell-O and he had to drop out. Maybe, he speculated, getting older has something to do with it.
I used to run competitively in high school and college, and I've also been cursed with a touchy digestive system, so I’m familiar with the need to treat your stomach gently in high-stress situations. And I’m not just talking about marathons. Depending upon your definition of stress, such circumstances may also include traveling, making a public presentation, attending a family gathering, or even just dealing with your typical workday.
At the same time, your body needs higher concentrations of nutrients than ever during these demanding times. Are you trying to power through your hectic day on nothing but coffee and vending-machine snacks? Do you end up feeling kind of washed out in the middle of the afternoon? You, my friend, are bonking.
Or maybe you know better than to eat junk, so you’re eating a bowl of cold cereal for breakfast, followed by a nonfat flavored yogurt for lunch because you’re too busy to stop and eat a real meal. Encouraged by advertisers, many people still believe this is eating “healthy.” The truth is, to your body, these highly processed foods are only slightly better than nothing. You’re going to require a lot more sustenance if you want to complete the marathon that is your daily life.
When I’m heading into a stressful occasion, I make an effort to avoid processed carbs, as well as certain kinds of fat, both of which my system has trouble handling when it’s busy with other matters. Instead, I gravitate toward easily digested yet slow-burning foods like vegetables, whole grains, eggs, and nuts.
In your case, you may find an omelet or a cup of soup gives you much more sustained energy than cold cereal and commercial yogurt, and hardly takes any more time to prepare. As always, experiment to discover what works best for you.
Even if you’re the furthest thing from an endurance athlete, or if your days of competitive sports, like mine, are long over, it still helps to think of your body as a finely tuned machine. Sure it’s a cliche, but you really do need the right fuel to perform your best!