I have recently had a fairly stark realisation that ‘the man’ has (had) firmly got me in ‘his’ grip. This epiphany came about slowly at first but has now exploded into a true awakening, pretty much as a result of some deep thinking when I was yogging back from Rosthwaite on Sunday. The final nail was stamped in when a book entitled ‘The Angry Chef‘ by Anthony Warner randomly caught my eye yesterday in Kendal.
A quick search on Amazon (the website…..the jungle has actual foods of benefit in it) for ‘superfoods’ in the book department reveals THIRTY (30) pages dedicated to this fad. ‘Superfoods’ and diet in general are a whopper industry, accounting for upwards of 300 trillion-ga-gillion dollars every week (NB: figures may be factually incorrect). That’s a heck of a lot of money, right? People like Joe Wicks and Jamie Oliver are raking it in off the back of, at best, wishful thinking and, at worst, pseudo-scientific ignorance.
Nothing new there really, just look at all the self-help books in the shops.
Basically I was guilty of blind faith and equal ignorance. I went through a stage of pretty much eating a punnet of blueberries every day or a bag of kale every other day. I bet my body is fucked now because of it! Foods such as broccoli, cherries and fucking walnuts are now ‘superfoods’. When did they stop just being ‘foods’?! In the running world I lay the blame squarely at the feet of Christopher McDougall, author of such shite as ‘Born to Run’ and, latterly, ‘Natural Born Heroes’ (no links to these books I’m afraid – I’m allowed to be biased). Books based solely on speculation and anecdotal ‘evidence’ all conveniently subjective so as not to elicit objective rebuttals based on firm, sound science. Of course it’s unfair to blame him fully fully, he simply saw the start of a wave (‘superfood’), nipped on his board (a chance conversation in a bar with some wild, sun-crazed crack-pot – I imagine) and rode that baby onto the beach (fucking millions of dollars in book sales).
All of this is coming to a head about now I feel. People have been duped for too long. Remember the saga with red wine? Is it a cancer risk? Is it not a cancer risk? Now folk just think ‘who gives a shit, I’m gonna drink this bitch’. Let’s ALL adopt that attitude to ALL foods (except maybe deep-fried Mars bars).
It saddens me to see more established or elite athletes publishing articles relating to their struggle with dieting and weight control, but at the risk of being flippant (and, I genuinely mean this, I have no intention of belittling their struggles) you kind of expect it more from them or, at least, it’s perhaps not so much of a surprise. When it gets to the level of running mediocrity that I exist at, that’s when it becomes a problem. We don’t have access to the guidance, support and advice that the elites do, by and large, and so ‘the man’ has us by the uglies. We (I, at least) get befuddled by the sheer volume of positive propaganda surrounding this ‘stuff’ that will make us lose weight faster (and let’s face it, fell running is a weights business) and yet boost our carb/protein/fat (but only healthy fat mind) uptake to give us those seconds that will make us world champions.
What have I discovered (and I’m a looooooong way off yet)? Only hard-work and consistency will make you better. You need to fuel the machine with the right stuff for sure, and the latest craze of goji-infused quinoa (anybody asked the dudes over in South America if they can still afford to buy quinoa?!?) or whatever it is may sound pretty damn appealing at only £22/kg but did Steve Ovett, Seb Coe and Steve Cram munch on it when they were hurtling around the track in Los Angeles in 1984? Did you spot and spirulina residue at the mouth of Emil Zatopek when he was grinding suckers into dust in the 50s and 60s? Well the pictures may be grainy but I can conclusively tell you ‘no’, ‘no, you did not’. Eat the food that works for you. We can all make changes. Yes broccoli may taste like the inside of toenail but it can be good for you. I read that Jim Walmsley eats pizza every day. He’s fast. And light. Somehow?! He seems like a bit of a douche so maybe don’t copy him.
The point I’m trying to make remains the same. Invest in yourself. If a ‘superfood’ comes in that seems too good to be true? Guess what, that cliche you always hear is probably right; it is too good to be true. Do the due diligence to make sure you’re not getting seen off. At the end of the day diet is just one of the myriad strands in making you a better athlete. Sleep right (it’s mega important….but don’t take my word for it [do your due diligence]). Eat right. Train right. If something’s not working then change it. If you eat meat. Great! If you don’t. Great-er!
I’ll leave you with a quote from the great man Steve Prefontaine, a man who it seems talked exclusively in sound-bites. A lot of you will have seen and read it before. It’s a bit grandiose but beneath the ‘Americanism’ of it, it makes perfect resonance…”to give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.”
That’s a runners mic-drop right there.