Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement) is the most sacred holiday in the Jewish year and tradition includes fasting from sundown on the first night to sundown of the next day. The purpose of Yom Kippur is to attain individual and collective purification by the practice of forgiveness of the sins of others and by sincere repentance for one’s own sins. However, it’s a little hard to do this if you are thinking about your nutrition strategy for your upcoming long training run, ride or race.
Caloric expenditure during Yom Kippur is usually light as most Jews will be in services most or all of the day. A traditional greeting between Jews before Yom Kippur is to “Have an easy fast.” This has two meanings, one that hopefully you can truly be sincere in the acknowledgment and repentance of your own sins (and that you don’t have so many sins that the dual process of acquittal and cleansing doesn’t wear on you unbearably), and the second being that we hope you don’t crave food too badly or that your blood sugar doesn’t drop so far that you pass out – yes it does happen, especially to older people.
Being a coach, I decided to see how much literature was available on Yom Kippur and how to embrace this holiday when you might happen to be racing or training on the following day. The first source I found was an article from Runner’s World from Jenny Hadfield, a regular contributor to Runner’s World. I figured that she might be a good source of information. Here is what she suggests:
Marathon Training and Yom Kippur
Posted by Sonya: I am training for a fall marathon and observing Yom Kippur this weekend. Do you have any tips for training through the fast? I typically do my long runs on Saturdays – how should I modify my training?
Hi Sonya- Thanks for writing in and asking such a timely question. I know there are many marathoners that are wondering the same thing. Here are a few training tips for those who are observing Yom Kippur this weekend:
- Because the 25-hour fast begins Friday before sunset and ends Saturday after nightfall, you will need to run your long run Sunday morning.
- Hydrate regularly this week and top off your fluids Friday morning and afternoon.
- Eat a normal sized meal Saturday night and avoid over eating as you will STILL be digesting it Sunday morning during the run. [Not good!]
- Eat a small snack 200-300 calories before you go to bed Saturday night to top off your calories.
- Eat your normal pre-long run breakfast Sunday morning 2 hours before your long run.
- Consume your normal sports drink and a gel during the long run Sunday. Bring an extra gel just in case you need a little extra energy to finish the run.
- You may feel a little fatigued Sunday – some do, some don’t. If you are fatigued, slow your pace and extend your warm up. In most cases, your body just needs a little more time to get in to your long run tempo.
- Eat a meal with carbohydrates + protein [or drink a recovery drink] within 30 minutes of finishing your long run for optimal recovery.
OK, so the information in there is reasonable and it addresses a few key points such as:
- pre-hydrate before your fast
- don’t over-eat during the break-fast (this is the meal immediately following the fast not breakfast the next morning)
- Eat an additional snack before going to sleep
- Eat breakfast the next morning and hydrate more
While the information included is helpful, she is completely silent as to the quality or types of food that can be utilized or the behaviors that can help to make the fast even easier. (Not that as a Jew, the goal is to make Yom Kippur an easy experience, but hey we can only take the masochistic thing so far and we are going to go and beat ourselves up the following day, which should count for something.
So, I’ve decided to share a few tips of my own:
Start at Rosh Hashanah (this is the Jewish New Year and ten days preceding Yom Kippur) to get your nutrition in order. I find it more than a coincidence that nutritional addictions take between four and 10 days to overcome from an irritability and blood sugar/insulin standpoint, and the two Jewish holidays are so conveniently spaced to fit this. I also find it coincidental that traditional Rosh Hashanah services end with a service entitled Tashlich, which includes the act of throwing your sins away by taking a slice of bread and throwing pieces into moving water, like a river or stream until all of the bread is gone. Most people use a single slice of bread, but in my case, my neighbor handed me the better part of a whole loaf, so he must have thought that I had a lot of sins to discard. I consider this the low-carb Atkins or South Beach portion of the holiday. Seriously, though, as endurance athletes one of our main objectives is to regulate our blood sugar and insulin response to optimize the use of fuel and avoid both spikes and crashes of energy levels. Tossing out the white bread or for that matter stopping smoking, eliminating simple sugars such as chocolate or sweets, caffeine or other foods that are piggybacked by incessant cravings are things you should be doing anyway and wouldn’t you know that a bunch of old Jews gave you just the perfect opportunity to do it. If you withdraw off of these, your cravings are eliminated and your blood sugar is moderated before you begin your fast, life gets a whole lot easier on Yom Kippur and for a lot longer afterwards. Consider this your pre-fast taper.
The day before your fast, eat protein, hydrate thoroughly and eat small portions throughout the day of lower glycemic foods. Again, our ancestors figured out the perfect diet regime for us and gave us this opportunity to implement it. Choose whole foods and weight toward a combination of complex carbohydrates and proteins. Don’t overeat and make sure that the first thing you place in your mouth is protein to communicate the right messages to your body that you are not looking for a quick energy fix and to cool it with the sudden release of insulin into your blood stream. Keep the size of your meals small so that you neither distend your stomach nor cause a tremendous shunting of blood from your muscles and brain to your digestive tract. Food coma is not what you are looking to achieve. Drink a lot of water (with electrolytes but not sugar) throughout the day. You should be doing all of these things anyway but the preparation for this holiday gives you a great reminder.
Misery loves company. On Yom Kippur keep yourself occupied and with a community that is sharing your experience. You should be going to temple services anyway but being with your fellow masochists will help you stay on course. The services can also help the day to pass by more quickly. For anyone who is Ironman training, hanging out in synagogue can be similar to the bike portion of IM-Florida. It just seems to go on forever and there aren’t a lot of hills to break it up, although you do get to do some calisthenics throughout the day by getting up, sitting down, getting up, sitting down repeatedly. The other skill that those old crafty Jews are teaching us is to accept the conditions around us. The more you fight the hunger, the more prominent it will become. Like most everything else, the condition is temporary, you know you’ll get to eat sooner or later and patience and finding peace in yourself under stress through acknowledgment and acceptance of the situation are great skills to master. Focus on what you are there to do and do it completely. That’s a little Zen Buddhism thrown in for good measure to complete the diversity portion of this program.
Take a walk. If you are Orthodox, you’re doing this already but remember that exercise has a similar effect on your insulin levels as does eating food. Don’t go out and pop off 8×400 sprint intervals but just going for a stroll around the block during the common mid-afternoon break can be extremely helpful. Watch your technique, don’t over-pronate, wear proper shoes, blah, blah, blah.
Ease back into your nutrition. When breaking the fast, stay away from the loafs of bread or cookies or anything else that will be laid out in front of you unless it came out oft h ground and it is still in it’s natural state, like garnished vegetables or fruit. How can the old jewish traditions be so thoughtful and then screw it up so badly at the same time. Try to eat small portions of protein and complex carbohydrates, again, communicating to your body that you aren’t going for the inevitable post-meal food coma.
Here’s a sample break-fast menu from Dr Karen Reznik Dolins at Altheus in Rye, NY:
- 1 large bagel with a small amount of cream cheese and lox
- large portion of fruit salad
- small portion of kugel (good source of carbs and protein but also high in fat)
- small portion of chicken or fish
- 2 large glasses of juice and even more water throughout the evening
Rehydrate liberally. Drink plenty of water, electrolyte replacement drinks or juice. Be careful with pounding replacement drinks such as Gatorade because they have so much sugar in them. Go for the more moderate drinks with lower or no sugar added but that do have decent amounts of sodium and potassium.
Eat before you go to sleep and continue to hydrate throughout the night. Similar to what Jenny recommends above, eat another light meal before going to sleep and my favorite is to keep a bottle of water nearby so that you can drink if you happen to wake up during the night.
On race-day morning fall back into your normal pre-race/pre-long run nutritional routine. Pay attention to any signs that you may still be undernourished and increase your pre-race calories a bit, but don’t go overboard on this. Eat 3-4 hours before your event and then my personal favorite is to sip a bottle of Endurance Formula Gatorade for the final hour and a half before the event to top off your fluids and your electrolyte levels.
During your event, you may find that you may need a few more calories than normal and as with most things, listening to your body is a pretty good thing to do. Oh, and please shower before going to your race. That’s for everyone’s benefit. Have an easy fast and an even better race.