Category Archives: nutrition

The Race Eve pasta dinner: Is pre-race carb loading a good idea?

I may or may not have touched on the folly of carb loading, that your diet and glycogen stores are a body of work, and not something you can fix in the 48 hours before your race (though your glycogen stores and physical condition are certainly something you can break in the preceding 48 hours).

Still, the Race Eve Pasta Gorge is a favorite runner ritual, and while you may not substantially improve your glycogen reserves, you at least won’t go to bed hungry.

This leads me to two questions.

  1. Can there be a situation where a Race Eve carb-load can be beneficial?
  2. Is the Race Eve carb-load beenficial for races shorter than the marathon? If so, when so, and when not so?

When is a Race Eve Carb Load beneficial?

I think there is a set of situations where a carb load might be a good idea. Whether they all funnel into one common situation or they all exist on their own, I’m not certain.

They of course depend on what your diet has been throughout the training cycle.

And of course, you are best off eating minimally processed foods. Pasta and its sauce are probably as processed as you should get. Pizza and fried food should remain out of the question until your race is over.

The key question: Have you been restricting your diet recently, whether you’ve done so throughout the training cycle or just recently?

A runner who has been cutting weight, a runner who has eaten lower-carb, or a runner who has intermittent fasted… may have a sufficient glycogen deficit that a carb load right before the race could benefit them.

Cutting Weight: Obviously, a runner cutting weight has been operating at a long term calorie deficit. Presuming training has proceeded without injury or other issues, the muscles may have spent considerable time somewhat depleted of glycogen. A big carb meal following some body-priming rudimentary activity (like a shake-out run, cross-training session, or a walk) could help maximize the available stores on race day.

Low-Carb Dieting: Few runners follow a low-carb protocol due to fast running’s extended usage of glycogen. Keto-style dieting is typically practiced by weightlifters, whose intense physical activity is typically limited to a weightlifting session maxing out around 60 minutes.

The runners who do practice low-carb diets tend to be recreational runners who either don’t run far when they do, run at a very easy pace when they do run long distance, or ultra runners who run those races at a lower, fat-burning-friendly intensity, and only eat carbs during those races, when they’re needed.

Still, provided their bodies can comfortably handle the re-introduction of carbs, low-carb dieters can also top off their glycogen stores by eating a carb-rich meal the day before.

Intermittent Fasting: Runners who practice intermittent fasting do tend to eat a lot during their limited feeding window. Depending on when they eat, it’s possible they may have sufficient glycogen stores. If they consume most carbs before or after their workouts, they’re more likely to have substantial glycogen stores. Otherwise, it may benefit them to top off their glycogen stores with a carb-rich meal the day before.

That Aside…: Barring any restricting dieting, it’s more likely that a carb-load isn’t going to provide much benefit over any other healthy meal. If you’ve been getting enough to eat throughout your training, especially following most of your workouts, you probably have enough glycogen stored whether or not you pound rotini until nauseous 15 hours before your race. The marginal utility of a carb-rich meal is minimal at best.

One notable exception: If you have been rather active in the day prior to Race Eve:

  1. First of all, you should have been resting up and minimizing activity ahead of your race. Any muscle wear/damage sustained will not fully recover before the race. Take it easy to cut your losses on any damage.
  2. A carb-rich meal eaten shortly after any activity will result in greater protein and glycogen processing and storage. Basically, what you eat will be put to greater use than if you hadn’t been active.
  3. Any muscle wear/damage from the last day will mostly remain, unfortunately. Any protein consumed (combined with sleep) will heal a bit of it, but you’ve now depleted yourself a bit ahead of the race. However, any glycogen lost will probably be restored, and possibly more.

Is a Race Eve Carb Load beneficial for races shorter than a marathon?

As long as the meal doesn’t cause a bunch of water retention, isn’t so heavy it adds weight to your body, and of course doesn’t make you feel ill… it can be beneficial to eat a carb-rich meal the night before any race between the 5K and the marathon.

Going back to the dieters… a glycogen top-off could help some runners on race day. Some extra protein could help with healing if the runner gets good sleep the night before. A Carb-Load meal would mostly help runners who have been eating low-carb or have been substantially restrictive with their diets leading up to the race.

But generally the window where this may be beneficial for sub-marathon races is even smaller than with marathoners and ultra runners. You’re not going to completely deplete your glycogen stores in anything shorter than a 20 mile race. In most race distances you won’t even come close.

This is a case where your body of work with your diet becomes paramount. If you practice a sound diet, that should be more than enough for your glycogen stores.

Rest and recovery in the days before a sub-marathon race are much more important to your performance than what nutrition you manage to successfully take in the day before. You can do more to hurt yourself from a Race Eve buffet than help.

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Practicing fueling during marathon training

A lot of people struggle with fueling during a marathon because they aren’t used to running with food or drink (beyond water or maybe Gatorade) in their stomach.

I have a fairly strong running stomach. I’ve even gone as far as to eat pizza before heading out on a speedwork workout, and done well (in no small part thanks to having a bunch of fat and carbohydrates at the ready thanks to the pizza). I obviously wouldn’t recommend going that far, but I have on many occasions eaten a full meal and then gone out on a run without trouble.


Yesterday I segmented 11 miles into three separate runs, as I ran to the Loyola women’s hoops game, then back towards home.

After the game, before my 2nd run to Montrose Beach, I stopped at Raising Canes and treated myself to a Box Combo with some lemonade, because why not.

But instead of waiting a bit for the meal to digest, I immediately crossed the street onto the LUC campus and took off for Lincoln Park.

I bring this up because, while I didn’t feel sick running with such a disgusting meal in my stomach… the inevitable gas you’d expect from your stomach led to a realization.


My hiccups from the Chicago Marathon? They were certainly a product of the volume of nutrition I had put down during the race. Because I had put it down faster than my stomach could digest it, most of it sat there and bubbled for several miles. My wind/stomach pipe assembly, battling between taking in air at a moderate running pace and holding stomach contents back from randomly upchucking during said run… finally began to give, and suddenly there are hiccups.

I didn’t have hiccups during yesterday’s running, since the pace was a lot easier. I also didn’t have hiccups during long Chicago Marathon training runs where I practiced taking in nutrition, because the pace of those runs were a lot easier.

It was only on race day, when the effort was more intense yet I took in a high volume of in-race nutrition, that hiccups reared their head.

Clearly, my key to avoiding race hiccups is to either practice taking in less of my desired nutrition (probably not the best idea for a marathon), or to practice taking in my desired nutrition on more intense tempo runs (to get my body trained to do so at that intensity over distance).


Most tend to either put no practice into in-race fueling during their training, or they fuel casually throughout too many runs, which may not fully prepare their body to handle a long distance endurance event.

Many, like I did, will make the mistake of practicing fueling on long runs, but only on those long runs. Therefore, you get used to doing so at an easy pace, but on race day you run faster than that, and your body’s not prepared to fuel on the run at that pace.

The marathon fuel training sweet spot:

After you have stretched out your tempo runs, or after you have added some marathon tempo to your long runs, practice fueling with your desired fuel every few miles on your marathon pace runs.

This gets the body used to handling fuel during a race effort. The run itself may not be a peak training effort, but it’s not necessarily the run itself you’re working on. You are working on handling fuel at a faster pace over a longer high-intensity effort.

Much like how training your running muscles and strength training other parts of your body often are best done with specific, separate focus… training your internal organs to handle fuel at a race effort is a skill and set of muscles that need to be gradually trained.

If your marathon fueling plan is more serious than ‘take some Gatorade or whatever the race makes available every few miles’, then it’s just as vital to train in taking that fuel in as it is to build up your specific running endurance or your speed.

Just maybe don’t practice with chicken fingers and lemonade from Raising Canes. Perhaps consume something healthier.

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Training ambitions, and the unexpected prime obstacle to meeting them

Given I currently have some extra time on my hands, I’m reviewing my upcoming schedule in preparation for winter training. I want to work towards 60-70 miles a week this next training cycle, which may sound scary to the uninitiated until I mention that I was topping 50 miles per week without much trouble during Chicago Marathon training.

While I’m open to staying with a training load around 40-50 miles per week, I do want to stretch out and give 60+ a shot by extending my weekday runs, making sure I go 120-150 minutes on Saturday long runs, and mixing in some brief morning or lunchtime weekday runs in addition to my typical postwork runs. If it turns out to be too physically demanding, I can always scale back to a more regular workload, but for all sorts of reasons I’ll get into someday I believe I can now handle the larger workload.

That said, the biggest obstacle to running more miles isn’t whether my body can handle it, or even the wear on my shoes (my budget is tighter than it was a year ago, but I can always buy another 1-2 pairs of training shoes if I need it).

The problem is whether or not I can eat enough to compensate for all the extra calories I would burn.

I’m looking to get my diet super clean going into this next training cycle, as well as make it more affordable and simplified. An optimal diet that served all of the above only fed me about 2400 calories. That is well and good for weight loss, if I’m not running more than a couple miles every day. I would obviously be running much more than a couple miles per day.

Again, every mile I walk or run burns about 125 calories. I have actually been walking more the last few days, and have hit 3000 calories burned the last couple days despite no running. It’s fairly easy for me to burn calories when I’m active, and during my 30ish miles per week training days I would easily burn 3300-3500 calories.

If I’m running closer to 9 miles per day, that’s an extra 600-650 calories per day I’d burn, and even if I make the extra effort to take it easy in the rest of my life, I’ll easily burn 3500-3600 calories per day.

Okay, you may say… you’re looking to cut fat anyway, and this would be a great opportunity to shed some more of it, right? What’s the harm?

One of the reasons you don’t want to run a huge calorie deficit is the risk of muscle wasting. While it’s in general considered a cardio exercise, running requires substantial lower body strength, and along with depleting glycogen stores you break down lower body muscle. Proper nutrition allows you to rebuild those damaged muscles as well as restore your glycogen stores.

You’re already playing with fire when you run a calorie deficit, and being able to do so safely during training requires some mindful planning and execution. Even then, you should not run a deficit of greater than 500 calories a day. If I’m going to burn 3500 calories a day, I need to take in about 3000 calories to prevent myself from burning out or getting hurt.

And I probably should not take in as much fat as I have. I’m not looking to go low-fat with my diet revisions, because again the body absolutely needs dietary fat. But I do want to work on staying within 80-85g of fat per day, which means the answer to my dilemma is not as simple as committing to pounding a frozen pizza every day.

And as much as I’d like to go paleo or similar, I don’t want to compromise my performance or development by avoiding carbs and the needed glycogen.

Okay, so just eat a bunch of carbohydrates, right? Well, easy to say sure, since I’m going to burn them every day.

But there’s only so many carbs I can stomach. Most healthy carb-rich foods can be very dense and contain a lot of insoluble fiber. I found during my “sure, I’ll carb load” diet phases in previous years that the most carbs I could handle in a day is about 400-500g. And I could only hit that mark now and again: On a daily basis I can’t consistently consume more than 350g of carbohydrate.

Right now I’m eating about 300-400 calories of potatoes with dinner. I can probably handle about 3-4 bananas at most, and eating all of the above means taking in an uncomfortably large amount of insoluble fiber. Either way, I don’t think I can stomach much more than that.

Plus, your stomach can only process so many nutrients before just passing the rest or storing the difference as fat. Carbs do get stored as fat once the window closes on your body’s absorption capabilities. So eating a ton of carbs isn’t really an easy solution.


So, looking at my diet, after factoring in the foods I do and can consistently eat… I realized I had a deficit of about 600 calories if I want to train at a higher volume. How to cover it?

One answer is to swap out potatoes (at least on some days) with semolina-based pasta. I mentioned fusilli as a pasta of choice, though organic elbow macaroni is an option as well thanks to its density. Both provide more carbs in a meal (as many as 60g extra, plus some extra protein) than potatoes do overall.

However, potatoes provide a ton of potassium that pasta does not. It can be possible to supplement the traditional way: By making pasta with marinara sauce. I eat my pasta plain with salt, broth and coconut oil for seasoning. But a cup of marinara sauce adds about 800mg of potassium, which would cover most of the gap.

While it’s not totally my cup of tea, I’m not opposed to quickly heating a cup of marinara or similar pasta sauce and dumping that onto the pasta for dinner with my chicken. And, while not as much, pasta sauce also comes with a few extra carbohydrates.

I also find that sometimes at work I need an afternoon snack. If I commit to quick-prep oatmeal, that can provide some extra carbohydrate on key days.


All of these options of course have a common problem: They’re processed foods. And while inexpensive, it gets away from the whole food philosophy I’ve been working to follow and maintain with my diet. I wouldn’t want to eat these items exclusively, let alone every day.

None of this is to say I’ve found the solution. These are mostly just the options I’m considering ahead of 2019. The good news is I don’t have to find an answer now. Go-Time for this plan would be about 2.5 months down the road.

But it does present an interesting dilemma: If you want to train high-mileage, how do you make sure you get enough energy to eat to maintain that workload?

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My dietary staples: The food, drink and garnishes I build around

The one thing about serious running that I enjoy the most is how it compelled improvements to every other aspect of my lifestyle: My diet, my sleep habits, my personal habits, life decisions, etc.

Even when I’m not running, those things remain very important in general. In a sense, training never really stops even when you take a break from running. Because your diet is one aspect of your training. Your sleep and resting habits are aspects of your training. Your general activity and life choices are all aspects of your training.

And so when people finish a goal race and take a break, they do one of two things with their lives. They either stop training, or they continue to train.

And I’m not just talking about running: In fact, after running a marathon or longer, you definitely need to stop running for a bit. But in a way: Training is life, and life is training. You’re either training to improve, or you’re not.

Anyway, let’s talk about food.


As I’ve said I eat about 80% clean or better. I’m down for pizza, burgers, fried food, burritos, chips, some alcohol now and then, etc… as much as anyone. There are times where processed stuff might be my best option for a given meal.

But every other time, I eat clean: Baked and boiled food, raw fruit and vegetables, water coffee or tea. I cook using only olive or coconut oil. I season food with garlic salt and maybe 1-2 other garnishes (no sauces). To cover my bases I take a multivitamin and supplement with fish oil, a cal-mag-D3 citrate pill, and Vitamin K2. I rely on simple food items I know I can comfortably consume, and I stick to eating those most of the time.

Some of this food can be classified as processed, though by and large what I consume is a sclose to its original form as is reasonable.

Chicken

I grew up eating a lot of chicken. At some point in my 20’s I suddenly developed a rash whenever I ate it, so I had to stop for a while. At some point in the last decade, I found out I could eat chicken without problems again (perhaps farms were adding some sort of toxic hormone before?), and now it’s once again my top protein staple.

I mostly eat chicken thighs, and occasionally will mix in drumsticks if the store is short on thighs. Wings don’t provide enough meat, and chicken breasts provide too much plus take more time and effort to cook and lack important fat. Thighs fall right in the sweet spot.

I always bake them in the oven at 350-400 degrees, either over coconut oil, or on a bed of potatoes.

Potatoes: Yukon Gold or red

Penn Jillette lost over 100 pounds subsisting on potatoes, and for good reason. They are probably the most potassium rich food you can eat, and are a clean quality starch with loads of other vitamins.

Conventional potatoes are generally super dirty and I ain’t got time to scrub them off nor do I want to lose nutrients by peeling them. So I get the much cleaner gold or red variety, and I eat them cubed with the skin. Reds tend to be dirty from time to time depending on what variety you get, so often I go with the golds.

I either bake 3-4 of them cubed, over olive oil in the oven (a basic recipe my mother showed me a couple years ago), or I boil them in a large pot. They are typically a side dish with meat.

Fusilli pasta

Before I got into potatoes, this was my dinner side dish for a good long while. Of course, it’s not a whole food product (derived from wheat semolina), and it lacks the potassium and vitamins present in potatoes. I definitely noticed the difference health-wise once I switched.

However, a heaping serving does have a bit more protein, and a lot more carbs, plus it’s easier to prepare than the potatoes. I still have it from time to time.

I have tried other brands, but Whole Foods’ 365 still makes the more palatable version of fusilli I’ve had to date.

Coffee

I love coffee. I don’t pound 4+ cups a day like other addicts, but I still have a cup almost every morning. It provides me a strange sort of relaxation with its caffeinated energy.

I’ll drink 8-16 oz, depending on how much I’m in the mood for. I always drink it black and not after 12pm unless it’s decaf (even then I pretty much avoid drinking it at all after noon).

I’m not super picky, even though I often like to go to independent local shops and roasters to hang out over a cup.

I used to brew coffee at home for work, but now rely on whatever’s freely available at work. That could change again if my next long term workplace lacks decent coffee, but if my current work situation sticks then I’m probably sticking with their coffee for the long haul.

I’ve considered giving coffee up for a little while as an experiment (I’ve quit it a few times before with decent results, but I like it too much to stay away forever). It’s not an experiment I’m in a hurry to try.

Coconut oil

I cannot remember the exact source or information that led me to try coconut oil, but once I did I was hooked and now that’s mostly what I cook with.

Coconut oil, along with being a quality saturated fat, along has anti-fungal properties. People even use it as a topical agent for that reason. I don’t really, but I do like to think that if I had a candida issue that it’s long since been crushed.

Because of a low flashpoint, it doesn’t fry well, but all I do is bake with it. You can safely eat it raw as-is with a spoon, though there aren’t many cases where you would want to do so.

I have phases where I put a spoon of it in my coffee as a poor man’s bulletproof coffee. I haven’t done it in a long while but could be swayed to start doing it again.

(TRUE) extra virgin olive oil

I had a come-and-go relationship with olive oil over the years, but after learning more about the difference between bogus mass produced olive oil (which is often mixed with vegetable and canola oils), and true olive oil… I have fallen in with California Olive Ranch’s extra virgin olive oil.

I use it for baking potatoes in my large Pyrex pan, and when the occasional meal out of a box requires a spoon of butter (I use the olive oil instead, with great results).

Garlic Salt

Garlic salt is my at-plate seasoning of choice. I season food to taste with it. I am partial to Frontier Co-Op’s Garlic Salt. Since it’s not as manufactured, it does tend to clump in humid hot conditions if you forget to put the cap back on, but it’s still the best I’ve found.

I don’t drown my food in salt, but I’ll sprinkle it liberally on potatoes and pasta. I may sprinkle some on meat while cooking as the situation calls, but I usually use it at the plate.

Oregano

Oregano’s healing properties more than its flavor are why I garnish baked dishes with it. I can’t imagine a dusting of the stuff works any miracles, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. And it does help the flavor of food.

Others will use it with other seasonings, but I only use it with garlic salt or powder.

Garlic powder, or pure garlic

Speaking of which, I will season meat and potatoes with garlic powder before baking to add some end-game flavor. If I’m in the mood to crush cloves of garlic, I’ll buy some bulbs from the store and get to it. However, it’s easier to just use the powder, so I just go with that.

I hope I don’t reek of garlic. I can’t tell anymore, since I use the stuff so much with my cooking. I avoid mainstream mass-produced brands, but otherwise I don’t have a strong preference with garlic powder.

Jane’s Krazy Mixed Up Salt

It’s getting harder for me to find a store that carries Jane’s fine mix of dried garlic, onion, garnishes and salt. Stores in Seattle (where I discovered it) definitely carry it in spades. But the only place in Chicago I’ve reliably found it recently is Treasure Island Foods, and they are unfortunately closing for good. Instacart claims that Whole Foods carries it but I’ve rarely seen it available there. I’ll need to find another store that has it or I won’t be using it again for a while.

It’s a little too thick to use as an at-plate seasoning, so I generally use it like garlic powder, as pre-cook seasoning for baked dishes.

White or brown rice

Growing up in a Filipino household, we ate white rice with just about everything we had for dinner. It was rare to eat a dinner where the side dish was something else. The family would mix it with butter, but over time I grew to enjoy it plain or with salt.

Living in Seattle I grew an affinity for brown rice, and cooked that a lot more frequently than white rice. I developed a few recipes, and would often carry a batch to work in plasticware to either eat for breakfast, or for lunch. Learning about the presence of arsenic in brown rice, I shied away from it in recent years, but I still do eat it, cooked out of my Aroma automatic rice cooker.

Currently I like to bring seasoned rice with me to work and eat that for lunch with…

Sardines in olive oil

I first dabbled with canned sardines back in Seattle, long after first seeing my dad eat them from time to time. I found them okay, but wasn’t that into them.

That changed during my current work situation, when I wanted to bring a suitable meal to work and eventually discovered that wild-caught sardines were a convenient protein to eat with rice. Getting them with olive oil also helps season the rice a bit more, making lunch a pretty full dish.

Sardines also have the advantage of providing Omega 3, which I get some of via fish oil supplementation and the occasional salmon meal. But it’s great to get it regularly with such an easy, portable lunch dish.

I’m partial to paying a bit more for the King Oscar brand, which I’ve found to taste noticeably better (less “tinny” and more like wild-caught fish). This is pretty much what I eat for lunch every weekday right now.


 

So those are my current food staples. This always evolves, and in a few years some other combination of food may suit my needs better.

But one key to why these foods work for me, along with being minimally processed and/or organic, is that they are affordable and for the most part readily accessible. It’s easy to form habits of eating these foods on a consistent basis.

I’ve definitely noticed the difference with my health and my running performance in the long run from eating this kind of food.

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Losing fat while training as a runner: The healthy middle ground

Fitness guru Alexander Juan Antonio Cortes recommends that if you’re overweight, or “skinny-fat” (not overweight but lacking muscle tone) and want to change for the better, your first primary focus aside from training should be to diet down to 10% bodyfat.

While somewhat extreme, here’s the idea: Most who begin to weight train build muscle beneath existing layers of fat, burdening themselves with the extra weight and complicating the step of eventually burning off extra fat. Burning the fat off up front eliminates the need to carry extra baggage, making all of your life a lot physically easier, and muscle built will show up a lot quicker.

WeightLoss

A Fitbit chart of my weight over time since December 2016, beginning some time after I began running. At this point, now well below my previous high of 193 and more normal… I let my weight fluctuate a bit more, depending on training cycles and goals.

On a different note, running obviously helped me shed a lot of fat, though before I seriously got into running I had already lost about 15 pounds, much of it fat. Running keyed some of my weight loss, but diet habits were what mattered most.

The thing with a running diet is that, regardless of any weight loss goals, its primary objective is to fuel your recovery from workouts. If you run a simple calorie deficit while training regularly, you’re just going to get injured. You won’t have enough protein to effectively rebuild your damaged muscles, and you won’t get enough quality carbohydrates to effectively replenish your glycogen stores. You’ll operate in a state of constant fatigue, which eventually becomes burnout.


Is there a middle ground if you’re trying to shed fat while endurance training? Absolutely.

First of all, if you make cleaner dietary changes as you begin training, you’re going to experience initial rapid weight loss. However, this is not fat melting off your body. It’s usually water weight:

  • You’re sweating more, so of course that liquid is getting displaced from your body.
  • If you’re hydrating more, your body will “decide” to retain less water over time. Extra water will get flushed.
  • As your diet improves, inflammation in your body subsides. Often your body retains fluid around inflamed parts as a sort of protection. As your inflammation decreases, the need to retain that fluid dissipates, and the fluid is flushed.
  • Many of your fat cells are actually just full of water. If you have fat cells that have lost their fat, they often re-fill with water in lieu of re-adding fat. As you burn those fat stores, these water-laden cells get “burned” and in turn release their water instead of releasing fat energy. Whoosh!

This is why when people begin a diet they lose several pounds right off the bat, before the weight loss slows to a relative crawl. The relative crawl is closer to the actual rate of fat loss. The earlier accelerated weight loss was a bunch of water weight flushing away.

Secondly, that water weight loss is actually good! You want to shed any unnecessary extra weight, and if you can eliminate the need for your body to surround organs and load fat cells with water, it’s in your best interests to eliminate the extra baggage.

But don’t you need to be hydrated? Sure, though you certainly don’t need to retain water to maintain hydration. Remember that the human body is more than 70% water. You are already fundamentally full of water. While you don’t want to dehydrate yourself, staying hydrated doesn’t require you retain extra water. Drink a decent amount of water every day, eat clean whole foods (that themselves contain a fundamental amount of water), drink hydrating fluids as needed during exercise, and you’ll be sufficiently hydrated.

Aside from that, your biggest concern is ensuring your body can effectively recover from training. The biggest challenge that trying to lose fat while training offers is that decreasing your nutrition intake, key to losing weight, risks compromising your recovery by denying the body needed nutrition.


The common fallacy people fall into when balancing training with weight loss is that they cut out the difference in dietary fat.

First of all, counterintuitively, your body needs dietary fat in a lot of ways. Without getting into the science, many hormonal and brain processes require the intake and digestion of nutrients from dietary fat. You’re starving yourself just as badly by taking in minimal fat as you would be if you stopped consuming protein.

If you weren’t a distance runner, it can be argued that you don’t really need carbohydrates. If your only exercise is weight training or walking, you could get by on a hardcore keto/paleo-style diet where as few carbs as consumed as possible.

However, if you regularly run harder than a jog for more than a few moments at a time, or you regularly run 3+ miles more than twice a week (low-carb dieters who swear by high intensity interval running do neither), you absolutely do need non-fiber carbs to maintain your glycogen stores.

And of course you absolutely need protein, no matter how active you are. Protein is the body’s rebuilding blocks, and without it your muscles and organs atrophy and break down. Most humans don’t get enough protein. Many athletes certainly don’t, even if they’re trying. Without getting into that discussion, you need protein, period.


So, can you still cut sufficient calories to spur weight loss, while still eating a healthy quantity of macronutrients to keep your body fueled for race training? Is it possible to practice a restrictive protocol like intermittent fasting and still be able to build/rebuild needed muscle, effectively restore glycogen stores, and still burn off fat and water weight at a noticeable rate?

To all this I say… absolutely. Build the right habits, and it’s not even that hard.


  1. First of all, if you already follow a solid maintenance diet, if you already know how many calories you need to eat each day to maintain your current weight… then cutting a few calories each day won’t be too hard. A 250 calorie deficit per day is pretty simple.
  2. Secondly, while intermittent fasting is effective, the risk is that it can potentially, unduly deplete needed glycogen stores over time, while potentially exacerbating exercise-related damage during the fasting period. However, that can be mitigated in many circumstances, and it can be possible to practice it during easier periods while just avoiding the protocol during other key periods.
  3. Thirdly, the key to a successful fat-burning diet is not to cut everything across the board, but to maintain the intake of key nutrients while curbing others.

You can burn fat while endurance training without burning out. There is a huge, fertile middle ground between hardcore dieting and training-friendly gluttony.

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Enough text-jawing about theory. If you’re going to try and lose weight while steady-state endurance training (i.e. running, also stuff like cycling, triahtlons, playing team sports like football/basketball, etc), here’s some actionable tips.

DON’T EVER SHORT PROTEIN

Your daily maintenance level protein needs are roughly around 1 gram for every pound of lean body mass (LBM), or 1 gram for every kilogram equal to 180% of your bodyweight.

Make sure you ALWAYS get at least this much protein. Other macros are going to get cut, but this one will do no less than stay constant.

You can even take in more protein than this on some days. There’s conflicting data on how much compulsive overdosing on protein can hurt your body, but going over some of the time isn’t so bad. Just don’t ever go below this benchmark.

THE EASIEST WAY TO RUN A HEALTHY DEFICIT: INTERMITTENT FASTING

There are various intermittent fasting protocols, and the easiest to maintain simply requires that you skip breakfast and eat your first food of the day at lunch. This ensures a 12-14 hour minimum fasting window and allows for most of the hormone-resetting and fat-burning benefits to kick in for at least a couple hours.

But most of all, it becomes very hard to overeat on calories for the day when you skip breakfast. Even if you overdo lunch or dinner, even if you slip another mid-afternoon or early evening meal between them, you’ll often fall short of your maintenance calorie level by a few hundred calories. Your stomach can only handle so much food in a given time span.

On my longest training days, where I burn in excess of 5000 calories, there’s no way I can take in 5000 calories. Even when I’m up for a Thanksgiving-sized meal, I can get about 2000 calories in, and hours later I might be able to get in 1000-1500 more. Your stomach has a limit as to how much food it can process over time. The best I’ve been able to do is a bit over 4000 calories, still about 1000 calories short on a 5000 calorie effort day.

Similarly, you can pig out for that first meal after breaking an intermittent fast. But unless you ate some seriously ghrelin-inducing processed garbage for lunch, your stomach’s not going to be ready for another massive meal for several more hours. It might be ready to eat again, but likely more on the level of a few hundred calories. Usually, for me, I break a fast around noon with a sizable but not absurd 600-1000 calorie lunch, and feel the need for another big meal around 6pm.

If I do eat a massive meal right after work (1000-1500 calories) I probably won’t want to eat again before bed, or I might eat a 200-400 calorie something before 10pm. Usually I do the latter, because otherwise (unless I am super exhausted enough to stay passed out the entire night) I wake up hungry during the night.

If I skip the big meal at 6pm and cook a full dinner closer to 8pm, this is usually 800-1000 calories. I can stomach up to 1500.

But that’s an absolute ceiling of about 2900 calories. On a typical day I burn in excess of 3000 calories, usually closer to 3300-3500. When I fast, I can’t help but lose weight, even if the fast itself produced no real benefits.

AVOID INTERMITTENT FASTING ON A TOUGH TRAINING DAY (AND MAYBE ALSO THE DAY AFTER)

If you have a long run or a tough speedwork session scheduled on a given day, go ahead and eat breakfast. You’re gonna need all the nutritional help you can get, and any complications from fasting that day could carry over into and compromise the workout. Go ahead and eat breakfast.

If you abhor breakfast, then just eat something light and protein rich, like a couple of eggs or even just a protein shake.

I’d also suggest, if you feel really worn out or beat up after the workout, avoiding a fast the following day as well, especially if you feel real tired or beat up the next morning or at the very least rather hungry (which you might be the morning after a hard workout). Make recovery a priority.

Not only will you minimize the chance of injury and burnout, but also of any derailing cravings that could get you off your otherwise sound diet.

WHEN IN DOUBT, SHORT CARBS

If I won’t fast (which, now that I know how to safely do so during training, isn’t likely), then the next easiest answer is to reduce but not eliminate the carbs I consume.

Since one of the most nutrient-important foods I consume is potatoes, I obviously plan to take in some carbs even if not training at all. A typical dinner serving of potatoes for me contains about 60-90g of carbohydrate.

There are some recovery days where I will go full no-carb and just eat meat, avocados, etc, but if coming off a workout or expecting to do a hard workout soon, carbs are important and will get included.

If taking a day off or only planning to do a short recovery run, that’s a great day to take it easy on your normalized carb intake. Build that day’s diet around healthy fat and protein. If you eat some carbs, that’s fine. But don’t carb load.

Your body is constantly burning fat for fuel. We just are conditioned to store any spare nutrition as fat, and that’s why we have a surplus. But glycogen from carbs is only burned during intense, extended exercise. So if you know you’re exercising less than usual, eat fewer carbs than usual.

But, what you can do instead is not worry about carb loading. Many runners eat a ton of carbs, possibly more than they need. You certainly ought to eat a lot if you’re running a lot, but getting into the 500+ gram mark is usually overkill. You’ll know if you need that much: If you’re eating 400-490g of carbs a day, running 60+ miles a week, and struggling to bounce back from your regular workouts not because of soreness but because your lower body muscles feel dead or tapped.

I talked previously about how pre-marathon carb loading doesn’t work as well as people think. I also think even the most advanced runners overdose on carbs. Your typical working class runner almost certainly does.

If you’re running more than 30 miles a week, you could certainly use 300-400 grams of carbohydrate a day. But most of your running should be easy, more of your energy should be coming from fat, and you probably don’t NEED that much.

Do not cut carbs completely if endurance training. But if you want to lose fat then consider experimenting with eating 50-100 fewer grams of carbohydrate a day. Maintain a normal fat intake, definitely maintain your protein intake, and just cut carbs a bit. Do it during a series of regular workouts, and see how your body reacts.

You may be surprised at how not-bad you feel. And it may help you cut fat without damaging yourself.

GO FOR A WALK AFTER EVERY MEAL

Walking should be very natural and easy for any distance runner. It burns calories but almost doesn’t seem like it qualifies as exercise.

An easy way to knock off an extra few hundred calories per day is to take a 15-30 minute walk immediately after eating a meal. You kick-start the digestion of the food you just ate, while sneaking in some extra fat burning not just during the walk, but thereafter. You also decrease the amount of your meal that could be stored as fat, since some of it will now be used for energy and muscle restoration.

If you’ve been very active that day and know you’ve already burned a ton of calories, there’s no need to take a walk if not desired. Otherwise, get outside and get some air.

… OR GO FOR A QUICK WORKOUT RIGHT BEFORE EATING

Maybe you’d rather not walk after a meal. Maybe your neighborhood’s not so safe at night. Maybe you’ve got to wash and put away a lot of dishes.

You can get similar benefits from getting in a quick walk or run while dinner bakes or otherwise cooks. If you know you can eat within moments after finishing a workout, go do a full workout, and then come inside to eat.

Because nutrient absorption is optimally high within 30 minutes of activity, you will have quickly primed your body to absorb nutrients from the meal you’re about to eat, which means less of that meal will be stored as fat… on top of burning a few extra fat calories, and kicking in a heart-rate-elevated afterburn that will burn a few more.

AT THE END OF AN INTERMITTENT FASTING SESSION, EAT A PROTEIN AND CARB RICH MEAL

In a sense, your first post-fast meal is similar to a post-workout meal. Your body is now in an accelerated-processing state and primed to better utilize the food you eat off that fast.

Maximize this opportunity by eating the cleanest, nutrient-richest meal you can manage in that moment. This is not the time to eat a burger or a pizza. This is the time to pound that baked or broiled chicken, that mass of rice or potatoes, those green vegetables and fruit, etc.

Your body will use much more of this food to rebuild and store as glycogen. Less of it will get stored as fat. More of those vitamins and other valuable nutrients in the food will get absorbed and used.

If the food you eat in this spot lacks nutrients, you won’t die or anything, but you’re blowing a golden opportunity. Maximize the opportunity and minimize the fat storage.


 

If in doubt, if you’re endurance training but also want to lose weight… you’re better off focusing on maintaining your training volume and intensity by getting your nutrients and your rest.

I’ve certainly lost weight (aside from water weight) without trying to lose weight, focusing on a healthy maintenance diet and then somehow losing a few pounds while maintaining lean body mass anyway. Sometimes amidst many days of breaking even in calories burned vs eaten… you burn more calories than expected while eating the amount you expected. Do that for long enough, and pounds go away.

But if you want to take a stab at seriously losing weight while still training to run a race, it can be possible. I wouldn’t advertise incredible results, but I’ve dropped a few pounds between week one and race day enough times to know you can do it without compromising your race goals.

Intermittent fasting can make it easier, but it’s also possible to cut carbs in your regular diet and find a 300-500 calorie daily deficit. Do either way consistently, sustainably, over time, and you’re going to lose fat while maintaining needed running muscle.

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On how the body uses energy during a race, why runners hit the wall in a marathon, and what can be done about it

A key fundamental issue with the marathon is that the distance is farther than the human body can capably race in one go without consuming fuel during the race.

Long story short, aka I’m about to paraphrase a ton of science without citing any sources:

Continue reading

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My running workout principles

Here’s how I approach a run in general, my tactics and mindset before I head out on any run, how I plan a run and subsequently carry it out, etc.

Since this encompasses just about every facet of a variety of running workouts, this is going to go a bit across the board.

When possible, multi-task a run

Most of my runs are destination runs rather than round trips, meaning it starts in one location and ends at a different location I wanted to go to for unassociated reasons. For example, most days I run home from work. This is a destination run intended to commute me home from work, and the commute isn’t necessarily the primary purpose for the run.

I’ll warm up for speed workouts by taking an easy run to the workout site from home, and then I’ll cool down by running back home from the workout.

I have season tickets to Loyola Chicago basketball. I’ll often run to the campus for games, then possibly run home after the games.

None of this is breakthrough science. A lot of people do this sort of thing, I’m sure. But I make a practice of it, rather than do it incidentally.

Continue reading

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My favorite cooking supplies

I’ve always been a creature of habit. For the most part, I do many of the same things the same way every day, every week.

Related: Some people have cabinets full of cookware and flatware. While I also have cookware (thanks Mom!), I find I pretty much use the same few pieces of cookware. I currently have two plates, one spoon, one fork and one knife. This is in part due to living in a tiny apartment and not having much storage space. I deal with this mostly by washing my dishes every day. If any of them broke or disappeared I’d just go buy another. If my situation ever changed to where I needed more than that, I’d go buy what’s needed (plates and flatware aren’t at all expensive). But I don’t need more than that so that’s all I have.


Cooking supplies are a similar deal. I don’t own cookware unless I use it (because that’s why I bought it), or it was gifted to me. I find myself using the same handful of supplies on a regular basis.

Pyrex baking dishes. I used to bake in tin/metal dishes, lined with aluminim foil. But as I discovered research indicating that aluminum leeches into your food and deposits in your brain long-term, I decided to stop that and directly cook food on baking dishes that are easy to clean and don’t rust.

Enter Pyrex. I bought a simple 3-set of Pyrex dishes, all of which I use. The small dish can bake a fish fillet or a pair of chicken thighs. The medium dish can bake 3 chicken thighs (which I tend to prepare most often). The large dish can handle the baked potatoes dish that I often make. All are easy to clean afterward following a soak. No leeching metals into my food!

Large stainless steel cooking pot. This was a gift (thanks Mom!), and as I discovered I preferred boiling dishes like pasta and cut potatoes I found myself using it far more often. I pretty much just use it to boil stuff, but I find myself boiling stuff frequently. Since I almost always boil in water, cleaning it is very easy.

Stainless steel colander. Since I boil stuff a lot, I usually need to drain it. I put this in the sink and dump my boiled food in, since I prefer my side dishes to not be watery. Easy to use, easy to keep clean, and can strain a variety of boiled side dishes without too much trouble.

 

Aroma automated rice cooker. I bought this years ago and it’s one of the best cooking appliance purchases I’ve ever made.

What makes this cooker super useful is how I can set the delay timer to cook rice for the following day, or in the morning for dinner later than evening. Rice is ready when I plan to eat it, with no hassle. It also has different settings for brown rice vs white rice, and both types come out exactly the way you’d like. I highly recommend it for anyone who likes to eat rice on the regular. It can also sautee, steam vegetables, and slow cool various foods (though I don’t use those features).


I also have frying pans, a saucepan and skillets, but I use those much less frequently since I don’t fry food at home (I bake and boil everything). I also have a garlic crusher which I used a lot when I was on more of a garlic kick, but now it’s in the cabinet as a “there when I need it” kind of thing.

At some point I’ll talk about the kinds of food I eat most often, as well as desired seasonings. Until then….

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Recovery, sleep, diet: It’s all connected

One of the biggest problems I’ve had over time with recovery from hard/long runs and races hasn’t been soreness or lingeirng fatigue. It’s been sleep before and after the run.

Before the run, anxiety can mess with your state of mind and lead to keeping you awake, which obviously impacts the run itself and everything beyond. After the run, you can be so revved up long after you’ve relaxed that it can keep you awake.

This is obviously a huge recovery problem, because sleep is just as if not more important than your nutrition and rest patterns. If you get poor sleep, it messes with just about everything else you do from that night until you get caught up… if you do.

Obviously, a hard or long run revs your heart rate up and taxes your body to a point where following the run it may not totally come down before going to bed that night, even if you lay out all day. What probably happened in a lot of those cases was that I went to bed with a heart rate and state still close to activity-level. Even if I got to sleep, I usually didn’t stay asleep for suitably long.

My game plan yesterday went beyond my route and in-run fueling. I also had food ready with big meals planned for the afternoon and evening. I wasn’t going to make the mistake of going to bed hungry, especially after a 20 mile run.

For lunch I ate about a pound of baked chicken, with four cut+baked potatoes in olive oil, a pretty large meal. I probably drank about a gallon of water between the end of the run and the end of the night. Even after indulging in too many veggie chips around sunset, I made sure to bake and eat three chicken thighs with some more potatoes that evening. I hit the hay around 10:30 and slept pretty well this past night.

This will be important after the Chicago Marathon for one key reason: I have to go back to work the next morning. I can’t afford to be so revved up after a marathon that I sleep 3 hours, and then work all the next day at a gig I can’t take a sick day from.

If I can set a routine to house a big post-race meal, then house two other big meals during the day, with the last meal being an hour or two before bed, plus make sure not to go and do anything else… I think I can calm the motor enough to get to sleep and stay there until morning.

We forget that our bodies are ecosystems, and the different elements of recovery (rest, nutrition and sleep) are all connected.

  • Rest periods can’t do their work if you don’t get suitable nutrition and enough sleep.
  • Nutrition can only do its work if you get needed sleep, and you give your body the inactivity to allow rebuilding.
  • Sleep can’t happen if you’re not effectively fed, and you cannot slow the motor enough to allow yourself to get there.

So in the past I’d struggle with sleep and focus on why I can’t sleep, instead of doing the right thing and looking at how my eating patterns and other habits contribute to my ability to get to sleep and stay asleep that night.

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What’s a good middle ground for a marathon training taper?

After today’s 20 miler, I’m officially tapering from here to Chicago.

That’s probably not a big deal to most experienced marathon runners, who were traditionally taught to do their longest run three weeks out from their goal race, and then taper from there.

But Jonathan Savage has found from various research that 3 weeks may actually be too long. The Hanson Brothers seem to back this up in their methodology, with a 2 week taper that’s so light that many muse that the Hanson Method doesn’t have a taper at all.

Of course, many also claim that a 20 miler is unnecessary, yet even knowing the arguments here I am beating my legs into the ground over 4 hours on a Saturday morning, logic be damned.

Still, the logic behind a shorter taper is sound.

  • You may end up peaking too early and losing fitness from the extended draw-down in volume and intensity during that final 3 weeks of training.
  • You want to peak at a time where you get to the start line with the maximal benefit from that training.

The Hansons’ program specifically has you do your last quality workout 10 days out because they posit you see benefits from a key workout after 10 days, and to push yourself anytime in the last 9 days before the goal race needlessly damages and tires you out ahead of your goal race.

That said, for many the 3 week taper seems to work anyway in part because:

  • Remember the old adage that it’s better to get to the start line undertrained than overtrained. It just works out well for most that they get to the line rested, even having lost some fitness.
  • A marathon is such a brutal experience anyway that most don’t notice during the race any fitness they may have incidentally lost from peaking too early.

Does that mean a 3 week taper is the best approach before a marathon? Possibly not.

Still, some say it’s akin to debating what kind of protein shake you’re gonna put in the bottle for the end of your upcoming workout. The workout is ultimately the more important thing, while the contents of your bottle are relatively trivial.

Likewise, debating which day to begin your taper doesn’t seem nearly as important as how you’ve trained overall the first 15-29 weeks, how consistently you’ve run, what kind of training you’ve done, how you’ve recovered, etc.

Tapering perfectly isn’t going to substantially improve a subpar training cycle. And while there is some chance a poorly done taper could damage your effort on race day, it’s not necessarily going to undo a very good training cycle (… unless your actions get you injured or sick).


However, especially after a variety of unfortunate unforeseen setbacks derailed my effort at Vancouver this May, I would like to give myself the best possible opportunity to have a good experience at the Chicago Marathon. So I don’t terribly mind putting some effort into tapering well.

I decided to meet all this conflicting advice in the middle with the following general plan:

Week ending September 16 (this one):

  • Peak mileage (53 miles).
  • High intensity (2 tempo/speed workouts, plus 2 strength training sessions).
  • Peak long run (20 miles).
  • Eat a ton of protein rich food.

Week ending September 23:

  • Slightly lower but still fairly high mileage (42-45 miles).
  • Peak intensity (3 tempo/speed workouts, 2 strength training sessions).
  • Sizable but not peak long run (13-16 miles, 2.5 hours max).
  • Eat another ton of protein rich food.

Week Ending September 30:

  • Substantial draw down of mileage (25-30 miles)
  • Draw down of intensity (only one strength training session, plus caving to the Hansons’ recommendation and doing the last tempo workout 10 days out).
  • Even shorter long run to stay honest (10-13 miles, 2.5 hours max).
  • Don’t eat a ton of protein rich food but maybe 0.75 tons.

Marathon Week, ending October 7:

  • Nothing but easier, shorter runs. Make sure they’re still regularish runs (3-5 miles).
  • Include either some brief tempo segments or do the runs at a moderate intensity.
  • The key to this week is to maintain running chops and not lose substantial fitness.
  • Runs done the final 3 days will not exceed 5 miles, and will likely be more like 2-4.
  • And, of course, run the actual marathon that Sunday.

The idea:

  • I think everyone across the board has the same idea when it comes to overall volume. You want to peak your weekly mileage about 3 weeks out (and most people focus on the long run or the quality workouts, without focusing on the volume of all the runs done during the week) because after that you want your body’s now accelerated ability to handle and recover from that level of pounding… to catch up at an accelerated scale, against less overall volume.
  • You do still want to get in strength training, speed sessions, tempo work, etc., because your body is still netting benefits from this work, and to eliminate or reduce it would lead to a dulling of the anaerobic/moderate caliber fitness you have developed during the last few months. I have seen for myself a performance dropoff when I cut down on intensity for a few weeks, whether or not I cut down on volume.
  • I think, along with getting scared of an upcoming race when they’ve neglected training, people training for a marathon get scared of overtraining in the final taper weeks, and thus they go overboard on the taper: Too many days off, lots of too-short runs, frequently cutting off workouts early. That as much as anything is what leads to a preliminary loss of fitness ahead of any race, let alone a marathon. I like the idea of still running everyday if you’ve already been doing it for months… just at somewhat less distance while still at enough distance to be more than a recovery run, and like Savage recommends making sure to maintain intensity as you draw down mileage and to not cut that out too soon.
  • That said, I do think the Hansons have the right idea in cutting all that out at 10 days out, and focusing just on easy running, since at that point you have done all you can do to get ready. Just keep your chops over the final 10 days, allow your body to catch up to all that training, and get to the start line ready to go.
  • If anything, the one new stimulus I’d add and practice is working on in-race fueling. One mistake I think I made in previous training cycles is to start practicing fueling during runs way too soon, and not giving myself the chance to do long runs with no water or nutrition to experience full depletion. This time around, I’ve kept in-run fueling to a minimum: Today’s 20 was probably the first time this cycle I brought any nutrition with me (two Larabars and water), and on half my long runs I didn’t bring any water. Now, with the volume and intensity having been ingrained, I can practice here and there with taking water, Gatorade, chews or whatever else every 1.5 miles or so, instead of trying that at the same time as trying to develo aerobic fitness or hit tempo. I have the space to find something that suits a rhythm.

As always, this is just one view, and I’m not saying any of this is the perfect answer to tapering. But I do think this approach may work better than the alternatives.

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Does running make your butt smaller?

Obviously, how your running affects your butt size depends on various factors.

  • The original composition of your butt (muscle vs fat)
  • Your entire body’s composition (muscle vs fat)
  • The amount of running you do
  • The intensity of the running you do
  • Your diet
  • What other exercise you do, and with what body parts

Unlike the calories per mile question, this is not a question with a clear consistent answer that can be cross applied.

However, if you carry a lot of fat, and a lot of fat is in that butt… running a lot more than before could make your butt smaller, sure. You’ll burn more fat over time and that can reduce the cushion around your… tushion.

However, that also depends on what you eat, and how you eat differently once you’re running more. Are you eating a lot more food now that you’re running? Are you cleaning up your diet? Are you eating the same, but now running a calorie deficit every day due to all that running?

Generally, if you eat more than you burn, you’re not going to lose weight, and thus will probably not lose butt. If you eat the same as before but exercise more, you will probably lose weight, and thus probably lose butt as well.

Of course, the flip side is that using your lower body muscles more will make them stronger, and possibly bigger. Proper form does utilize the glutes. It’s entirely possible your butt muscles get bigger. But this probably isn’t going to make your butt bigger overall, unless you:

  • Eat more to compensate for your extra running and thus maintain your rear-located fat storage
  • Take anabolic steroids or other performance enhancing drugs that help produce substantial muscle gain after heavy training and diet

There’s also the converse, that if you eat too little and allow your muscle tissue to break down… this could in kind lead to an overall lean-down of your body, which in turn would lead to your butt also getting a little leaner. But it’s very hard to train a lot for an extended period with this sort of nutrition depletion, without suffering burn-out and having to abandon training.

And, finally, there’s genetic predisposition. Basically, some people are genetically inclined to have a big butt, and even when they clean up their diet and exercise their… butts off… their butt is still going to remain big. It’s like Pacific Islanders who tend to have naturally huge calves. They can slim down and change their habits all they want, but even if they lean out they’re still going to have large calves. Such is life with such genetics.

You may still see results (especially if you were overweight), but there may be only so much you can do to reduce the size of particular parts, including the posterior. But (butt?), on average, running a little (like, a couple times a week) probably won’t reduce the size of your butt all that much. Running a lot, however (like, almost every day), possibly will. Either way, if you eat a lot, and eat even more when you’re running more, it’s more likely you don’t see results.

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My keys to a successful running diet

I’ve gotten pretty good at consistently eating a solid diet that successfully augments my training, and I’d like to share some of my keys to success with you.

The standard disclaimers:

This is based on my experience, a truckload of trial and error over years and years, on habits that have consistently produced positive results for me.

Who am I to say any of this works? Well, I am an experienced distance runner…

  • who wasn’t an experienced runner 4 years ago
  • who has lost 30 lbs in those 4 years to achieve an average healthy weight (5’10”, 164 lbs and falling)
  • who (while no Adonis or Achilles) is in decent shape and good health at what is soon to be age 40
  • who runs 30-50 miles a week during training
  • who pretty much doesn’t get injured or burn out anymore
  • who runs basically every day, with my typical run being about 4-6 miles.

Your mileage may vary:

The more experienced you are, and the more volume of training that you do than I do, the more fruitfully you can dismiss and blow off any of this advice.

The less experienced you are and the less you work out, the more likely this advice (however imperfect) can help you.

Take or dismiss it at your own leisure or risk. I am fairly sure none of this general advice will hurt you if you generally follow it… any more than anyone else’s general advice.

Blah blah blah see a doctor before beginning any training program or making any changes blah blah blah. We’re adults.

My keys to a successful running diet:

Aim to eat a maintenance amount of calories during training.

Even if you could afford to lose a few pounds, you’re better off trying to finish even (calories eaten close to or equal to calories burned) than to run a calorie deficit during a training cycle.

Unlike most sedentary people or strength trainers, you actually need those calories. You burn way more calories on a run than people do in the gym. You actually do have a use for carbohydrates, not to mention fat, as your body utilizes that energy on runs. And with all that work, you need all the protein you can get afterward to help rebuild your damaged muscles.

It’s okay to fall short on calories some days, especially if you’re trying to cut fat. If you’re not training for a race, you’re free to run a healthy deficit (500-1000 calories max below your burn per day). But ALWAYS get enough protein. Always make sure you get your needed vitamins and nutrients. Everything else can fall short.

It’s okay to eat at a surplus some days. If possible, try to do so before or during long and intense workout days.

Eat more protein than you think you need.

Eat protein like an entry level bodybuilder: Consume each day at least 1 gram of protein for every 1 lb of total lean body mass (2.2g per kilogram), when actively training.

If not training for an events, a good benchmark is 1 gram of protein for every pound (or 2.2g/kg) equal to 75% of your bodyweight.

There are conflicting opinions on the recommended amount, but 1 gram per pound of lean body mass falls in the middle of most modern recommendations, and makes sense for an endurance athlete who obviously isn’t trying to get swole (extra muscle mass slows you down!), but does need to maintain muscle tissue during training. This is the level at which I’ve found the most consistent, sustainable satisfaction and results.

It’s definitely okay to go over that protein benchmark during and after intense training. The myth that excess protein damages your kidneys has long since been proven false.

Try to get all of your protein from whole food (e.g. meat, legumes). Avoid leaning on protein shakes, unless you find it very hard to prepare or port protein-rich meals during a typical day… or you are vegetarian/vegan. Even then, stick to a max of one protein shake per day. One item that is not a myth is that protein shakes not only lack various key nutrients present in protein rich whole foods…. but excess protein shakes can cause gas and other intestinal problems.

Eat more carbohydrates when needed. Otherwise take it easy on them.

Carbs are best ingested en masse before hard workouts, and immediately after the hardest workouts. Having them in your bloodstream helps you during workouts, and the glycogen lost from hard workouts can be more quickly replenished during meals eaten within 2 hours of a workout.

Eating a bunch of carbs the day or two before a monster workout or a marathon can be helpful for topping off your glycogen stores, but the classic pasta binge before a marathon is a bit overrated. If you’ve tapered your training and been eating a solid diet leading up to the race, you’re probably fine: The decreased exercise combined with your normal diet has probably topped off your glycogen tank for you.

How much? I generally don’t try too hard to count, but adding enough to get within 500 calories of your daily burn has been a fine general benchmark.

Meanwhile, on rest days you should eat far fewer carbs and more natural fat. If I wasn’t training for a marathon I might even do a keto or primal style low-carb diet. Granted, that’s extreme, and just sticking to green vegetables and fruit for carbs on such a day is probably fine.

Eat Clean fat:

I’m talking about fat naturally occurring in whole foods (meat, avocados, some nuts). I only cook with virgin coconut oil or pure olive oil.

Fat is necessary for effective organ function. Also, providing fat for your body during busy days discourages your body from storing fat or converting carbohydrates to fat. Recommendation: Whatever fat comes with your daily whole-food-based protein is probably enough. That’s probably more than the RDA, but it’s not something crazy like 200g either. Typically I’ll finish a 3000 calorie day having consumed about 90-120g of fat.

Eat a minimum of processed food.

This has been preached to death. But I even add in “healthy” processed food like protein bars, or anything in a box really. The extra sodium and other additives lead to water retention, making your heavier and slowing you down.

I’m not opposed to some pizza or a bag of chips here and there. But it’s always bookended by clean, whole food.

Drink water, 100% juice, and milk.

Coffee and tea are fine (but if you add sugar you better be planning to run that day).

Don’t even touch a sports drink unless you’re actively in a long run or a speedwork session.

Gatorade is specifically engineered for use during exercise. You’re not supposed to drink it otherwise. It literally is sugar and salt water.

Eat potassium rich foods and make sure you get enough potassium almost every day.

Your heart and your muscles need potassium to function. Yet most people don’t get close to enough (typically 4000-4500 mg per day). A lack of potassium undermines intense activity, and can be dangerous in some situations.

Bananas. Avocados. Potatoes. Natural cuts of meat. Fruit and vegetables. 4500mg is the RDA benchmark for a reason. Most people fall well short of this.

Don’t supplement: Seek to eat foods that provide it. MUCH better this way, plus you get other needed nutrients.

Take a suitable multivitamin.

You can get all your needed vitamins with a perfect diet, but your best effort will probably come nowhere close to getting them all. Take a multivitamin. Even if you piss a lot of it out, your body will utilize much of it and cover whatever gaps your diet has left.

Recommended: Get a reliable brand that recommends taking 3 pills a day, and just take one with a meal. This way on a tough day you can take 2-3, but you minimize the risk of overdose.

My mother was a mark for Source of Life, a brand specializing in whole food based multivitamins. They’re fine but they’re pricey. Don’t sink to getting a flaky mainstream brand like Centrum, but I’ve found 365’s multis at Whole Foods to be reliable and affordable.

That said, there are some key vitamins a multi tends not to provide that you should supplement separately.

Take a Calcium Magnesium citrate combo supplement, as well as the MK 7 form of Vitamin K2.

Magnesium helps you sleep (which itself is super important for training) and regulates various hormone functions. Most people don’t get enough magnesium. A lack of it can facilitate burnout. Most multivitamins don’t include magnesium in their blends. Take it after dinner.

Calcium is more well known for fortifying bones, and while milk/cheese can be a reliable source of calcium, I don’t consume a ton of either so I make sure to supplement. Since calcium and magnesium go well together they are often sold as a combo vitamin. Calcium citrate is better absorbed than the more common calcium carbonate, and magnesium citrate is better absorbed than magnesium oxide. So a Cal-Mag Citrate supplement is the way to go.

But! Calcium can be harmfully absorbed by the arteries instead of your bones… without the presence of Vitamin K. Most multis provide it but don’t readily supply in an absorbent form. So if available I’d recommend taking a Vitamin K2 supplement in the MK 7 form.

Take a Fish oil supplement, if you aren’t eating wild caught salmon.

Omega 3’s in fish oil reduces overall inflammation and promotes good heart health. If you eat farmed salmon it won’t have as much omega 3 as wild caught salmon.

Salmon is pricey and I find it easier to just take a supplement. Whole Foods sometimes has salmon oil, which I prefer to take. But honestly you can take just about any fish oil supplement and as long as it doesn’t contain soy products you’re probably good.

Most brands ask you take 3-6 pills a day. Just take one after dinner.

If you’re frequently under stress and it’s not easily within your control, take ashwagandha or SAMe.

Ashwagandha is an herb that has all sorts of alleged health benefits, but the one known benefit I’ve experienced is that it helps buffer you against stress. I find a bit of the edge comes off the day when I’m taking it.

My mother was big on SAMe, a supplement originally used to help treat joint pain and similar issues but was later found to have positive effects on depression and stress. You cna call it a super version of ashwagandha if you’d like, as I’ve found it does have even stronger stress-relieving effects on my mental state than ashwagandha. And it also does have a positive effect on joint health and relieving inflammation. SAMe however is a lot more expensive than ashwagandha.

Recommendation: Whichever one you decide to take, just take one pill per day max. And cycle your usage: 8 weeks on max, then 4 weeks off.

A good time to take it is during the latter stages of training for a goal race, and then to stop using it for a while once the race is done. This controls cortisol, helps manage mood, and like magnesium helps you sleep better.

If you’re going to eat junk food, eat protein rich junk food.

I’m not against pizza or hamburgers or any of that.

Surround those meals with super clean meals or intermittent fasting, plus plenty of water. Definitely work out those days, and/or the following day, to ensure you burn those junk calories ASAP.

The Andy Morgan Night Out Rule For Drinking:

Andy Morgan is this guy. He’s a bodybuilder who has perfected a combination of training, intermittent fasting, and proper nutrition into an approach he calls Ripped Body.

The rule: If you’re going to go out and have a night of drinking alcohol, get in all your needed protein for the day BEFORE you head out for the night.

Consider anything good you eat during the night to be a bonus, though if you do eat during a night out you’re probably going to eat junk.

Yes, you’ll probably overeat for the day. This is not a big deal. Make a point to go for a run and eat perfectly clean the next day if it bothers you.

Also (this is not his rule, but mine): Before you go to bed that night, drink 16 oz of water. And you should be drinking water throughout the night of drinking as well.

Should you let yourself go after a race?

The only races after which it’s okay to let your good eating habits completely go for a little while are marathons or longer, where you plan to take some time off. But get back on the wagon no later than a week later. Any race that’s shorter, and you really should just treat it as a hard workout: Keep eating well, keep training.

In conclusion:

This approach has worked very well for me, and I think it can work well for others. I realize the advice scratches the surface, and I invite you the reader to do research on any of this if you so desire.

But I follow this approach 80-99% of the time (sure, I deviate and go off the wagon like anyone… but these are also strong habits that make it easy to go back to and stick to them). It has helped me maintain a high volume of running and to stay healthy, without the use of any sort of artificially performance enhancing substances.

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My Fitbit Daily Tracking Benchmarks

Thanks to my mother, I’ve owned a Fitbit Blaze since Christmas of 2016. Previously I had already been tracking data like my runs, my meals and other exercise on a Google Doc. So getting a tracker that easily kept track of all that and more was a huge deal.

I still map my runs manually (for accuracy, as the GPS utilization isn’t accurate in Chicago), while using the timer, step counter and heart rate monitor to track those items.

Along with those items, I have set a series of daily activity and diet goals based on my activity, training and weight loss that I feel has gotten me to where I need to be.

My Fitbit Physical Benchmarks:

16,000 steps

As someone who lives in a big city and does a lot of traveling on foot, I’ve always found that 10,000 is a bit too easy for me to reach (rare is the day where I don’t log at least 10K-12K steps), while 20,000 requires quite a bit of work (if I go on a fairly long run I can get there).

The bar that requires just enough effort in a day to reach has been 16,000. That’s around 7 miles of walking or running.

10 floors

This is the standard Fitbit benchmark, and that works just fine for me. On an easy day, I may get to sunset well short and need to take a hike up the stairs at my apartment building. Often, the elevation changes in my running are more than enough to account for well over 10 floors.

Right now I’m working at an assignment that requires some stair climbing between the train stations and the building itself. I often sit down at work having already climbed 6-8 floors.

That’s probably all I’m looking for with that.

90 minutes of activity

The standard benchmark was 60 minutes, but again I commute on foot, and I found this a bit too easy to reach most days. Asking 90 minutes usually requires a lot of walking or some sort of serious workout, whether a run or a lot of time in the gym or similar.

On some lazier days I may get to sunset with less than 15-30 minutes, but usually I hit 90 minutes almost by accident, often in the middle of a run.

3000 calories burned

Given my diet, I find 3000 calories to be the sweet spot for a required daily burn. And sure enough, given my daily activity it seems to be a consistent benchmark. On lazier days I can finish at 2200-2500 calories, but often with a workout and any amount of extended activity I can get to 3000 without a problem.

My record calorie burn in a day right now is 5400, which of course was on the last day I attempted to log a 20 miler (after which I logged a recovery run in the evening, making it a Bulls**t 20).

6.0 miles

I barely track this, since if I hit the other benchmarks I almost certainly traveled six miles between walking, running and anything else I was doing during the day.

But it’s a fine barometer later in the day if I find myself short on most goals. If I’m short X miles, then traveling the needed miles to get to 6 will likely get me to the other goals.

Afternoon activity: 250 steps every hour 3pm-8pm

I find Fitbit’s forced tracking of hourly 250 step goals annoying, but also in some way helpful. I set it to a tolerable minimum: 5 hours during the afternoon and early evening.

At least here it asks me to find 250 steps during a time when energy and attention span tends to flag. Getting up and walking a bit to meet the silly machine-demanded goal can help clear my head and keep me moving.

Other notes:

  • If my resting heart rate goes up by more than 1 bpm over 24 hours, or goes up on consecutive days, I usually take preventative action: Get to bed earlier, drink more water, eat more protein, relax, or change up training in light of recent activity. Often I’m well aware of likely causes for this (short sleep the night prior, tough workout the day before, etc).
  • I try to avoid consecutive days with a calorie surplus, unless I’m about to go on a massive workout or race, like a 20 miler, a hardcore interval session, or a marathon.
  • If I gain weight day over day, I often look to either run a calorie deficit, intermittent fast for the next day, or both (which is fairly easy). If planning to do more than a recovery run, I will definitely avoid going short on calories and instead just intermittent fast during the morning.
  • I make sure to consume no less than 130g protein, and aim for at least 140g. Busy as I am, I need the protein to re-build muscle and other key tissue etc. If I miss both benchmarks I at least get as close as I can with protein intake, and aim to exceed both the following day.
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I didn’t quit drinking, except I basically have, and here is why

I don’t really drink that much anymore… (said the guy who went and had a pilsner yesterday afternoon in Uptown after a long walk).

Seriously, though, while I was never much of a drinker compared to others (especially in highly-alcoholic Chicago, where discarded beer cans are the City Flower)… I have since become a rare drinker. I say that rather than “quit drinking” out of respect to friends who have for their reasons seriously cut all alcohol and take pride in it.

I might have a beer or two, maybe a well drink, once or twice a month at most. Yesterday was the first time I went out of my way to have a drink in months: All the other ABV beverages I’ve had were either as part of events or with family.

I’m still open to having alcohol, but I rarely go out of my way to have any. I may have drinks more often during Loyola basketball season when I’m in reach of Ireland’s Pub 10 before and after games. But otherwise I could go weeks between a drink without thinking much of it.

This could be due to separation from people who habitually drink every weekend (and whenever possible on the weekdays). But being in Wrigleyville, there’s no shortage of opportunity. In fact, I have an unopened bottle of North Shore Aquavit that has sat in my fridge unopened for over two years. If I wanted alcohol it’s basically right there, all the time. But I hardly want it.

Sure, being a runner who trains daily might be a factor. But plenty of runners enjoy a beer on the regular, and other than monthly pint night events or races I still don’t really drink. And of course, because I’m burning thousands of extra calories a week it’s not like I couldn’t get away with a drink every few days, or even every day if I wanted.

So what steers me away from drinking? There are actually more fundamental factors, and none of them have to do with pious morality.

Snoring.

My family’s had a history of snoring problems, and I’m no exception. Laying in some positions, it can become a problem. Well, when you drink your muscles relax, and that includes the tissues in your throat. This gives your ENT airways more flappy tissue to make snoring noise with, so you snore more. Snoring indicates your airway is obstructed, and this can interfere with sleep… not to mention the noise can interfere with other people’s sleep. So, since I want to avoid snoring, I want to avoid things that cause snoring… like alcohol.

Alcohol disrupts my sleep.

Even if you’re tired enough to quickly drift off to sleep after a night of drinks, alcohol interferes enough with your circadian rhythms to prevent you from logging substantial periods of deep and REM sleep, the key portions of sleep to rejuvenating your body. Often, you’ll wake up during the night or otherwise prematurely. I usually don’t sleep well after having even one drink most of the time, no matter how good I felt from the moment I drank it until the end of the day. It has a ripple effect on the entire next day, like any day where I don’t get enough sleep. So, since I usually don’t want my sleep disrupted, I avoid drinking.

I have a lot of stuff I want to do the next morning.

I have a life, and I’m a big time morning person. I like to get up early and go have coffee, work on writing, walk through the hood and other things in the morning. Waking up feeling like garbage from drinking or from not sleeping well due to the drinking interferes with that. Most who drink want to sleep in and not bother with the morning. But I like getting up the next morning and doing stuff more than I like drinking.

Alcohol hurts my mood the next day.

Never mind that alcohol is a known depressant (a key reason I never under any circumstances drink if I’m in a foul mood or am dealing with trouble). I’ve found without fail that, regardless of how I physically feel the next day, my mood and outlook by the following afternoon has subtlely, mysteriously slid. I feel a bit sad for no clear reason and as most people do my mind starts fumbling for reasons why. But in all likelihood it’s the after-effects of the alcohol filtering through my body, and in turn my brain. I have the sense now to remind myself of that and notice when it’s happening so I can not take any negative emotions to heart. But generally I find it better to avoid the situation, and drinking in general, entirely.

It’s only enjoyable if you’re in a good mood and with people you like.

A key reason I drink mostly at runner pint nights or before Loyola basketball games is because I’m around good people and in a situation I enjoy. I’m not into drinking for the sake of drinking, for the sake of drowning sorrows or salving a tough day or week (whether or not I joke about needing a drink during a difficult day). It’s harder than we think to find those situations, and most of the time I’m not in good company or in high spirits. Drinking isn’t going to add a ton of value then, so why do it?

It costs money.

Oh, and of course, alcohol is not free (even drinking from alcohol in your home is drinking alcohol you paid for, and accelerates the need to buy more alcohol later). Go to a bar and buying a single drink is going to cost $5-10. That’s money I can definitely put to better use in just about every way, and I’m not in the economic bracket where throwing that much money down a hole is negligible in the long run. There’s got to be a good reason for me to spend that kind of money.


 

Again, all this runs the risk of seeming like I have some sort of moral piety against drinking. I like drinking when I do it, but the situations where I like doing it are fewer and farther between than for most.

If anything, I probably take issue with people building their lifestyle and sense of culture around doing it frequently, as a habit and for its own sake. This is of course very prevalent in Chicago. While it would be great if people made better use of their money and time, everyone should get to live their own life as long as they’re not hurting anyone or otherwise unduly impeding anyone else’s ability to live their life.

If for some reason I had to never take a drink again, I don’t think I’d be that upset about it. That said, I like drinking. I just don’t like it doing it all that often.

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My observed pros and cons of different kinds of running fuel on long runs

In many of my long training runs I have not only experimented with fueling during runs (as training for doing so in races), but have also done so because given the scope of the run I needed to. I have tried a wide range of fueling options, as recommended by various sources, and have found that all have their particular advantages and disadvantages.

Ultimately, in a long distance race I prefer to utilize Gatorade if they have it on course. Barring that (e.g. if they use a no-calorie sports drink like Nuun), I’ll bring Clif Shot Bloks. For anything shorter than 10 miles I’ll often just tough it out and drink water… maybe whatever sports drink they have if I feel like it.

But again, for workouts I’ve tried a variety of different fueling sources, and here’s my observed advantages and disadvantages for each:

Bringing small snacks (e.g.a protein bar or granola bar)

Advantages: Something like a protein or granola bar feels a lot more satisfying than other fuel sources while running. It’s usually closer to actual food! They often contain protein and fat, which are more satiating.

Disadvantages: Small snacks can make a mess, or worse yet fall out of my hands on the ground more easily. Because they must be eaten, they can pose a choking risk, or to lesser extent make it hard to breathe when I try to eat them while running. De-packaging them can be more of a pain than the quicker consumption afforded by drinks and gels.

Verdict: While I’m never against bringing a snack with me, it’s something I won’t go out of my way to do. I definitely won’t turn down a protein bar for the road before a run, however.

Syrups

I have experimented with different kinds of syrups, such as honey and raw agave, mostly going with raw agave due to its viscosity making it easier to pour from a gel flask. I would consume these intermittently throughout the run.

Advantages: They are a dense form of quickly digested sugar carbohydrate, which provides much-needed glycogen during a long run. A single ounce can contain about 100 calories (25g) of pure sugar. This buys muscles time and distance before exhausting  glycogen stores.

Disadvantages: These sugars are simple and the body may only use this fuel to maintain bodily functions rather than fuel your lower body muscles. Both are sticky and can create a mess even if you do not spill. Honey in particular is very viscous and may flow too slowly from a container during a run to be useful. Practically, you need a container to dispense these syrups such as a gel flask, and these typically only hold 5-6 oz. For very long runs, this might not be enough fuel.

Verdict: I did raw agave for a while, but I’m probably done with using it as a long run fuel source. Thankfully I’ve built up the endurance to finish 15-20 milers without fuel, so it’s no longer necessary like before.

Gels

The most commonly used form of fuel in long distance races. These are typically sold in single use disposable 100 calorie packs.

Advantages: Unlike syrups and other sugars, gels are specifically engineered to quickly provide glycogen for your muscles rather than just general function. Gels typically come in single use packets and are more easily portable.

Disadvantages: Gels taste nasty (don’t @ me about the flavors having gotten better, runners. A better tasting version of motor oil still tastes like motor oil). Though portable, the gels are still messy, possibly more so than syrups. They’re even more viscous, making it harder to extract and consume. I typically need to wash it down with a lot of water. You also have to find a way to dispose of the used packets. In races runners tend to do the worst: Dropping used packets on the ground behind them, for other runners to slip on. This alone turns me off of them, but the other stuff doesn’t help either.

Verdict: Hell no. As I say to people when Papa John’s pizza arrives, how the hell do you people eat this crap?

Gatorade

The classic sugar and electrolyte solution in a bottle or mixed in a container of varying size. You drink it while working out and it replenishes you.

Advantages: Drinking Gatorade kills two birds with one stone, hydrating you with an electrolyte-packed drink that also provides glycogen-rich calories. When running races, most provide it free of charge just as they do water. It’s also a lot more widely available at stores, and usually at a cheap price. If you’re lucky they sell bottles out of a refrigerated case, making it doubly refreshing!

Disadvantages: It’s liquid, meaning it has more weight and takes up more volume than other fueling options. A typical bottle of Gatorade can weigh anywhere from 1-2 pounds, which slows me down during running until I drink it and it’s in me.

Also, it can only carry so many calories: A 32 oz bottle only has about 240ish calories, and if you need 500+ calories in fuel for something like a marathon, that’s not going to cut it. You simply can’t carry that much Gatorade.

If it’s mixed in person instead of bought factory-made (Hint: The Gatorade served at races is often mixed on-site), there’s a chance it may not be mixed correctly, and you may not get the full caloric benefit… defeating a key purpose of drinking it. Also, if it’s hot outside, liquid warms… and Gatorade tastes like a nasty sugar soup when it’s warm.

Verdict: I find Gatorade terrific and if it was healthy to do so I’d drink a ton of it after workouts (Hint: you’re supposed to drink it while working out, not after; it’s literally sugar water). If carrying it wasn’t too much of a burden I’d carry a bottle with me on every long or intense workout. But if I want it for a long run I’ll have to find a way to get some during the run, then house it before continuing. Or pay someone to carry it behind me while riding a bike. (Hint: I’m currently NOT accepting applications for this role)

Chews

Clif Shot Bloks. Honey Stingers. These are gummy like things you chew before or during a workout to provide the same sort of sugar-loaded energy as gels or Gatorade. A typical small pack will contain 150-200 calories, and some versions contain caffeine.

Advantages: Like gels and Gatorade, chews are engineered to digest quickly for use as muscular glycogen, and are a perfect fuel for races and key runs. A typical package provides 150-200 calories of workout-friendly sugars in an easily chewable pack. The packs are esaily portable, and in my experience they do charge up your workout quickly once ingested… even the non-caffeinated versions.

Disadvantages: Compared to other fuel options these are not cheap: a typical pack of 6 chews can cost $2.50-3.00. Like with other food, eating it during a run can make it hard to breathe.

Also, if I need more than one 200 calorie pack (which I certainly do in marathons and other similar long runs), they take up considerable space once you’re carrying more than 2-3 of them. When I attempted Vancouver I had to wear two fanny packs, with one holding just my Bloks for the race.

Also, because they’re a solid (albeit soft) food, they can be a choking hazard if you consume while running. They don’t always go down easy and I sometimes need to chase some with water. I abhor stopping a race completely just to eat them.

Eating a small meal ahead of time

Whenever I have time, on the morning of a race or a long run I try to have a quick breakfast sandwich with a shot of espresso before heading to the race site.

Advantages: This not only sates me but effectively pre-loads my bloodstream with some ready-to-use fat and glycogen, boosting my capabilities, saving the glycogen in my muscles to some extent. A bonk becomes quite unlikely when I eat right before a run.

Disadvantages: I don’t always have the time, space or means to prepare/eat a small meal before a run. In some cases, I may need to take a crap shortly after a meal… not ideal during a run! There’s some prep (that I won’t get into) the day prior I can do to avoid the possibility of this, but it’s still an unwelcome possibility.

Verdict: I always, always try to eat a meal a couple hours before a race. On occasion if there’s time and space I’ll try and eat breakfast before a morning long run. I’ll definitely make sure to eat 3ish hours beforehand if a hard/long workout takes place in the afternoon. But I just did my last 18+ miler early in the morning with no food in me and none taken during the run. So outside of races it’s certainly not necessary.

Breaking the run in half and then eating at halftime

I’ve done this more recently. Basically, I go on a long run, but at some point past the halfway mark I stop for a bit to eat and something to drink, chill out a bit, then resume shortly after finishing the meal.

Advantages: This can help ease the hard work of a long run, by breaking the run into two shorter runs. The fuel from a meal definitely feels welcome after several miles, and comes in handy for those last miles. It can help get a head start on recovery from the initial part of the run. Also, I get to take a rest.

Disadvantages: As mentioned before, my bowels may act up with food in the tank, especially if I resume running right after eating. It’s also possible that I cool down to the point where I need to once again warm up or ease into the 2nd half of the run. I’ve typically felt better after stopping (I tend to handle working out right after eating fairly well), but sometimes I do come out of the meal creaky.

Verdict: If I’m training for a longer race, especially if I’m late in the training cycle… breaking up the long run might compromise the value of that long run. I mitigate this by only stopping after having run for 2.0-2.5 hours, which is the back wall recommended for most long runs anyway. Extending the run after that isn’t a problem with a break. Otherwise, I have no problem breaking up a long run with a halftime meal.

In fact, I did so twice over the last few months! My first crack at 20 miles (which sadly only went 19.45 due to a miscalc) had a halftime where I stopped in Edgewater for food and drink at Whole Foods. And last month I stopped at a hot dog stand near Navy Pier during the back end a 17 miler, treating myself to a hot dog and some Powerade. Hit the spot.

Not eating at all

This is what I do most often! This is what most people do for most runs. You don’t worry about fuel, and just do the damn run. For most runs this is totally fine. Even for most longer runs this is totally fine. To do the longest runs this way can be challenging, and can also be rewarding training depending on goals for the run (e.g. running to deplete your glycogen stores to practice running in that state).

Advantages: Not worrying about fuel makes long workouts a lot simpler. I won’t have to worry about timing fuel intake or other distractions. I also train my body to handle glycogen depletion on longer runs, which better prepares me to handle key late points in races such as the marathon.

Disadvantages: If I’m training for a marathon, practicing fueling is valuable and this could be a lost opportunity to either practice or experiment with fueling in-race. Based on the length of the run, I could bonk during the run, perhaps increase the likelihood of injury, illness or some other setback. Not fueling could also compromise performance on some longer runs (maybe I want to practice some tempo segments), which depending on my goals could be an issue.

Verdict: If it’s not a race or a dangerously long distance, running without fuel is the way to go. If it’s very long or I need to practice marathon fueling, then I really should bring some fuel.

In Conclusion….

I’m hungry.

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Cleaning up my lifestyle (further)

With a career change came a shift in my lifestyle. I had also re-gained about 5-10 of the pounds I had previously lost during the last few months at my old job, despite a high volume of regular running. The resulting self-reflection led me to make wholesale improvements to my lifestyle.

Granted, my habits weren’t terrible to begin with: My diet and lifestyle at the start of 2018 was dramatically improved over 2015, let alone 2010-2014, let alone further back etc. But you don’t gain weight randomly. Even though I logged my food and found I was about even with my estimated calorie burn, I apparently was storing more than I could use. Along with my career situation, something clearly wasn’t right.


 

I cleaned up my diet in varying stages over the years, but over the past few months have really simplified it. At this point I’m challenging myself to eat as much whole food (cuts of whole meat, raw fruit, vegetables, rice) as possible. There are a lot of reasons for this.

  • It’s easier to track whole food items in Fitbit, and a lot harder when you eat something complex/processed, especially from a restaurant where you’re not privy to the ingredients let alone.
  • Processed food typically costs more per serving than its whole food counterparts. You’re paying for, among other things, satiety combined with immediacy. Sometimes I need that for whatever reason (it’s convenient at the end of a tiring day with few prior meals to house an Eastside Cafe frozen pizza and immediately get that 80-95 grams of protein, plus a bunch of calcium etc from all that fatty cheese). But usually I can find the space to prepare a fulfilling meal from whole food myself at home.
  • Processed food lacks key nutrients… especially dietary fiber, protein, and the underrated potassium. Plus, there’s far too much inflammatory and water-retaining sodium in processed food, and in many cases far too much fat. Since I run every day and am active in general, I need all the nutrients and as little garbage I can get.
  • You have no idea what 90% of processed food’s ingredients are, what they come from, what it does to your body long-term, etc etc. To get into the nuances of this would probably send us both into seizures, so let’s leave it at that.
  • Processed food is engineered to generate cravings to eat more food, which defeats a key reason to eat food (satiety i.e. not feeling the need to eat more food).
  • Hormonal balance and healthy hormone production is predicated largely on getting enough nutrients. Processed food is nutrient poor and disruptive. Whole foods closest to their natural state are nutrient rich.
  • I’ve found more ways to efficiently prepare and port whole, natural foods. I’ve had an on again, off again relationship with canned sardines, and now that I’ve found I can combine them with white rice prepared at home, they’ve become a lunch staple at work.

One problem that emerged at my prior job is that I started buying lunch more often. Previously I had brought food and eaten that every day, but even eating that food I was also sneaking out for hot bar meals. Granted, as I ran at a higher volume leading up to Vancouver I needed the extra nutrition. But that nutrition was also highly processed and was probably a key factor in my weight gain… not just for insidious extra calories, but the processed food probably wreaked havoc on my biology with inflammation and compromised hormonal function.

Changing careers coupled with a break from marathon training allowed me space to experiment with my eating habits, with different food choices (which granted were limited based on what I was doing for work and when: you have more freedom in some work situations than others).

Currently I’m on work assignment in an area close to two supermarkets with hot bars. Of course, hot bar food is not only partially processed, but expensive.


 

I wasn’t getting as much sleep as before. I woke up more during the night, woke up earlier, went to bed no earlier. I had plenty of time to sleep, yet my sleep was being disrupted.

This is something I still work on, granted. It’s a matter of forming the needed habits to eliminate the habits and sources compromising my sleep:

  • Remember to shut off all electronics, as well as disconnect power sources to those electronics, before bed. When I shut down my mobile and turn off the power to the modem and router (my laptop is already shut completely down at the end of every night), I find I sleep better. And while the evidence is disputed, there is evidence that electronics do interfere with sleep even when they’re off.
  • Call it a night during the 10pm hour. If I let my attention span drift and keep me awake through 11pm, that’s when sleep becomes a problem. Not only does it limit the hours I can sleep but it means more blue light later in the night, which is known to interfere with sleep.
  • Eating a satisfying meal within a couple hours of bed that doesn’t leave me wanting once I do lay down to sleep, since I know that hunger keeps me awake and can wake me up during the night.
  • Using my window A/C to keep the room reasonably cool during the night, as summer warmth does interfere with my sleep.
  • Making sure I get in solid exercise, usually at least a run, because I notice that on days I don’t exercise much I also tend not to sleep well.

 

Even though I avoided it because I run and need plenty of calories, I started intermittent fasting again. Basically, I skip breakfast and my first meal of the day is lunch, usually around 12:00 noon or 1:00pm. Along with the obvious tendency to eat less since I’m eating one fewer meal a day, going 12-16 hours between dinner and this 1st meal also improves fat burning during that time while helping to reset hormonal function. I definitely feel a difference, more so than hunger pangs. I’ll have black coffee and water in the morning at work, and that’s usually it.

This also improves the digestion and utilization of that 1st lunch meal, since your body is primed to get after whatever food you finally give it. At my current work assignment, it sets the metabolic table well for that 5pm run home from work. And that sets the table well for effective digestion of dinner later than evening. I definitely eat fewer calories, but I don’t feel at all broken down as I worried I would before if I ever went back to fasting. Quite the opposite.

There’s more I can say about Intermittent Fasting but I’ll save that for another time. Basically, I’m now at a place where it works well for me.


 

Since getting my act further together, my weight has gone back down to about 163-164 lbs, about 5 pounds down from where it had re-peaked during the end of my last career. My body fat has receded from 17-18% to a better 15-16%.

More to come on that front, but it’s looking good for now.

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