Success leaves clues, right? Interested in longevity? Look to the Blue Zones, especially Okinawa, which has he best record for longevity and centenarians anywhere. Want to eat the way the fastest runners eat? Eat like a Kenyan!
Studying Okinawan longevity requires studying the traditional diet, since that is what fueled most of their longevity. It also means studying what happened over their lifetime, like how their diet and lifestyle changed due to WWII. For the Kenyans, it is equally important to study the traditional diet that most Kenyan runners ate for most of their life, and the diet the elites eat while they train and prepare for competition.
As an example, Toby Tanser, in his book More Fire, compared the diets of three Kenyan runners: an up and coming but unsponsored runner eating the usual Kenyan diet, and two professional runners eating richer diets.
Here is what a Kenyan runner eats growing up and developing that amazing aerobic base.
Tea with sugar
Corn meal porridge
Ugali and Sukuma wiki
Ugali and Sukuma wiki
Before you get to train with the good coaches and compete, you spend 15-20 years eating a diet of corn meal, greens, beans, vegetables. A little sugar, a little tea, some milk, and once a month some meat in the vegetable stew.
Another research study decided to break down the Kenyan diet of runners in a running camp. Here they train hard and with dedication each day, usually twice, sometimes three times. It is surprisingly similar to the traditional diet with more calories coming from sugar and milk, primarily in their tea breaks. It seems Kenyan sports drink is tea with milk and sugar. To the tune of a liter of tea a day! If Kenyan tea was the secret I’d be on the podium by now! At least know it won’t hurt. While their diet is. It vegan or even vegetarian, only 14% of their daily calories come from animal foods. I can’t imagine cutting out the meat and milk and replacing them with more variety of greens and beans would be detrimental.
Here is what Jurgen Wirz reported in Run to Win as the usual diet of competitive Kenyan elites.
Bread, rice, potatoes, porridge, cabbage, kidney beans, and of course, Ugali. Meat was about 3 ounces, four times a week.
Fat: 13% (mostly from milk)
Looks very similar to the McDougall starch based diet. In fact, I think we can improve on it a bit eliminating the sugar and milk. Although athletes often consume quite a bit of refined sugars in the form of sports drinks and gels, the Kenyans just put it into their tea. Maybe we should ditch the Gatorade in favor of a nice cup of sweet tea? Considering the health benefits of tea, it looks like a good idea. The milk also provides some of the Kenyan protein, but I think the amount in tea would be fairly negligible. If one wants to increase their protein intake, more beans and greens would be better. Beans also have the benefit of being a great source of starch, and that slow digesting carbohydrate is great for fueling workouts and daily life. Personally, I think that slow release carbohydrate is awesome for recovery since the body has a nice, consistent supply of energy to restock stores and fuel repair.
None. Primarily this is a financial issue, but for elite athletes with the money, it’s a gamble that may not be worth it. Some athletes have tested positive in drug tests due to contaminated supplements. With questionable benefits and potential long term harm, it is best to play it safe.
For more information about how to eat a Kenyan style diet, check out the McDougall program, or read his newest book, The Starch Solution.