Dean Karnazes’s Extreme Meal Plan

Dean Karnazes’s
Extreme Meal Plan

Running 1,300 miles makes you very hungry

Few people require as many calories as Dean Karnazes. The San Francisco dad and author of the best-selling memoir Ultramarathon Man has run 350 miles without stopping, fallen asleep while running, won races in 120-degree heat in the desert, and completed a marathon at the South Pole. Last year, Karnazes became the first and only person to run 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 consecutive days, starting in St. Louis and ending with the New York City Marathon. When he finished, he jogged back to St. Louis again, just because, for a total of 1,300 miles. CHOW was curious to find out what, and how much, a body in such constant motion needs (or wants) to eat. Lessley Anderson

I know you exercise a lot even when you’re not racing. What do you eat on a normal day?

Post 50 marathons, I am now following what I call the Neanderthal diet. I’m only eating foods that a Neanderthal man would have eaten. So getting away from refined foods and even whole grains. Could we even eat a whole grain when we were cave people? The answer is really no. How could we strip the grain? We ate vegetables, fruits, lean meats, and things we could pick and eat.

But we have figured out how to strip grain since then. So why not take advantage of advances in human civilization?

I don’t have any hard-and-fast research to support this, but my thinking is: How many hundreds and thousands of years would it take our digestive system to adapt? I don’t think we’ve had time enough to adapt that much.

Last time I spoke with you, you were developing a fat-free Cheeto. Would a Neanderthal have eaten a Cheeto?

No. But am I eating that stuff, or did the company I work for develop it? The latter.

Let’s talk about your latest feat—the 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 days. How did that work, exactly? Are there marathons on weekdays?

[My family and training team] contacted race directors of the most prominent marathons in 50 states and asked them to re-create the marathon on a different day of the week, except for a few marathons where we ran the actual races on the actual days. The cities set up the start and finish line; we followed their officially sanctioned courses for the entire 26.2 miles, and we traveled with a police escort. Our permit stated that up to 50 people could sign up to run alongside us. The most famous person to join us was former Governor Huckabee [of Arkansas], but he only ran for about eight miles, because he had some dignitaries come in and had to entertain them.

How did you travel?

We rented a tour bus and drove to each state, with the exception of Hawaii, which I swam to. Heh-heh, just kidding. I flew there and Alaska.

What did you eat during this adventure?

I ate between 5,000 to 7,000 calories a day. We had a cooler with us, and we stocked up at natural foods stores along the way. Lance Armstrong’s personal coach and trainer, Chris Carmichael, cooked for us on a camp stove.

What was a typical day like in terms of your diet?

I’d get up at 5:30 in the morning. I was having my physiology monitored, because Chris Carmichael was doing a research study on me. They were looking at the long-term effects of endurance sports on muscle turnover and blood chemistry. I would have a brutal blood draw, then go pee in a cup, and then I’d eat Greek-style yogurt, plain, no sugar added; half a box of Nature’s Path organic granola, peanut butter flavor; and a cup of bananas or berries. That would be my breakfast. Then I’d go run a marathon, come back, and hop in the bus.

After finishing each day’s marathon, I’d have an almond butter sandwich with honey and sliced bananas, and a protein shake by Cytomax. For dinner I’d typically do a mixed organic green salad with almonds, avocado, olive oil, vinegar—we had some good balsamic vinegar—and either a large piece of salmon—we had backup smoked if we could not get it fresh—or even canned salmon, which actually has a lot of Omega-3s in there. And lots of fruit—maybe an apple, pear, orange, berries, peach, and cantaloupe.

Last time I interviewed you, you told me you ate entire pizzas and entire pies on your ultralong runs. Do you do that anymore?

No, I’ve evolved. When I was running the marathons I was eating a lot of Nature’s Path energy bars, Clif Shot Bloks by the handfuls, and drinking Accelerade, which has protein in it.

Do you miss eating pies and stuff?

I really don’t! It was kind of an indulgence that … I really don’t long for those things anymore. I think cravings for sugar and sweets just stop when you stop eating them for a while.

So what do you do when people invite you over for dinner and they serve something non-Neanderthalish, like lasagne?

I don’t eat it! Usually people ask me beforehand—they know I’m picky. But when you go to a dinner party or a restaurant, there are options that allow you to follow the Neanderthal diet. There is usually meat available.

But don’t you think that the preparation and enjoyment of all kinds of dishes is a central part of human culture?

Yes, I agree that it is. But I think the answer, really, is if you’re going to be a foodie, you’re going to suffer the consequences! Some people live to eat, and I eat to live, and that’s just the way I look at it. It’s not like I’m limiting my choices so much that I’m not enjoying my meal. I use spices a lot. There’s some pretty good research that says cinnamon helps you regulate your blood sugar level.

Did Neanderthals have cinnamon?

I imagine they probably figured out salt. Were there herbs they went to? I really don’t know the answer. I imagine yes, there probably were.

What’s next for you?

I’m looking at doing a cross-country trail run. I’m working with local municipalities to link up trails to get a continuous trail that starts at the Pacific Ocean and finishes on the Atlantic. And then I’ll invite people, and we’ll have a festival set up, so every night people could join in and run with me for, say, a week at a time, and every night there would be tents set up and sleeping quarters and meals. You’d come in, eat, sleep, and take off again. It’s a little like a big Dead concert across the country! My goal is to run about 42 miles a day for 100 days. It would be a benefit for environmental causes and a way to try to motivate the country to get back into a healthy and active lifestyle.

Photo-illustration by Sean McCabe

Lessley Anderson is senior editor at CHOW.