Protein Intake

We all hear so much about carbohydrates, but we don’t hear a lot about protein. Many runners think that since they’re not trying to gain muscle mass protein isn’t as important. And that is where they would be wrong.

Protein is essential for people who are trying to build muscle mass, but endurance athletes need just as much and ultrarunners may need more. The recommended amount of protein for the average Joe is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. For endurance athletes the recommendation is 1.5-1.7 grams per kilogram of body weight. For ultrarunners, it jumps to 1.8 to 2.0 grams per kilogram of body weight.

Why we need so much protein? because we push our bodies on a regular basis. And we don’t just push them a little bit. We push them beyond what most people call reasonable. We need the protein to repair those micro tears that occur through our regular training. We need the protein to strengthen our muscles when we’re doing our weight lifting throughout the week. Finally, protein is converted into energy by our bodies, requiring us to take in a little more to make sure we have enough to repair and strengthen.

Our protein intake should be spread out over the day. You’re body can only process and use so much protein at a time so taking more than 25 grams at one time doesn’t do you a whole lot of good. Eating six smaller meals throughout the day rather than three large meals, makes spreading protein out much easier. You don’t have to use protein shakes either. There are many healthy sources of protein to fit any eating lifestyle. Obtaining all of your protein from animal sources has its health consequences. If you’re vegetarian or vegan, you need to make sure you are getting your protein from a variety of sources to ensure you’re getting all nine essential amino acids (there are more amino acids, but your body can produce all but nine of them).

Another myth is that you need to take in so much protein within a specific length of time after your workouts because your body is primed for absorption. This is true when it comes to carbohydrates, but not for protein. There isn’t a do or die time frame for getting it in after a workout. That said, it’s best to get it in as soon as you can so you don’t get behind in your intake for the day. Also, protein can help with the absorption of carbohydrate after a hard workout. This is only the case when your body is carb depleted. Ever heard of the 4:1 carb to protein ration after a hard workout? It comes from this benefit.

Your body’s ability to absorb protein when it is working, like in a training run or a race, is very limited. Most people are fine with about 1% of their fuel intake being protein. Much more beyond that and you could suffer some GI issues because protein is harder for your body to break down, which means it could be sitting in your stomach sloshing around for some time.

Training Framework

Training has many different aspects to it, but I think we all have a tendency to focus on the physical running part more than anything else. Running is definitely one of the defining aspects of our training, but our training should include much more than just running.

When anyone asks us what our training looks like, we immediately go to how many miles we’re running and how many days a week. They might as what we’re training for and we’ll throw out the name of our goal race or possibly just the next one on the schedule.

Even if you’ve never really thought of it, our training encompasses more than just running. Training can be broken down into physical, psychological, and nutritional. Making sure you take the time to consider each of these separate from the other, guarantees you’ll be thinking about them and adding them to your training plan in some form.  You can set goals related to each of these different aspects of your training.

Physical training includes your running, strength training and rest days. Running is at the core of our training and it is our goal. We want to run for life not just for the next race and because of that goal all of these other aspects of training get pulled in. Being the best runners, we can be means we need to address speed, endurance, and strength in our training schedule. If you want your training to mean anything, you have to rest. Without rest our body cannot adapt and get stronger.

Psychological training includes strategies for dealing with down times during a race, lack of motivation in training, boredom, going out too fast, and rest. Ultrarunners know finishing a race hinges on pushing past the low points, and there will be low points. Getting through months of training and any injuries takes mental fortitude like you wouldn’t believe. Being prepared for these challenges is critical to getting to the starting line let alone the finish line. Psychological rest is being able to find other things you enjoy that reduce your stress level because if you get injured and have to take time off, you need to have other things you can focus on to get you through and back to running.

Nutritional training includes day to day nutrition and hydration, race day nutrition and hydration, and recovery nutrition and hydration. All runners think about race day nutrition, but not all of them think about their day to day nutrition or their recovery nutrition. The same goes for hydration. Yeah, we all laugh and say we run so we can eat whatever we want, but for most runners eating ice cream, fatty burgers, pizza, and French fries is not going to help you reach your running goals. There may be an argument for recovery though, at least for your postrace meal. Our body gives what it gets. Try different ways of fueling and hydrating your body during training, and you’ll be able to dial it in making your race a success.

Limiting our definition of training to just our weekly running schedule or our next goal race is short sighted and won’t get us what most of us want, which is to run healthy and strong for the rest of our lives.

Running for Weight Loss?

Many people start running because they want to manage their weight. Losing weight can be very difficult for a multitude of reasons. It’s hard to be hungry and say no to things you love to eat. It’s also difficult to force yourself to go to the gym or exercise when your energy is lagging because you’re eating less.

Exercise, such as running, is only one piece of the equation of losing weight. Losing weight may seem simple, eat less than you burn each day. But…it’s not. People are horrible at estimating calories going in and calories going out. Keep your plan reasonable for your lifestyle, simple to implement and bring your awareness along.

People start and stop weight loss plans all the time. Part of the problem is they are not seeing results or they get stressed and give up. Implementing a diet or exercise is a step forward and doing both is even better. But it all comes down to practicality.  The research out there shows that the most effective diet is the one you can stick to regardless of its approach (low carb/high fat, paleo, gluten free, whatever).

It’s the same with exercise. Do what works for you. If you can only fit in three twenty minute sessions a week, do that. Don’t succumb to the pressure of five to seven days a week for an hour if it doesn’t fit your life. You can always work up to it, if you want.

You don’t need to starve yourself to lose weight. You need to be aware of what you are eating and make healthy choices. Eating aware means not only knowing the quality of what you are eating, but when you are eating, and how much you are eating. Many of us put food in our mouths unconsciously; we pass by the candy bowl on the secretary’s desk; we grab a quick snack and a big gulp when we put gas in our cars. Eating more slowly allows your body to recognize when it is full. Using smaller plates or leaving space on larger ones will help prevent over eating. Remember you don’t have to clear the food off your plate. And if you have children, you don’t need to finish their food.

Foods low in sugar and high in protein and fiber will make you feel full longer. Eat as much unprocessed fruits and veggies as you can get your hands on. If you are having a sugar craving, eat berries or mangos. Consuming less processed sugars will also reduce your cravings for them. Eat a breakfast with high protein, which will reduce snacking before lunch. It will also reduce calorie intake throughout the day.

Make sure you are drinking enough water throughout the day. Your body can send hunger signals when it is actually thirsty. Reduce your intake of drinks filled with sugar. We consume 400 calories a day on average through our choices of drinks. It’s very easy to drink up to 800 or more calories a day with our soda and sweet coffee drink consumption.

So what are the keys to weight loss: reasonable for your lifestyle, simple to implement, and awareness.

Does Carb Loading Work?

carb-loading

We have all heard about carb loading before a race. Many races serve a pasta dinner the night before a race, but does it really have that big of an impact on race day? It can if it is done properly.

Why do we carb load? You want to fill your muscles with as much glycogen as you can before a race because that’s what your body uses to fuel itself while you run.

There are two main ways to carb load. There is the traditional method, which is spread over three to six days before the race, and then the 24 hours binge. The traditional method goes something like this: from Sunday to Tuesday before the race you should consume fifty percent of your calories from healthy carbs. From Wednesday to Friday 70 percent of your calories should come from carbs.

The 24 hour binge is not recommended and can make you feel sluggish rather than energized. It can give you GI issues as well and no one wants GI issues while they are running. The 24 hour binge is where you consume 4.5 grams of carbs per pound of your body weight the day before the race. If you do this, avoid eating foods high in fiber, add healthy fats and some protein to the mix to slow the release of the carbs and reduce blood sugar spikes.

Carb loading is not necessary and comes with its own risks. There are so many products out there that make fueling during a run easy, carb loading may not be worth it. If you’re running less than 90 minutes carb loading won’t help you at all because it takes that long for most people to burn through their glycogen stores.

Lastly, women don’t reap the same benefits from carb loading as men. The reason for this is believed to be the difference in hormones, estrogen in particular. All is not lost though, women can increase their calorie intake by thirty to thirty-five percent during the loading period and get the same or similar benefits.

Eat before you run, after you run, or both?

breakfast

Way back long ago, I never ate before I went out for my morning run. Then my runs grew. My weekday runs went from five miles to 10-12 miles. As they became over an hour, I had to eat something before or take something along. I just got too hungry and my energy would drop off, especially, on harder midweek runs, speed or hills.

When this began to happen, I wasn’t eating solid foods while I ran because my stomach couldn’t tolerate it. I didn’t want to use my Gu on a midweek run, so I opted for eating before my run.

Running with food in your stomach can be a big adjustment for some runners. Others are blessed with the ability to eat pretty much anything and then run or eat it while they run. I am of the later sort.

Training your stomach to run with food in it, is a process. Your other option is to eat far enough in advance of your run that you’ve digested enough of the food that your body doesn’t have to focus on both fueling your body and digesting at the same time. Not many people want to get up an hour earlier to eat before they go out for a run, at least those of us who run at 5 am already. Nor do we want to get up eat, and go back to bed for an hour.

This double focus, digestion and fueling exercising muscles, is what causes the stomach issues. Your body chooses fueling over digestion leaving the food to sit and slosh around as you run.

Not an extra early riser? Start with eating something small that is easy to digest. I began with one slice of toast. I was able to slowly move this to toast with peanut butter and a banana. Eating a small breakfast before I run is a part of my routine, even before races. I eat things I know wont upset my stomach, especially if it’s before a race. I sometimes try new things during training.

Eating after a run is essential if you want your body to be able to gain something from the run you just did. You should eat within 15 minutes of finishing a run. It doesn’t have to be anything big, but make sure it has both carbs and protein, a 4:1 ratio is recommended. Your body just worked hard and it needs nutrients to rebuild muscles and replace energy stores.

If you miss the 15 minute window don’t freak out, just eat something. After your mini meal make sure and get a full meal within about an hour. If you don’t feed your body after a workout, the workout can be mostly pointless. You’ll still get the mental benefits, but not the physical.

Superfoods?

superfoods

A superfood is something that is nutritionally dense. Many are plant based, but things like salmon also have made the list. What does it really mean to be a superfood? Is there any research or is it a marketing tool?

There isn’t a set criteria to determine which foods are superfoods. Foods on the superfood list have extra-large doses of vitamins and minerals that can help ward of diseases and support a longer, healthier life, but so do fruits and veggies not on the list. Many of the superfoods are high in antioxidants shown to reduce risk of cancer; healthy fats to reduce the risk of heart disease; fiber which helps with diabetes and digestive problems; or phytochemicals which have many health benefits such as reducing certain heart conditions in young women.

What’s on the list?

Blueberries because they are rich in vitamins, fiber, and phytochemicals (but many other berries are too). Kiwifruit is very similar to berries in its nutritional value. It also contains serotonin, which is linked to depression and sleep.

Beans and whole grains are on the list because of their fiber content, loads of vitamins and minerals which are typically absent in American diets such as manganese. Quinoa is usually lumped in this group but it’s not a grain. It is a great source of protein, vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants.

Nuts and seeds have high levels of minerals and healthy fats. You do have to go easy on them because they are high in calorie, but don’t cut them out of your diet.

Kale and other dark leafy greens such as collards, swiss chard, mustards, spinach, cabbages, and broccoli. These are great sources of vitamin A, C, and K. They also contain fiber, calcium and other minerals. Sweet potatoes and squashes can be thrown into this mix too. Their added benefit is they are sweet and don’t need anything added to them to be loved.

You’ve got salmon, sardines, and mackerel on the list because of their omega-3 fatty acids, which you can also get from many nuts (walnuts are the best) and seeds (flax and chia) as well as vegetables. Omega-3 fatty acids lower your risk of heart disease.

Exotic fruits such as, acai berry, noni fruit, dragon fruit, rambutan and pomegranate, also end up on the list. It’s always fun to try new fruits and veggies, but if you think you’re getting something other superfoods don’t have your wrong.

I’ve also seen the following on the superfood list: goji berries, maca powder, cacao powder, hemp seeds, chia seeds, apples, cranberries, cauliflower, pumpkin, beets, lentils, papaya, seaweed, tomatoes, ginger, garlic, pineapple, spirulina (algae), and avocado, just to name a few.

Bottom line is scientist don’t use the term superfoods to describe any food. It appears that the term has been coined by marketing peeps. The best advice is to reduce the amount of processed food you eat. Buy whole grains, raw sugar, whole fruits and veggies. Eat different colored fruit and veggies.

Changing Your Metabolism

boost-matabolism

Your metabolism is your body’s ability to breakdown the food you eat and turn it into the energy you burn. A faster metabolism is going to get energy to your working muscles faster, but that means you need to eat more to sustain the same level of output. A slower metabolism requires less replenishment and provides a more steady stream of energy although at a lower level.

There are things you can do to speed it up and slow it down. Some of that has to do with what you are eating, but a good portion of it is also preset depending in your age, gender, and genetics.

To speed it up: Eat a healthy breakfast, and not something tiny like a protein shake, make it count. Second, caffeine. Yep we caffeine drinkers know this is true. That regularly timed poop? thank the coffee. Third, water— make sure you are getting enough water. I’m not talking about liquid in general bus specifically water. First water doesn’t have calories and second if you drink it cold it burns a few. Fourth, make sure you are getting protein at each meal. Protein helps build muscle and muscle more calories even at rest. Fifth, drink green tea. Green tea has a plant compound called ECGC which boosts fat burning. Sixth, when you succumb to temptation and eat a high fat treat or meal, follow it up with something that has a bunch of calcium. Calcium helps your body metabolize fat. It needs to be from an actual food source though not a supplement. Seventh, get spicy with your food. Capsaicin the compound that makes chili’s hot, also turns up your body’s fat burning furnace. And finally, go organic– the pesticides we use on our food, slows the metabolism down.

Slow it down: Space your meals out— the more frequently you eat, the faster your metabolism runs. Exercise at a lower intensity. Second sleep less it makes you less likely to exert extra energy. Dehydration and skipping breakfast. Not eating enough is a sure fire way to slow your metabolism because your body begins to hold onto everything it can.