When in 2008 a then-23-year-old Michael Phelps described the components of his estimated 12,000-calorie-a-day diet (pizza! French toast!), I felt inspired and a bit vindicated. I was training for my seventh marathon, and while common nutritional sense dictated I should be trying to eat as clean as possible, sometimes I really needed to pound the whole sheet cake in order to get enough calories to complete training. Taking a nod from the gold medalist, I started eating more bacon-and-egg sandwiches in the final weeks of preparation for the race.
Thus, when I read that Justin Verlander, pitcher of this year’s World Series Champions Houston Astros (damn, it still feels great to write that) told Conan O’Brien that his pregame ritual meal comprised three Crunchy Taco Supremes (no tomato), a Cheesy Gordita Crunch and a Mexican Pizza (no tomato), I was similarly curious as to the potential latent superpowers of what most would dismiss as junk food.
Now, it should be noted that like most members of the general population, even extreme athletes realize as they grow older they cannot or should not eat whatever the hell they want even if they have terrific metabolisms. Both Verlander and Phelps have since modified their eating practices, and obviously their most recent performances haven’t terribly suffered.
Although I am not currently in training for any long-distance races, I still do a decent amount of cardio in the form of running and cycling and am still in the “food as fuel” mindset. If Verlander’s pregame Taco Bell Combo (VTBC) in some part contributed to him becoming a Cy Young Award finalist (he should've won, but that’s another story), then I could reap similar benefits, albeit in a context with much lower stakes.
Given my smaller stature, I slightly modified my VTBC to include just one crunchy taco supreme as I figured the magic lies in the combination of the elements, not the tautology of one individual item. FYI, I also removed the tomatoes from my meal rather than asking the Taco Bell employees to do so due to irrational paranoia that such a request would be met with accusations of, “WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE, JUSTIN VERLANDER?”
Here’s my evaluation of the line-up of courses: The MVP of the VTBC is the Cheesy Gordita Crunch, which involves a beef taco with lettuce, sour cream and cheese in a hard corn tortilla cushioned with melted white and cheddar cheeses in a soft flatbread. It's nothing radical in terms of flavor, but you can hardly go wrong with lots of salty dairy, beef and a nice crisp-soft textural contrast.
Downing the Mexican Pizza and specifically its thick layer of refried beans and “Mexican Pizza Sauce” was pleasurable and easy at the time. I failed to detect any significant heat in the aforementioned ingredients, but there must have been something en fuego because in the middle of the night I had a terrible case of heartburn that gave rise to Mexican-Pizza-flavored burps.
Finally, the least exciting part of the VTBC is definitely the Crunchy Taco Supreme, just a moderately seasoned beef with cheese, lettuce and sour cream in a corn shell. I hate to see what the non-Supreme version of this taco tastes like.
Despite the heartburn, I slept well following my VTBC and rose the next day eager to see if not only I would have a par excellence morning run but also a way above-average day with regards to productivity.
Eh, let’s say that in my case and with regards to physical sports, the Verlander Taco Bell Combo is not the dinner of champions. I felt a bit bloated and sluggish during my treadmill time and ran slower than my usual average. However, the heartburn may still have been worth it because that day my brain was what was en fuego as I managed to pull of an insane amount of writing plus complete a large, tedious work assignment I had been postponing because of the amount of mindless sustained concentration it would require.
Whether the link between that day’s accomplishment and my consumption of the VTBC was causal or correlative is unclear. I do know I have newfound respect for the Cheesy Gordita Crunch.