Last week, 2 crazy things happened. First, I realized that I’ve lost 10 pounds since I made a serious commitment to get healthy (7 weeks ago). Second, I realized that my metabolism has gone from slower than beltway traffic to faster than I can handle. I am hungry all. day. long. And you don’t even know hungry until you start doing long runs. I could eat the entire inventory of a bakery after my long runs. This second realization led me to tweet this:
Two of my guy friends assured me that it’s normal and a good thing. My metabolism is finally speeding up. I’ve read more diet/weight-loss books than I would care to admit, yet I still struggle with this simple phenomenon: eat more, weigh less. As a runner who burns no less than 300 calories every time I run, it’s not possible for me to make it through my runs without feeding my body enough. It’s also not possible for me to run well if I feed my body junk. I’ve learned both of these things the hard way, and I’m still learning.
After I posted my hungry tweet, I got a question from a friend who is toying with the idea of becoming a runner (yayy!) asking whether she has to do a complete overhaul of her diet in order to be a successful runner. And in short, my answer is no. Unless you’re looking to be the next Paula Radcliffe, or you survive off of a diet of Big Macs, I don’t believe you have to change everything. I do, however, believe that there are a few key diet rules every runner should follow.
*disclaimer: I’m not a doctor. I’m a law student. These are just my opinions and recommendations based on my own experiences. I’m a beginner so a year from now, these might change. But this is where I’m at today, and so far, it’s working.
1. Feed your body constantly.
The thing I struggle with the most is that I don’t eat often enough. I’ve been working on never letting my blood sugar get too low, but with my school schedule it can be difficult. Sometimes I feel like a baby because I have a distinct schedule. Every 3 hours, like clockwork, my stomach is growling. I notice a huge difference in my energy levels when I follow the schedule perfectly. Next semester I’m going to have to bite the bullet and start carrying a lunchbox with me. Oh well, being healthy and looking good > being the cool kid.
2. Complex carbohydrates are your friends.
New runners get really excited about carbo-loading, but it’s important to remember that all carbs are not created equal. While I’ve been known to use the “I’m a runner now so I can eat this” excuse more than once, I stick pretty closely to the list of good carbs: whole grains (whole wheat bread, whole wheat pasta, oatmeal, cream of wheat, etc.), fruits, vegetables (especially green leafy veggies) and beans (I prefer black or kidney beans). I still eat all of the things I love, I just substitute the good stuff in when I can. For example, when I go to Chipotle I get brown rice, black beans, chicken, pico de gallo, medium salsa and lettuce. No avocado (which is good for you in moderation but not in the heaping amounts Chipotle gives), no sour cream and no cheese.
3. Eliminate junk, excess sugar and grease.
This is the most difficult aspect of my diet because I have a serious sweet tooth. I love candy and bubble gum more than anyone you know. One time, my best friend sent me a huge box of bubble gum (and cute socks) for my birthday. She mailed me 5 pounds of bubble gum. I screamed with glee when I opened it. But I digress…for the past 7 weeks, I have tried extremely hard to cut junk food out of my diet. Fast food was easy. Sometimes I miss french fries, but I’ve noticed that the more healthy food I eat, the less my body can handle greasy/fatty foods. For example, I had chinese food with my family for my cousin’s birthday a few weeks ago and got sick within 15 minutes of finishing it. I still get cravings and I give in sometimes, but each time my body only allows me to eat so much before it reminds me that things have changed. I eat candy after every long run during my ice baths though. It’s my thing. I’m human.
I’m always great about water. I carry it with me at all times and I drink at least 2 cups of tea daily. Water is imperative to weight loss and health. There is simply no way to be healthy without it. (If you don’t like the taste of water, try adding fruit or mint leaves to it. I love water with lemon.) I’ve cut out all soda and juice except for Naked Juice (the Green Machine is the BEST!) and replaced them with coconut water or revive vitamin water (I try to limit revive to after workouts though since it has a lot of sugar in it). I’ve also mostly cut out wine. When I do indulge, I force myself to have a Pinot Noir instead of the sweet white wine I really want. It’s all about substitutions people!
5. Don’t let one bad decision ruin your progress.
I used to throw in the towel completely every time I messed up on my diet. I think the first problem was that I was classifying it as a diet. It’s not. It’s a new way of eating and taking care of my body. Of course I’ll have days where I’m PMSing and all I can think about doing is laying in bed and eating an entire box of Le Petit Écolier cookies. What’s important is that I eat a healthy dinner that night. Or wake up the next morning and have a bowl of oatmeal before I go for a run. A bad day is a bad day. Don’t let it turn into a bad week. Don’t tell yourself you’ll start again on Monday. This isn’t a diet. It’s your life. Throw away that empty cookie box and keep it moving.
What do YOU eat to keep your body in top running shape?