Scott Scanlon – Refresh Editor
East Aurora native Jennifer Werbitsky – a veteran of seven marathon races – changed her diet to better fuel her running, and said you can too if you want to improve your time in the Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving Day.
Werbitsky, 22, is the subject of today’s What are you eating? feature in WNY Refresh.
“The philosophy I follow is to listen to your body and give it what it needs,” she told me during a phone interview last week from Manhattan, where she landed a job in June as an investment banker.
She also has a couple of dining tips for healthy eaters the next time they’re in The Big Apple, but more on that in a minute.
First, tips for what is arguably Buffalo’s most popular road race.
“I think the easiest way to find out what’s going to work best for your body is what you crave directly after you run,” Werbitsky said. “For me, that was never pizza or French fries. I wanted a giant salad and maybe fruit and some heartier vegetables or beans.”
So no beer before the race? (Some of you reading this know who I’m talking about.)
No, Werbitsky said.
Her running career started in 2009, a month after she graduated from NardinAcademy, when she participated in the Buffalo Half Marathon. After 12 miles, she felt like she had lots of energy left to cap off the last mile of the race, but a full 26.2-mile race still intimidated her, particularly as she saw marathoners peel off for the last half of their race as she was finishing.
But two weeks later, she started to ask herself why she couldn’t do the full course, and did so the following year.
“It took me much longer than I anticipated. The weather was hot and it was a brutal race. My goal was to finish and to not stop running the entire time. I ran very slowly, but I didn’t walk at all, I didn’t stop.”
After that, on a whim, she put her name into the lottery for the New York City Marathon; about one in 10 applicants get picked, and she was among them, on Nov. 7, 2010.
Five other marathon races followed: in Washington, D.C.; Philadelphia; Paris, while she was an exchange student; Canandaigua (31 miles); and this year’s race in Manhattan, on Nov. 3.
It cost about $300 to be part of the record number of NYC runners – more than 50,000 – but Werbitsky still beat the odds in a lottery to get there.
“It’s definitely one of the most expensive races out there,” she said, “but if you look at logistics – you have to close down half the city, and especially this year, with all the added security (after the Boston Marathon bombing a few months earlier) – it’s quite a lot to put on, but absolutely worth it.”
Werbitsky focuses her nutrition on a Mediterranean diet.
“I try to focus on fish and nuts and vegetables. I live off red quinoa and kale, those are the two big ones. It seemed best for my running times, and, most importantly, how I felt when I was going on some really long training runs,” she said. “Most of my diet now focuses on vegetables and legumes. I found that helped me become a leaner runner.
“I drink kale smoothies. Sweet potatoes are a really good source of carbs and better than the bland pasta most people think about when they think about carb loading. I choose to get most of my grains from Ezekiel bread, which contains seven sprouted grains. I eat a lot of tuna, to get more protein.”
A month before her latest marathon, she based her diet even more completely around vegetables and “really rich nutrient grains like quinoa or whole grain brown rice.”
“People have gotten away from the night before, a giant carb dinner,” she said. “It’s more the week before transitioning to a diet that’s about 70 percent carbs, although it’s not bland white starch pasta. It’s more carbs that come from other sources, like sweet potatoes, root vegetables. Root vegetables especially have a lot of carbs that store energy well without weighing you down, and provide other nutrients, as well.
“I used to hate beans but I try to eat a ton of beans now. Edamame is one of them. When it’s dried, it tastes like peanuts, only it has twice the protein and half the fat. Black beans, kidney beans, even chickpeas. I’m coming around the bend. Certain foods I’d never eat before, once I feel good after eating them, I keep coming back.”
Her diet changes 24 hours before a race, but only temporarily.
“It’s kind of like a feast day, which is always fun,” she said. My tradition is ... anything I can get my hands on in a more traditional sense: bread or pasta, anything that’s going to have lots of sugar stores in it. I probably have five or six (moderate to large) meals. I ate an entire pizza before Paris, among a lot of other things.”
She doesn’t eat anything for at least an hour before a race.
Werbitsky favored the internationally renowned Moosewood restaurant while she was a student at CornellUniversity in Ithaca.
“It was the first vegetarian restaurant that inspired me,” she said.
In Manhattan, vegetable dishes also inspire her.
V-Note, at 1st avenue and East 80th Street on the Upper East Side, is a spot she recommends.
“I enjoy it because it sort of breaks the stereotype that vegan food is a lesser imitation of food that includes meat and dairy,” she said. “It’s some of the best food I’ve eaten regardless of its categorization as vegan. Because it lacks meat and dairy, you can eat a three- or four-course meal and still not feel like you’ve overeaten. My favorite meal there is a raw zucchini lasagna. You feel so energized as opposed to sluggish after eating something like that...
“I also would give a shout out to the Green Radish food truck, which is also a vegan food truck. That’s some of the best food I’ve ever eaten. I like to chase it around the city. My goal is to try every single item on the menu. The chef studied in Paris and ran a Michelin Star restaurant and now he’s running a food truck. It’s out-of-this-world quality.”
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