Category Archives: diet

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.

That Can’t be Good for You

jogger - vascular system

Have you heard this one from your family and friends? I have, but the research doesn’t support their concerns.

Many of my friends/family worry that ultrarunning is bad for my heart because it has to work for extended periods of time, like 36 hours, at an elevated rate. The research shows that there is short term stress (duh) but there are no long term negative effects on the heart. Overall, ultrarunner’s hearts are normal and often more healthy than the general population.

The most chronic ailments ultrarunners suffer from are allergies and exercise-induced asthma. On average, ultrarunners miss 2.2 days of work a year for illness. It’s 3.7 for the national average.  All those people concerned about your knees, tell them to rest easy the research doesn’t support that or damage to other joints or cartilage.  Yes, runners get injured. They pull muscles and tendons and sometimes they get a stress fracture. What athlete doesn’t get hurt at some point, even recreational athletes (aka not extreme)?

So ultrarunning is not bad for you. Perfect, that’s exactly what all ultrarunners wanted to hear, so we can look at our friends and family and roll our eyes. Then we walk into another room to sit down with our crew for the next 100 mile race. “Alright guys, you know how this goes. There is no quitting. I don’t care if I’m puking, peeing blood, have diarrhea, twisted an ankle, bloody from falling down. It doesn’t matter. I go until I cross the finish line.”

Sounds like optimal health status to me.

I’ve heard ultrarunners say they want to be healthy and they may have started running to be more healthy. Many of them eat well and take care of their bodies, but I believe it’s more of a taking care of the body to run 100 miles and not running 100 miles to take care of the body.

If it can get so tough out there, why do we do it over and over again? Because crossing the finish line of a 50 or 100 mile run is remarkable. The more difficult the race the more we love it. We earn ever belt buckle we have. We run into hell with a smile knowing it’s going to get hot, we’re going to get burned, and we’re going to want to die.

We do it because we refuse to believe we won’t come out on the other side. We stare down our demons, pull on the boxing gloves and go round after round after round. We’re fighters. When we get knocked down we get back up and keep going toward our goal.

The true benefits of running Ultras: mental fortitude and the belief that you can.

Never Surrender, Never Retreat.

Where do you get your protein?

cow-salad

It’s the first question I get when I tell people I’m vegan. This is not a sermon about why the world should be vegan. It’s about how particular food choices have impacted my running. I’ve tried other diets to improve my health, fitness, and endurance, but haven’t found them to be sustainable.

Runners in general tend to be food aware, in that they pay attention to the things they put in their mouths and how it impacts their running. The health benefits alone should be enough for people to move toward a more plant based diet and rely less on animals as a source of food, here are just a few.

Reduces risk of cardiovascular disease, colon cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer, type 2 diabetes, cataracts, arthritis, and osteoporosis.

Lowers Cholesterol, blood pressure, body mass index, weight, body odor, bad breath, PMS symptoms, and allergy symptoms.

Prevents muscular degeneration and migraines.

Increases energy, strength of hair and nails, and life span.

I’ve always been health conscious and enjoyed eating fresh fruits and vegetables, so the switch wasn’t difficult for me. I stopped cooking out of boxes (mostly) a long time ago. And I stopped eating red meat, fifteen years ago. I’ve tried the low carb diet, but could not get enough fats to fuel my running. This is partly because of my food preferences. There are athletes who do extremely well on low carb diets.

What is vegan? I know the word is spreading regarding veganism (no it’s not a religion), but many people I speak with still confuse vegetarian and vegan. Vegetarians still eat some animal products such as dairy, eggs, and honey. There are some other variations on this as well. A vegan on the other hand does not eat any animal products. Their food is completely plant based. Vegans also have to watch for how food is processed because some things such as sugar are processed using animal products.

So the protein thing, there are a ton of sources of protein other than meat: soy, lentils, seitan, tempeh, beans, nuts, hemp, quinoa, wheat, spinach, chia seeds, brown rice, nutritional yeast, nut butters, edamame, peas, oats, barley, broccoli, mushrooms, collard greens, kale, artichoke, and potatoes. I could go on, but I won’t because I think you get the picture.

I’ve been vegan for nearly one year now and I love it. I have more energy and recover from my runs much quicker. I’ve been able to increase the intensity and length of my runs over this last year and still felt energized. The only time I’ve had tired heavy legs is after a 100 mile race or a back to back 40/30 for the third weekend in a row. Being vegan has also pushed me to use more “real” foods to fuel my runs, which has been more effective at providing sustained energy and reducing gastrointestinal issues during 100s than using sports gels and chews. The only drawback I’ve found is it’s a bit harder for me to get enough calories down the hatch, so I have to be aware of how much I am eating. Being aware of what you are eating and when is not necessarily a bad thing.

I haven’t found it any more expensive or time consuming to cook vegan either. I can make all of my favorite recipes vegan. Eating out with friends and family who are not vegan can be a challenge depending on where you live. Some places are more vegan friendly than others. Here in Salt Lake City, Utah, vegan restaurants and vegan options are cropping up more and more. As a vegan you have to do some research before you go out to eat, but it’s not difficult.

If we want to do this running thing for as long as possible or just to be active and have a high quality of life as we age, we need to pay attention to the food we eat and how it makes us feel long term and short term. We all know what we eat has a major impact on our recovery and performance as athletes. Yes some of us use our running for an excuse to devour a cake and carton of ice cream on a Saturday afternoon.

Food choices are very personal and have to not only provide your body with what you need, but fit your lifestyle and perception of who you are.

Happy eating and running!