Tag Archives: diet

Losing weight and specific needs with training

After returning to Las Vegas, I gained about 15 pounds before arresting what was clearly not a positive trend.

I have since lost about 5 of those extra pounds and am working on the rest, while also training for the Vancouver Marathon. I had to first correct the most important factor behind that weight change: Diet. I like my family’s home cooking, but they like to eat too much. I had to correct any controllable eating patterns I had fallen into, and eat better quality food as well as eat less of it.

I had eating patterns that made sense for me living in Chicago, where I traveled everywhere on foot and trained at a higher volume of running than now. Living in Las Vegas, where I now need to drive just about everywhere, and didn’t need to walk nearly as much, I needed to pare down how much I ate.

Still, even ramping up mileage in training for Vancouver, even now that life’s gotten a lot busier between my CPT study and work demands… I struggle quite a bit to get my scale weight to move downward.

I decided to look towards history for answers… and by history I mean my own personal history:

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Running coaches should coach diet and rest too

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Every running coach will give you a training schedule of workouts, when to do them, how to do them, and how to adjust those from day to day.

Very few running coaches will give you more than trivial, general feedback on how to eat between workouts, or on your resting and sleeping habits. This despite your diet and recovery being even more important than what you’re doing in workouts.

Without the nutrients of a sound diet, you will not recover properly between workouts. And without a proper amount of sleep, you will not recover properly between workouts.


So, there’s obvious complications to coaching a person’s diet and sleep along with their running.

What makes diet and sleep hard to coach is that, unlike what a runner does in their workouts, these are everyday-living factors beyond a coach’s control. A coach may or may not be able to stand watch over your workouts (many athletes are coached remotely), but there’s no way they can stand and watch your every move, let alone every meal, in your personal life. And they certainly can’t monitor when or how you go to sleep. Even if they told you what to do, chances are good you’d flake on a good portion of their instructions. And, of course, who wants to have their lives micromanaged? The advice probably wouldn’t be welcome for many.

Plus, there are countless different approaches to diet even within a given culture, let alone between cultures. Those who have tried to bean-count the caloric intake of athletes have produced more problems for those athletes than they solved in doing so. Never mind the substantial differences in a vegan or carnivore or Atkins diet. Even the macronutrient needs can vary from person to person, never minding their age/size/shape/health in general.

Most of all, coaching diet is considered the field of a dietitician, a field outside of the specialty of a coach better versed in crafting and moderating workouts.

Now, all of that said (and no, I’m not providing any scientific citations), I can posit that a large number of injury and burnout problems are in no small part a product of deficiencies in each said athlete’s diet and sleep. The vast majority of humanity, in all fitness levels, is deficient in one or more key nutrients, whether it’s as simple as protein or as micro-specific as a vitamin like magnesium or iron.


Still, you don’t need to be an RD to know that:

  • The first half hour following a workout is the best time to ingest protein and carbs
  • Clean unprocessed food is better fuel between workouts than processed food
  • On average you ideally consume as many calories as you burn in a given day
  • You need more protein than most would recommend if you’re going to train hard
  • The more intense aerobic effort you put in, the more carbohydrates you need to consume between workouts
  • The harder you work on a given day, the more sleep you need that night to recover most effectively

The only resource that I’ve seen address post-workout nutrition with any specificity is Matt Fitzgerald’s New Rules Of Marathon And Half Marathon Nutrition. The book’s recommended workouts are bookended by a recommendation of carbohydrate/protein volume to consume in the minutes following a workout. The book is written around learning to effectively fuel a workout, and the information in general is a bit dated (the book was published in 2013), so its use is a bit limited. But it’s still more feedback on training nutrition than most authors provide.

The subject of what to eat between workouts is a broad and sensitive one, granted. It’s one I’m not going to get into now.

But I do think it’s a subject that running coaches need to give more than mere typical consideration. It’d be helpful to at least get a baseline idea of how many calories a runner consumes, estimate how many they burn per mile and during other exercise, get a good grasp on what the runner prefers to eat, and come up with some sort of concrete plan of what they should eat between workouts.

(And if you do actually want to become certified, there is a path to that. It’s not free, and it does take time, study and effort, but you can do it.)

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A Gluten Free Diet Is Actually Really Simple

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You cannot possibly eat gluten without eating something that is processed, period. Every food that contains gluten had to be manufactured from gluten-grains and other ingredients into its final form.

I always tell people that it’s actually very simple to eat a gluten-free diet… if you only eat meat, fruit, vegetables and legumes.

You could even eat some grains, such as rice. While processed, rice in its purest possible form can’t possibly contain any gluten.

The only chance you have of accidentally eating gluten is if you eat anything processed.

This unfortunately includes most restauarant food. Most of it is made from processed ingredients, and you don’t have control over its preparation. Obviously, following the above advice isn’t so easy if you go to a restaurant. You have to make adjustments and do some planning.

But if preparing food at home, and you know how to cook, you don’t have much of an excuse.

Even price is not a concern: Processed food is more expensive per pound, per calorie, than whole food from the produce/meat aisles in their purest available form.

If you need to follow a gluten-free diet, and you’re struggling to maintain it, you may find adherence a lot easier if you go clean and stick to meat, fruit, vegetables, and legumes.

(And of course if you’re vegan, you won’t eat meat. But the other three categories should cover your nutrition needs well. If vegan, I would make sure to include rice.)

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Eating a good diet at destination marathons

With Vancouver I was fortunate that the coastal city had a wealth of sushi options. Sushi rolls were an almost perfect combination of carbohydrates (from the rice) and protein (from the fish, seaweed and soy sauce). Sure, they also had markets with lots of produce, which also helped.

But produce is easy to get in most locales. Rich healthy whole food carb and protein sources… not as much.

When I ran the Chicago Marathon last October, this was easy because it was only a few miles down the street from where I lived. I could cook and eat as typically desired right up to and after the race.

But what if I run a marathon in a more remote locale, where there’s not a lot of stores and restaurants? Or even if the race is in a major market, what if pretty much every restaurant available served processed and otherwise unhealthy food that wasn’t going to help me stay ready to run?

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When Runners Get Sick

I hardly ever get sick anymore. I don’t even get the digestive ailments that used to get me from time to time over the previous years.

I want to call it a testament to my healthy eating and my improved commitment to recovery. But now and again (especially during the winter flu season) I still get sick like everyone else, so never mind that.


As a kid I used to get knocked out for a week with illness, and then need weeks to fully heal up. I got a little stronger as an adult, no longer knocked out by illness, but still having to battle with it for weeks before it passed.

Now, with healthier habits, I may get sick from time to time, but I take it easy for a couple of days, and it passes within a week.

I’d like to think the following approaches help me quickly unload an unwanted cold or flu, and can help you as well:

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Losing Fat Without Losing Sleep

An irony of New Year’s Resolutions driving people to diet and hit the gym in January is that winter is probably not the best time to try and burn fat in colder climates.

You have a more difficult time sleeping when hungry, especially if it’s cool or cold. Your body will kick into a sort of overdrive to burn body fat, which revs your circulation up enough to keep you in a state too awake to get to sleep. In fact, if you have issues getting to sleep, you may want to make sure you’re better fed shortly before bed.

But most of you want to lose weight and this is the time to do it because blah blah bathing suit season etc. You don’t want to punt the golden opportunity, and you certainly don’t want to gain weight during the winter when you want or need to lose fat in the long run. Fair enough.

There’s actually a middle ground, and it works especially well if you prefer to train later in the day. The key is intermittent fasting, i.e. not eating for most of the day, then eating all of your food in a limited time window like 6-8 hours.

Now, a myth with intermittent fasting is that it causes you to lose weight in itself. That isn’t necessarily true. You could still overeat for the day in the 6-8 hours you can eat. It’s very easy to pound a frozen pizza, and then a hamburger or something 4-6 hours later, let alone snack on anything in-between, and end up over the line. Even with 16-18 hours of not eating, you could still end up storing extra fat overall.

Given that, it’s still entirely possible to diet effectively and lose weight, while still going to bed each night feeling satiated after a ridiculously sized meal.

The key is to flip the conventional “breakfast like a king, dinner like a pauper” wisdom on its head. This is actually for most a counter-productive way of eating that has been sustained largely out of forced cultural habit. It makes sense to many people (even alleged experts) because that’s always how they’ve eaten.

Basically, even if your last meal of the day isn’t your largest, you want your last meal to be a large meal, one where by the time you go to bed you’re not in any way hungry. You may even want to top it off with a hearty snack right before bed.

Also, as this infers, you probably don’t want to start your limited feeding window at dawn and then eat your last meal around noon or 1pm, going to bed several hours after that meal. You will almost certainly be hungry at bedtime.

You will want to follow a more conventional intermittent fasting window, where you skip breakfast, eat your first meal at lunch, and then eat regularly until before bed. This allows you to fill your stomach close to full before bed and avoid insomnia-producing hunger.

Now, that doesn’t mean your first meal of the day should be the smallest. You can break your intermittent fast at lunch with a large meal as well. Just make sure any meal or snack you eat between lunch and dinner is not too large.

You probably do want to make sure you eat something a few hours after lunch to avoid any hormonal crashes or temptation to binge-eat any garbage at dinner… unless you have a specific reason you’d want to do so (like a special family dinner). Just make sure it’s around the 400-600 calorie range, bigger than a little snack but not quite a full meal.

Just because you can still gain weight intermittent fasting doesn’t mean your body isn’t burning fat during the fasting period. Moderating your diet just makes sure you aren’t piling on more fat than you burn. The fasting period does its job burning fat without food in your stomach. This process revs up your circulation, which you want during the day when you’re awake but mostly sedentary.

By back loading your food intake later in the day, your body can utilize this nutrition for post-workout and overnight recovery, and allow you to relax and sleep.

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Vital foods for serious vegan athletes

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For a variety of lifestyle and educated reasons I won’t get into, I personally consume meat and other animal products and don’t foreseeably intend to stop. And conversely I have no problem with people choosing to eat vegan, or otherwise vegetarian.

Running is probably one of the easiest forms of fitness to maintain on a vegan diet. Weightlifters and other power-based athletes face substantially greater challenges going vegan. But runners don’t have their strength and power needs. Plus, vegan diets are very carbohydrate rich, which plays right into the needs of endurance athletes.

Still, you need to be wary of your muscles’ and organs’ protein and other nutrient needs. A lot of vegan-common health problems manifest multifold in runners once those runners kick up the volume and intensity. Just because you don’t lift heavy weights doesn’t mean your muscle density isn’t important to your life, let alone your running.

The RDA and other listed mainstream protein requirements are frankly far too low. There’s a variety of political and economic reasons for that, none of which are particularly good for your health. You need more protein than that to live and age well, and most vegans need far more protein than they’re eating.

I set the minimum bar at 0.75 grams per pound of body weight. And if you look at most plant and grain based food, you’ll find reaching that bar is rather difficult.

There are certain foods that are very important to the health of serious vegan athletes.

Beans and legumes. These plant based foods provide the most protein, and a variety of other nutrients. Whether or not you’re a believer in combining proteins (e.g. eating beans with rice), beans in themselves contain a ton of potassium and protein. Just make sure to soak them properly to minimize digestive gas.

Some people swear by lentils, but not everyone digests them well. I’ve always had trouble digesting lentils. Barring that, they too are a great protein source.

Avocados, potatoes and bananas, aka the potassium monsters. Most people vegan or not don’t get enough potassium. The benchmark is 3000-4500 mg per day, depending on who you talk to, and the typical processed food rich Western diet won’t get you close.

Meat it turns out has a good share of potassium, but surprisingly many plant-based foods don’t provide much more than a similar serving of meat.

Avocados and bananas are convenient, useful potassium bombs. One avocado provides 800-1000 mg. Each banana gives you about 400 mg. But potatoes are the motherlode. A small potato can give you 600-700 mg. Cut up and eat three of them, and that’s around 2000 mg right there.

It’s little wonder so many people swear by potatoes. Famous magician Penn Jillette lost over 100 lbs subsisting largely on potatoes, which provided virtually all the nutrients his shrinking body needed. They are a calorie-dense wonder starch.

People love sweet potatoes and they’re totally fine, but they’re a bit harder to find. Conventional potatoes do the trick just fine.

If you can eat gluten, bagels. Most breads are not worth anyone’s time. But bagels are as dense and protein-rich a form of bread as you will find.

Yes, obviously for vegans there is concern that some bagels are made with egg or honey products, which are of course not vegan. If you want to try bagels and aren’t acutely aware of the source, read your labels and make sure no animal products are involved. To my knowledge, most bagels should be clear on that front. But definitely double check.

Provided they work for you… compact and calorie rich, one or two bagels on their own will provide enough energy for your longest workouts… let alone if you tack on any toppings (I’m guessing as vegans that cream cheese or butter isn’t among them). I’m a sucker for crunchy peanut butter and fruit preserves (… if there’s no corn syrup or other additives! Whole Foods has varieties of both that are free of most typical additives, that are worth the extra cost).

Bonus: Ugali. The great Kenyan runners live on two food staples. One is not vegan: Milk infused tea. They drink it after every run. The other, however, is very vegan. Ugali is nothing more than finely ground flour (often cornmeal) and water mixed over boiling heat to create a thick mashed-potato-like porridge. The Kenyans eat a ton of ugali. And their runners crush almost every other elite distance runner in the world at major long distance events.

Ugali is cooked like the love child of rice and oatmeal. You add 2 cups of water for every 1 cup of flour. You boil it, mash out any lumps as it cooks, and then thicken or thin it using more water or flour as desired before serving. Cooking it takes about 10-15 minutes. The nutritional profile is similar to rice, except with a little bit more potassium.

If you train a lot, this is one of the quickest deliveries of large quantities of glycogen-producing carbohydrate you can ingest. This is a great dish to eat before or after tough training days. The Kenyans are not kidding.

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Yeah, I’m not vegan, and I’m in no hurry to adopt the lifestyle.

Still, it can be done without sentencing to death your muscle tone and (for men) your testosterone levels. There are foods that will allow you to take full advantage of your training. Eat them.

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