Renaissance Periodization… for a Body-Positive Vegetarian Runner?

I believe that “diet” is a bad word.  I believe that there’s a lot of evil happening at the hands of the diet industry and their co-conspirators (looking at you, women’s mags).   I believe that our society has done a shamefully good job of teaching girls and women that they should always be “trying to lose weight” and should never be happy with their bodies.  I believe that men need to speak about women differently.  I believe that women need to speak about themselves and each other differently.  I believe that girls need to be raised differently — including but not limited to changes to shape of their toys and the appearance of their Disney characters.  I hope my kids never go on diets, and I don’t plan to use that word in front of them.

I set this all up to say — I’m going on a diet.  A real one.  With rules.  And Excel charts.  It’s not touchy-feely.  It’s not “eating by intuition.”  It’s actually the opposite of how I’ve been peacefully but unsuccessfully “trying to lose weight” for the past several years.  Which is exactly why I chose it.

Wait, what?

Like so many women, I’ve been “trying to lose weight” since I was 12.  I’ve been “successful” at a few points.  I have “failed” at many, many other points.  At times, I will admit, this goal has been all-consuming and destructive.  But through running and wisdom and experience and inspiration from other women,  I have gained a healthier perspective on my body.  Standing here now, I am proud of my strength, I am (more) confident in my own skin, and I feel (relatively) balanced.  I’m no model, yet I prance around the beach in a bikini.  I shamelessly love my stretchy jeans.  I joyfully gobble up ice cream.  But right now, this isn’t about how I feel about my body.  This isn’t about how I look.

This is about having a breakthrough athletic performance.

I’m not only trying to run my fastest marathon ever. I’m trying to qualify for the Boston Marathon.  That means I need to run 26.2 miles in under 3 hours and 33 minutes.  That’s running 26.2 consecutive miles way faster than I ever ran a single mile during P.E. class.  That’s running 26.2 consecutive miles, each more than 2 minutes faster than I ran during my first 5K race.  That’s running a marathon almost an hour and a half faster than I ran my first marathon.  How else can I express this?  Just trust me, that’s way faster than I ever, EVER imagined was possible.

It also happens to be 9 minutes faster than my current PR.

And according to some research, losing just 10 pounds would bridge the gap I’m facing.  I’ve mentioned this several times in previous posts, and I’ve tried to shed the pounds gradually, on my own, eating mindfully (see, e.g., here and here and here).  And it just hasn’t worked.  So I’m changing my strategy, just like I would if I was making training plans that weren’t properly preparing me for my race.

So, how are you losing this weight to qualify for Boston? 

My new diet is called Renaissance Periodization.  Don’t ask me what the name “Renaissance Periodization” means.  A friend of mine is a huge disciple and recommended I try it.  I signed up for a three-month round of 1:1 coaching for weight loss.

What is Renaissance Periodization?

Renaissance Periodization offers diet programs targeted for cutting (losing fat without losing muscle), maintenance (staying the same weight but eating well), and massing (gaining muscle).   (Trying to lose weight while gaining muscle is very difficult and usually not successful, which is why RP uses these targeted programs; folks can cycle through massing and cutting as appropriate.)  All RP plans are based on the balance of macronutrients (protein, carbs, and fat) with an emphasis on providing sufficient protein and carbs to fuel workouts and maintain muscle, and allotting remaining calories toward fat.   It is not low-carb or dairy-free; my understanding is that you can actually make pretty much any whole food fit in with the macros.  But not a lot of extra room in the allotments for junk.  The plans spread the macro goals across six meals spaced strategically through the day based on wake up, workout, and sleep times.

RP offers a few options for plans, but they basically boil down to two categories:  templates or 1:1 coaching.  For the templates, you put in some stats about yourself and receive Excel spreadsheets of your goal macros at each meal, with adjustments for activity.  These are less expensive, about $100.  For 1:1 coaching, you complete a questionnaire and are assigned to a coach with expertise in diet and fitness (my coach has some impressive degrees and is working on his PhD).  The coach sends you customized plans and is available for your questions, tracking your progress (weigh in twice a week!), etc.  Three months of coaching costs $575.

I looked at Reddit; is Renaissance Periodization a weightlifter and crossfit thing?

It’s definitely most popular in those circles, but I’m giving it a try as a marathoner.  I don’t plan on becoming a body builder — just trying to lose 10 lbs for my 2017 marathons and BQ.  It looks like there are some folks in the RP Clients Facebook group who do marathons and even ultramarathons, so I’m optimistic that this won’t totally ruin my body and my training.   And hopefully this blog will be a resource for other endurance athletes with questions about RP.

Is this going to involve eating meat?

No way.  I am a vegetarian for life, BQ or not.  But, according to the RP folks, meat is not necessary for the plans.  In fact, RP actually JUST came out with some vegan templates. I won’t be using these because I’m going with 1:1 coaching rather than using the templates, but it’s good to know that the RP folks are thinking about us veggieheads and have done some research into how the program should translate to the non-boneless-skinless-chicken-breast set.  Will report back!

OK, what’s on the menu?

A few days ago, my coach sent me my Excel spreadsheets, mapping out my macros and the times I should be eating each meal for different days — days I run easy, days I do Orangetheory or other lifting, days I do long runs, days I sleep in and do nothing, etc.  Hard workouts get special workout fuel (big change for me since I am a big fuel-skimper and end up being so hungry after my runs and sometimes during my races) and in some cases increased carbs or protein throughout the day.  There is also a pre-bed protein burst to help the ole muscles while I sleep.  Otherwise, I get four meals with a macro breakdown based on my starting weight, body composition, goals, etc.  The biggest challenge (other than not eating junk) will definitely be getting the amount of lean protein set out in the charts — most meals require 20 grams!   Protein shakes are the easy answer, but I’ll also add in eggs, tofu, Greek yogurt, and some carby sources of protein (beans, lentils, etc.).  For those carby sources, I’ll need to borrow from the carb column, and those foods will do double-duty.  Here are a few sample meals I’ve come up with that fit into the macro breakdown for most meals:

-Protein shake with Vega, a banana, and peanut butter

-Chipotle salad with sofritas and black beans (no rice)

-Egg whites sauteed with spinach and brown rice

One meal per week can be a little relaxed, but obviously the closer I adhere the plan, the more likely I am to achieve my goal.  My coach will also adjust the plan as needed as I get started.

How long will this diet last? 

My plan is to use RP for three months starting on November 28, right up to the Phoenix Marathon at the end of February.  Assuming I’ve hit my goal weight (10 lbs less than I weigh now), I then plan to go into maintenance mode.  TBD whether that means continuing with RP for a while, or going back to eating more intuitively.  And yes, I’m going to get another DEXA scan when my three months are up.

Has anyone out there tried Renaissance Periodization or been thinking about starting?  I’d love to hear others’ thoughts and experiences, especially for endurance athletes and vegetarians!   If not RP, have you used a plan to try to “cut” for a race?  I’d also love to hear motivating stories from folks who have lost a little weight and seen improvements in their race times! 


14 thoughts on “Renaissance Periodization… for a Body-Positive Vegetarian Runner?

  1. we are doing a very very loose version of macro counting ourselves at home (we’ve both “softened up” significantly in parenthood), and finding it hard enough without all the hard structure involved in RP. you go girl!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Great question! They give the macros in grams/portion size, NOT percentages. I love it, because I take one meal at a time and don’t need to track my meals throughout the day using an app, and I don’t need to do any math. For instance, one meal that shows up a lot on my plan is 1 handful of “greens,” 3 oz of “lean protein,” 1/2 serving of “fats,” and 30 grams of “healthy carbs” (they provide examples in each category). It’s pretty easy to get a hang of how many eggs, how much oatmeal, how much peanut butter, etc. that converts to. And I also love that it gets me out of the counting calories trap (which usually involves me trying to offset calories with workouts, or take in too many calories after workouts).

      Liked by 1 person

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  8. Just found this post and now I’ll be reading EVERYTHING here. Besides wanting to qualify for Boston, we’re basically twins in the workout and food departments. Can’t wait to dig in deep on this blog.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Welcome! So glad you found the blog! I FINALLY got my BQ and feel like I learned a ton during the process, so hopefully there are some tidbits here that help you!


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