Friday, August 1, 2014

Should Runners Diet?

One of the main reasons people take up running is to lose weight. Running is an excellent choice as it provides the aerobic exercise to light the fires that burn fat and calories.

Once the commitment is made to lose weight, many people may over do the tactics.  They often combine their running schedules with diet programs that include counting calories or assigning "points" or percentages to carbohydrate, fat and protein consumption.  That is a dangerous combination that will usually lead to failure.

According to’s Jason Fitzgerald, soon after many runners start these diets, their running takes a nosedive: plummeting energy levels, decreased performance and a constant feeling of sluggishness. Dieting almost always goes hand in hand with a reduction in calories and, very often, carbohydrates—the body's preferred fuel source for running. This leaves runners struggling to feel and perform at their best.

Restricting calories, especially the ones your body needs for aerobic performance while training can cause slower recovery from long runs or hard workouts. You also may not be able to finish your most challenging workouts, and your ability to handle a higher workload will be cut dramatically. It can also lead to mental and physical fatigue.

If your goal is to utilize running as a means to lose weight, traditional dieting is a bad idea. So how do you lose weight when adopting an exercise program? Here are some guidelines to follow that will help you lose weight while still getting the fuel you need to train well.  Instead of focusing on calories or specific amounts of carbs, fat and protein, follow these guidelines to help you shed pounds and feel great on your runs.

Avoid extra sugar. Even though carbohydrates are your preferred fuel source, most runners consume way too much simple sugar and processed carbs every day. If you're struggling with weight issues, excess carbohydrates in your diet could be the issue.

Limit dessert foods, sports drinks (except immediately after a long run or hard work out) or soda, and carb-heavy foods that offer limited nutrition like crackers, white bread, white pasta (go with whole wheat) and plain bagels.

Eat fruits and vegetables. The vast majority of Americans don't get the recommended number of servings per day. These foods are the most nutrient-dense foods you can eat.

Always include vegetables with your dinner each night as the benefits are substantial.

Focus on "real" food. Eat nutrient-dense foods and limit your intake of processed foods. Real foods are minimally processed with as few ingredients as possible and include high-quality cuts of meat, vegetables, fruit, beans, nuts and whole grains like wild rice and quinoa.

Use food strategically. Many runners carbo-loading constantly, but the ideal runner's diet plan is more strategic. Use carb-heavy meals strategically a day or two before big workouts, and eat fewer carbs if you're running less.

If you're feeling sluggish or slightly over-trained—symptoms include fatigue, soreness, poor performance in your workouts or lethargy—recognize that you might just be under-eating. Food is fuel. Try cooking a few healthy, hearty meals and eating a little more than usual. Combined with a few good nights of sleep, you could be back on track in just a few days.

Chris is a Certified Personal Trainer and exercise and endurance enthusiast.  He competes yearly in numerous running races, marathons, ultra marathons, triathlons and other endurance events.