Tag Archives: nutrition

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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Ideas for marathon recovery

My only expertise with this, aside from cobbling together ancedotal evidence and glancing at research, is the fact that I’m feeling alarmingly well for two days after a marathon, and based on my experience recovering from other races and hard workouts.

This is aside from the obvious advice to take extended time off and to rest when in doubt.

Eat a lot of protein everyday

Eat more protein than you typically would. Eat as if you just did a hard workout, even though clearly you haven’t worked out today, and shouldn’t.

I’m eating around 150-180g a day. I usually eat closer to 130-150g.

Walk as much as you can get away with

Yes, generally you should rest as much as you can, and I’m not suggesting you go on a massive hike. But generating blood circulation and some (slight) added stress can help kickstart recovery processes in your body. A 10-30 minute walk, even multiple times a day if you can stand it, can help accelerate the rebuilding process.

Take it easy on the caffeine

Maybe you drink coffee or tea. Maybe you don’t. Maybe you used it in training or the race, and maybe you didn’t. Ideally, you took it a bit easy leading up to the race, and probably didn’t have a whole lot on race day.

If you like it, don’t give it up, but stick to your cut-back volume for now, while you’re not planning on being particularly active. It can interfere with sleep if you re-up your intake while your body’s not burning as many calories as usual. And this is a time where sleep is very valuable for you.

The more you’re on your feet, the better your soreness will feel

The worst your soreness will feel is if you’ve been stationary for a while, and then decide to get up. As you’re on your feet for some time, the soreness will not be as present and noticeable. Again, circulation helps. And so does warming up those damaged muscles a bit. Also, the more activity you can manage during the day, the easier it will be to get to sleep, which again is important to recoery.

So make sure to get up and move around with some regularity, soreness or injuries permitting.

Once your 1-2 week rest period has passed, consider another form of fitness training in the short run.

While you could certainly get back to running once you’re ready, and perhaps you even have a race to train for right away… if you’ve got time before your next training cycle has to start, it may be beneficial to switch things up and train in something different, whether it’s weight training, circuit training, yoga or Pilates, a squats or push up challenge, playing a sport, etc…

Giving your body a different kind of workout not only promotes overall fitness and perhaps develops your running ability in different ways, but it also strengthens your core, a valuable asset once you return to training primarily as a runner.


I’m starting to feel better already, and I’m thinking in part it’s from having done a few of the pre-training ideas.

If you’re on the mend following a marathon, some of these ideas may be worth trying. Consider them.

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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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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.

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