Patty from My No-Guilt Life, Erika from MCM Mama Runs and I are thrilled to have Lisa from Running out of Wine as our guest host for this week’s Tuesdays on the Run! Today’s topic is nutrition for runners. I’ll be honest here and admit that this is one of the things that I struggle with the most.
When I started losing weight and getting active, I stuck with a low-carb, South Beach inspired diet which worked great and let me drop thirty pounds in about nine months without being hungry. That eating style worked great for me even after I started running until my long runs reached about six miles. At that point, I’d run out of energy and not be able to go any further. I finally realized that it was because I needed some more carbs in my diet. Unfortunately when I added in some more carbs, my weight loss slowed down and then stalled out entirely. As I focused more on running performance, I focused less on keeping my diet clean and eventually the scale started moving up again (although not all the way back to my starting weight!).
I know I’ll run faster if I can get down to my goal weight (still about 45 pounds away) but I have trouble with endurance and energy if I don’t eat some carbs while training and racing. I’ve read the Paleo diet for runners book and about ten other books about running nutrition and I’m still confused. You’d think that running for hours each week would naturally let you drop pounds, but it’s so easy to overeat or to eat the wrong things as a “treat” for all that hard work. Unless you have an enviable metabolism, there’s no amount of training that will offset a queso and chips addiction!
So, here’s what I’m focusing on to combine proper energy for running and fuel for recovery with slow weight loss:
- Plenty of protein. I’m trying to make sure I have protein in every meal and snack. Peanut butter is one of my favorite sources. I’m quite partial to a nice piece of fish or chicken breast too.
- Carbs in moderation and as unprocessed as possible. When I can, I try to stay with a lower carb diet because I have blood sugar issues and because eating carbs makes me hungry which leads to overeating. I still eat some carbs in moderation like beans and corn and barley or lentils. And I eat as much fruit as I want because I think it’s good for me (although I do try to pair it up with some kind of protein as well). On the day before and the day of a long run or distance race, I have more things like potatoes and pasta.
- No crap. That means that even after a half marathon I don’t have cookies, cupcakes, chips or french fries. I think that’s absolutely fine for most people, but in the same way that an alcoholic can’t have one beer without starting a craving for more; I can’t have one cupcake without starting to crave (and justify!) having more and slipping back into eating junk on a daily basis. I’m hoping that in a year or two I may have healed my psyche or endocrine system enough that I can have a cupcake without triggering that response but I know that right now I really can’t without a huge struggle to get back on track.
- Fueling long runs. I used to use honey stinger gummies and just loved them, but they started hurting my stomach recently, so I’ve been trying new things. I did not like the applesauce packs (too acidic) or the raisins (too sticky). However, I did try some Salted Caramel GU that I got at a race last year (Space Coast?) and tucked away for later. Oh my. I’ve tried GU before and didn’t like it but this is just divine. It tastes so good and seems to settle in my stomach just fine. And it has a little caffeine. I’m not sure what it is about it, but I feel like I’m a rock star for a couple of miles after having 1/2 of one. I’ll keep trying them on the next few long runs and then during Gasparilla before I go and buy a whole case. So far so good!
I’m just sticking with what seems to work for me right now. I do treat it as a bit of an ongoing experiment so I’m open to adjustments based on my running performance, hunger levels and what the scale tells me. I’m really excited to learn what everyone else has to say on this topic because I’m still really confused about what the “right” answer is!