Will Run for Wednesday: Using Food for Fuel, or The Time I Considered Nutritional Yeast

My nose would grow to Timbuktu if I were to say that I ate in any way that could be considered “kind” for the majority of my life.

Don’t get me wrong.

I love animals.

And I love vegetables.

But I also loved — and still enjoy the occasional small piece of — bacon.

Some of my favorite memories? My oldest brother, Marc, driving me to the Lower East Side for pork-based dumplings at the famous Joe Shanghai; my middle brother, Jeff, taking the train with me to the West Village for massive burgers at The Corner Bistro–an overtly non-vegetarian hole-in-the-wall where no burger is left uneaten; my best girlfriends from high school venturing out to Corona, Queens to chow down on Argentinean steak.

In conclusion, for the bulk of my existence, I was a meat eater — an unabashed lover all of thinks cow, pig and lamb. To put the cherry on top, I absolutely hated exercise and despised basketball season (because it meant I couldn’t go home and sit on the couch), and, at the end of the day, I couldn’t care less about any of this.

Tie-in No. 2 of the week to Scott Jurek’s Eat & Run: Running was undoubtedly a game changer in terms of my own eating habits too.

Like Jurek, it wasn’t until I began running that I truly understood the value of what I was putting in my body. The evolution, both natural and welcome, was also, of course, gradual and scary.

This wasn’t unlike Jurek. Even he admits that, for a long time, he continued to knock back all sorts of McSandwiches and McProducts that had come out of the McDeepFrier before abstaining from it altogether. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and frankly, I don’t think it’s necessarily healthy to cut what your body is used to consuming cold turkey either. Change can — and should — be gradual if it’s something you plan on sticking with forever.

When I first began to shift my ways of thinking in the kitchen, I started small. It was my sophomore year of college, and I decided to trade steak for chicken. The only problems were that 1) I’d order fried chicken strips and 2. as a college student, steak was also simply way too expensive, making chicken not only the more nutritious option but the more affordable one too. Really, I didn’t have much of a choice.

Moving on.

Over time, eschewing red meat from my diet ultimately resulted in my body’s inability to digest it all altogether. Not long after, the chicken didn’t sit too well either and I began toying with strange concoctions like avocado smoothies.

By the time I was a senior at the University of Michigan, I had essentially gone from aggressive meat-eater to wimpy vegetarian — at least, that’s how it felt to me. The physical result, when combined with my increasing mileage, was significant weight loss on a body that was never really overweight.

Now what?

In truth, I didn’t really know what to do. On the one hand, I loved running and the way eating “clean” was making me feel when doing what I loved. Of course I did. Just take a look at this recent Huff Post article on the correlation between lifespan and a vegetarian diet; all evidence points to vegetarianism as an asset to one’s health.

On the other hand, I had in a lot of ways lost control of my body by being unaware of how to consume enough protein on a mainly vegetarian diet. This would be one of my biggest obstacles to date.

Like Jurek, the last three years have been a giant experiment as to how I can combine different flavors, nutrients and ingredients to truly fuel my body with food. Moreover, I’ve learned how to live on a primarily vegetarian diet — with the exception of the occasional portion of fish.

My pre-race fuel: lentils the night before and whole-wheat vegan baked goods the morning of.

My post-race fuel: anything with peanut butter, vegetables or cookie dough fruit.

And yet, just when I thought I had figured out what foods my body needs to properly function, it all fell apart.

It started with weird pain in my body, shooting down my legs and through my arms. It continued when Katherine told me that she heard such pains could be caused by a deficiency of vitamin b12. It came to a head when a long overdue doctor’s appointment confirmed that I was indeed deficient of this vital nutrient.

Frustratingly enough, since I’ve begun taking vitamin b12 supplements, the pain hasn’t totally subsided.

This isn’t all that surprising. I know there can be value to vitamins, but when it’s all said and done, real food is the best way to consume and absorb everything our body’s need.

In Eat & Run, Jurek utilizes an ingredient that I’ve been toying with (at least, the idea of it) for quite some time now but have refused to actually try because of the sheer unappetizing nature of its name: nutritional yeast.

Nutritional yeast is known for its nutty, cheesy flavor — both a total turnoff and something that perhaps piques the senses all at once. At the very least, it sounds like it belongs on Bizarre Foods.

It also happens to be a vitamin b12 powerhouse.

This week, I want to focus on running intelligently, and that includes everything from stretching to listening to my body to avoiding complaints to fueling my body properly with the right kinds of foods for me. Consequently, this should also lead to some interesting accounts of my first attempts to use — and actually ingest — nutritional yeast.

  • What foods do you use as fuel pre-run, post-run, pre-bed, whatever?
  • Have you ever dealt with a vitamin deficiency? Has it affected your running?
  • Have you ever used nutritional yeast, and do you have any tips for cooking with it?

11 thoughts on “Will Run for Wednesday: Using Food for Fuel, or The Time I Considered Nutritional Yeast

  1. Nutritional yeast actually isn’t that bad – I kind of like it 🙂 It’s good stirred into quinoa or rice or even cheesy soups. I do think I have a B12 deficiency as well – as soon as I started taking supplements, my energy levels and overall mood started bouncing back to where they should be (but havent been in like, 2 years)…so yes, definitely think addressing a potential deficiency is important!

  2. Oh She Glows has a wonderful “mac and cheese” recipe using a nutritional yeast cheese sauce! So tasty.

    For long, long runs I go with simple carbs like half a bagel with almond butter, but most of the time I do oatmeal with something mixed in (right now I’m doing pumpkin!).

    • That sounds delish. I have trouble with oatmeal before running for some reason — it’s just never sat well, though I LOVE it every other day of the week. As for the yeast…I’m like the one person in the world who doesn’t love mac and cheese, or this whole process would be so much easier! I only like it with cream cheese (gross, I know). It’s a childhood comfort food I suppose. I’ve heard it can be used on popcorn.

      • Yes put some on popcorn! Or sprinkle it on roasted veggies, I’ve done that, too, and it was tasty. And I totally have the same problem with oatmeal pre-run. I can have it for anything else but for running it’s just too heavy!

  3. Yay for nutritional yeast! It’s great in sauces that you want to have a “cheesey” flavor and texture and also in homemade salad dressings or just sprinkled on salads — and yes, popcorn. I love chia pudding for pre-run fuel.

  4. Nutritional yeast is great on popcorn and any sauces/gravies you make that could use that bit of thickening.
    You could try steel cut oats for your oatmeal. They take a little longer to cook but are ‘cleaner’ and less glue-like.

    You may want to have your iron levels checked as well. Being veg means no red meat, and you can only get so much kale, spinach in you. I found that supplementing iron has been a constant necessity.

    • Absolutely, thanks for all those great suggestions. I’ll definitely be returning to this advice. My doctor said I have “hereditary anemia,” so basically, I can easily become anemic if I don’t watch it. So I’m watching it! I swear, my body never used to be this touchy.

  5. Pingback: Operation Get Healthy: 6 Quick Fixes for an Oncoming Cold « Will Run For Glitter

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