Trying to shed pounds on the way to the starting line? Follow these rules.
It's doubtful that anyone ever said that they started training for a marathon so that they could eat more fruits and vegetables. In fact, most people joke that the sole reason to run long distances is to burn off a double-cheese pizza or earn the right to spend quality time with Ben & Jerry.
But every runner learns it one way or another: When you're prepping for a marathon or half-marathon, you can't run to eat, you gotta eat to run.
When you're in training, food becomes fuel. It will energize your run and help repair muscle tissue after a hard workout so that you can bounce back quickly for your next run.
Try to fuel up on Krispy Kreme or down a five-course meal before you go out and you could hit the wall halfway through or end up spending most of your run crouching in the bushes. Have a big meal the night before a long run and you could wake up with a food hangover: You still feel full and have the aftertaste of last night's meal, yet you're slightly hungry at the same time.
You can do all the training you want, but if you don't eat and drink the right things and get to know your own gut, it doesn't matter if you've got the leg and lung power of an Olympian: Your stomach will take you down every time.
Here are some principles to keep in mind.
1. Drop pounds early.
If you're going to slash calories, do it before you start training or during the first 4 weeks of training, when the mileage and intensity are low. The closer you get to race day, the more you want to focus on adequately fueling and recovering from those speed sessions and long runs.
2. Take it slow.
Aim to lose 1-2 pound per week, which means cutting about 250 calories per day–the equivalent of an energy bar or soda. Over the course of the week, that's 1,750 calories, which is 1?2 pound. By slowly tweaking your diet, you'll avoid severe feelings of deprivation. You'll give your body time to adjust to the reduced calorie load, and you'll have a better chance of sustaining it for the long term.
3. Stay in balance.
In order to stay energized for your runs, and therefore perform well and burn the most calories, you're going to need the same balance of calories that all runners do: Roughly 55 percent of your calories should come from carbs, 25 percent from protein, and 20 percent from fats. Take out one of those nutrients, and you'll find your workouts will feel harder, you won't recover as well, and you'll feel drained all the time. Just make sure to include high-quality foods from each group.
4. Get the timing right.
You're going to need food most before and right after a run. Before a run you'll need carbs to get fast energy; right after a run you'll need carbs to restock your glycogen stores and protein to help repair muscle tissue. Eat your highestcarb meal of the day a few hours before your workout. If you need a daily indulgence, have that sweet shortly after a run–during that 20-minute window when your muscles can quickly soak up the sugar to replace spent energy stores.
5. Eat real food.
Many diet foods are too low in carbs, fiber, or protein to give you the nutrients you need to train, feel satisfied, and keep your body in peak condition. There's also the potential to go overboard on diet foods, figuring that if the Oreos are low-fat, that's license to eat the whole package.
6. Become a food-label detective.
Just because a food package says "healthy" or "organic" or "natural" doesn't mean that what's in it is good for you.
7. Write it down.
A 2008 study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that among 1,700 overweight runners, those who kept a food diary more than 5 days a week lost almost twice as much weight as those who didn't, and they kept the weight off. Even if you aren't looking to shed pounds, a food diary can provide valuable insight into what best fuels your running life and which unhealthy habits might be tripping up your training.
8. Catch some zzzs.
Research has linked sleep loss to obesity and suggests that people who don't get enough sleep may weigh more. Without enough sleep, your energy levels, immune system, and mood drop–the only thing up (besides you) will be your appetite. Research has shown thatpeople who get less sleep eat more snacks, especially high-carb ones.
9. Watch the rewards.
Most runners vastly overestimate the amount of calories they burn, and underestimate the amount of calories they consume. It's very easy to eat back the calories you incinerated in a post-run kitchen raid. Want to reward yourself for getting through a long run or a tough week? Make it a non-food treat, like a massage, new running duds, or some new tunes or books to listen to for your next long run.
10. Watch the "sports" foods.
There is a dizzying array of drinks, gels, and bars that advertise their benefits for recovery and energy, but many of those products are laden with calories and fats that most runners don't need for most of their runs. You'll want to have sports drinks and energy gels with you during long runs and on hot days, but beyond that, it's best to stick to whole foods. "People feel like they need to have all of these products because they're in training," says Kennedy. "And it takes a while to figure out that they don't need them.