Chicago Marathoner, 'McRunner,' Tests if Fast Food Leads to Fast Times

Chicago marathoner trains for L.A. race by eating only McDonald's.

March 11, 2011— -- As part of his training routine for the Los Angeles Marathon, Joe D'Amico logged 16 miles in the morning. Craving a snackwrap, he stopped at a local McDonald's to refuel after his workout.

His fast food is not a special treat: D'Amico is eating McDonald's, and only McDonald's, to prepare for his next 26.2-mile race.

"I'm not out to prove anything or disprove anything," said the veteran marathoner from Palatine, Ill. "It's really an experiment of one."

It's not "Super Size Me" or "Fast Food Nation." It's the McRunner challenge. D'Amico, who is deep into a 30-day diet of hamburgers, french fries and anything else the Golden Arches has to offer, is documenting his every bite on his blog, "Confessions of a Drive-Thru Runner."

Sporting his "McLovin'" T-shirt, D'Amico said he was curious to see what would happen if he went on an all-McDonald's diet for 30 days. How would he feel? How would it affect his running?

So far, "it's turned out to be a terrific learning experience," D'Amico said. "I think it's really pushed my thinking on how fuel affects my body and what's needed for running. So it's been really positive."

With more than a week of McDonald's to go, D'Amico said, he is not getting sick of his fast food. According to his "McTracker," he's stopped at 20 unique restaurants, and experiments with different menu items. To stay healthy, he drinks non-McDonald's water, takes a daily multivitamin, and uses energy gels on his long runs.

The diet has definitely gotten the attention of some of D'Amico's fellow runners, who are more likely to get their energy from pasta and other complex carbohydrates. But McRunner says he's found all the fuel he needs on McDonald's menu.

A typical day might begin with a plain bagel, a few hotcakes and an Egg McMuffin. For lunch, a hamburger or two and some fries, washed down a 32-ounce Coke, a giant cup D'Amico calls "the Bucket." In the evening, he'll have a grilled chicken sandwich and a side salad, with some cookies for desert.

It's not what Dr. Bill Pierce, the co-founder of the Furman Institute of Running and Scientific Training in Greenville, S.C., considers a healthy diet. But taking a look at D'Amico's food diary, Pierce found the McRunner diet provides the proportion of macronutrients -- carbohydrates, fat, and protein -- ideal for marathon training.

D'Amico, running 80 to100 miles a week, certainly is burning off the thousands of calories he's taking in.

"Typically, you want your macronutrients to be 60 to 65 percent carbohydrates, 20 to 25 percent fat, and about 15 percent protein," he said.

His McDonald's meals are not that far off, but the food D'Amico is using to get those nutrients is "not what would be recommended."

Usually, a marathoner would eat lean protein and complex grains, said Pierce, the co-author of "Run Less, Run Faster" who's completed 36 marathons himself.

Runners from around the world visit FIRST for assessment and training advice and education, Pierce said. If McRunner visits their campus, Pierce would like to get him in the lab and do a physiological assessment, and that he would provide "very healthy meals -- we won't venture to the Golden Arches."

D'Amico told his doctor about his plan before he started the McRunner challenge, and took a baseline blood test. He isn't recommending his training plan and diet to anyone. This experiment is just a personal test.

Will his meal choices affect his performance in the marathon, his 15th, on March 20?

McRunner Raising Money For Ronald McDonald House

D'Amico, whose goal is to run a sub-2:36 marathon, a personal best with under 6-minute miles, is feeling good about his chances.

"I'm very confident going in," he said. "So far my body's reacting great. ... But it's a marathon. Anything can happen."

As his fan base is growing -- he has more than 2,400 "likes" on Facebook -- McRunner is using his challenge to give back to charity. Appropriately, D'Amico, who is not sponsored by or affiliated with McDonald's, is raising money for the Ronald McDonald House, contributing $1 for every fan, up to $2,500. His father is matching the gift, and others can contribute to the McRunner donation independently.

"I want to show this idea of life is about choices, and marathoning is no exception," he said. "It's just important that you approach everything in a balanced way. And if you make good choices, good things are going to happen. ... You put in the hard work and make good choices, you're going to get good results."

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