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Burning Runner: The Working Diet

With 3 weeks to go until his goal race, T.J. shares the secrets of his weight-loss success.

Week 17: With 3 weeks to go until his goal race, T.J. shares the secrets of his weight-loss success.

Written by: T.J. Murphy

One thing I did not foresee at the outset of my program was a lot of travel for work. I was on the road for three consecutive weeks in the late half of September through part of October; then again for the first week of November, and I start another 10-day trip tomorrow. I know people who are like the George Clooney character in “Up in the Air” — they seem to peak while traveling, effortlessly slipping in and out of airports and getting a great buzz off it. Not me. I get walloped. Right now I notice that I literally feel a bit of nausea upon nearing an airport.

It’s had a positive effect on my revitalizing the diet, however. I’ve been drawn to simplicity and have found a groove that I really like and is working for me.


The Scott Jurek Smoothie

Stolen from the recent article on Jurek and other sports stars that have adopted a plant-based diet (Men’s Journal, October 2010), Jurek’s breakfast is an “ultrapower” smoothie. The following is largely based on Jurek’s recipe:

  • Organic soymilk
  • Organic hemp protein powder (I get this from Trader Joe’s)
  • A tablespoon of organic almond butter
  • Organic blueberries, bananas, raspberries, strawberries
  • A tablespoon of Green Superfood (also from Trader Joe’s)

Jurek also adds Udo’s 3-6-9 Oil Blend but I haven’t got my hands on this yet. I also have a slice or two of brown rice bread with almond butter on it, or a small bowl of steel cut oatmeal.

Lunch and Dinner

This is where things have become increasingly simple for me. I just haven’t had the time or have been too lazy (probably a combination of both) to do the cooking that would enable some amazing meals that my vegan cookbooks have in store for me (someday). What I’ve been doing is this and it’s very tasty: Super Salads. The salads I make are largely inspired by what Jurek puts together for a salad. Here’s the description from Men’s Journal:

“I eat a large mixed-greens salad with kale, Roma tomatoes, cucumber, carrots and pumpkin seeds, with some olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and a dash of sea salt and black pepper.” Jurek adds as a side quinoa and lentils.

My salads are monsters. With the mixed-greens I throw it all in there—carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, tomatoes, onions, corn, peas, beets, nuts, tofu, apple slices, cranberries, black beans and more. A bowl of this concoction and there’s not much room to cram anything else in, but I’m following Jurek’s lead and will have a side dish of lentils, brown rice, vegan chili or beans—that kind of thing.

While traveling I just buy a bunch of fruit and vegetarian sandwiches and order off of menus as best I can. But while at home I’m eating these sorts of salads twice day. To bolster my diet at night I also will make vegetable juice in the juicer.

As the end of my five-month program draws near, these are the principles of nutrition I’ve picked up and have found to be working for me:

  1. Drink lots of water. I’m making sure I drink half my weight in ounces of water every day and an additional 25 ounces for every hour of training. About 110 to 120 ounces of water per day. Boy, is this is a big difference from the old days: I used to drink a couple cups of coffee and maybe remember to drink a glass of water. As I was told I would, I’ve felt a profound difference in being attentive to hydration.
  2. Buy locally grown, in-season organic food whenever possible. Freedom from chemicals, less harm to the environment and greater nutrition density are some of the basic reasons why going organic is considered a good thing to do. I watched the documentary “Food, Inc.” and there’s no going back for me on this one. It’s a funny reaction you often get when you suggest to others to watch documentaries that look at where our food comes from—I’ve heard several people say, “I don’t want to know.” Yes, you do. If we worry about where we put our hands in a subway train, we should probably worry about what we put in our mouths. If not our own then certainly the mouths of our children. Consider the recent recall of half a billion eggs due to salmonella poisoning. Half a billion! There’s something terrifyingly wrong here. If you haven’t seen it, rent “Food, Inc.”
  3. Eat a plant-based diet. I have gone the extreme and it’s working for me—going vegan—but a very healthy diet can still have meat, dairy and fish in it. I would consider making sure (for the same reasons above) you go for the grass-fed and organic varieties, but additionally make sure that the bulk of your diet is comprised of vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, whole grains and healthy oils. My opinion? The diet tastes great and you actually feel good after every meal.

I have three weeks to the Rock and Roll Las Vegas. My initial weight goal was 167 and right now I don’t think I’m going to make it. I’m at 172-173 (with the usual fluctuations that happen after training—dehydrated I can slip under 170). Maybe I will, but I’ve decided to focus my remaining three weeks on running under 1:30 for the half marathon. I’ve shifted to a high-intensity mode of training in hopes I can dig some more speed out of my legs.


T.J. Murphy is a contributing editor to Competitor and the Editorial Director of Triathlete and Inside Triathlon magazines. Previous installments of his Burning Runner column can be read here. He can be reached by e-mail at