Let’s start by agreeing that fad diets don’t work. Reserving judgment on the people who try these diets - we are sure they want to lose weight, but are simply misguided. Our conclusion - the companies that produce these diet plans are marketing geniuses, but the diets create a dangerous yoyo affect for the dieter. The diets can deprive people of essential carbs and fats or can overload with proteins or “Cookies made in Hollywood”! In other words; too many carbohydrates will lead to an increase in calories and ultimately weight gain and obesity. Conversely, not getting enough carbohydrates/calories could lead to mal nutrition and excessive intake of fats – this could also cause weight gain. It causes us to ask: “Why would anyone even buy into these diets if they simply don’t work over the long term?”. Fad diets don’t produce results that last - let’s look at some simple diet logic.
Carnivore, vegitarian, vegan, pescetarian, pollotarian, paleotarian – they can all work, no judgment from us. We take a holistic approach to diet and running. On a daily basis, your body needs complex carbohydrates (50-65%), fats (15-25%) and protein (20-25%). Plenty of foods can cover the ratios. Try to stick to whole, natural and organic foods as much as possible. This means trying to cut down on pre-packaged, highly processed, and canned foods. Aim to cook foods cleanly – stay away from cooking in lard, butter and highly processed vegetable oils. Stick to grilling, baking or frying in good quality olive oil. Let’s take a look at a breakdown of good carbs, fats and proteins:
Complex vs. Simple Carbohydrates
Carbohydrates provide energy for the body and we need them. The body breaks down carbohydrates into glucose which is ultimately used for energy – energy is very important for endurance runners. There are simple and complex carbs which are differentiated by the amount of sugars and how quickly those sugars are digested. Simple carbs have 1 or 2 sugars while complex carbs have 3 or more sugars. Here are details on the different classifications:
Complex Carbohydrates –These are “starchy” foods. Incorporate plenty of these into your diet. Examples include: Legumes, starchy vegetables and whole grain breads and cereals. Eat plenty of these
Simple Carbohydrates – These are “Good and simple” carbohydrates that include important vitamins. Examples include: Fruit, milk and milk products, vegetables. Eat these also.
Simple Carbohydrates – These are carbohydrates that contain processed and refined sugars. Examples include: Candy, syrup, soda, sugar. Refined foods like white flour and white rice lack vitamin B and other nutrients – look for “enriched” on the label if you are going to eat these. Avoid simple carbohydrates or consume in very small quantities.
Fats got a bad rap in the whole deal. The word “fat” is frequently associated with becoming fat and for years the medical community preached “low-fat” diets. The truth is that healthy fats are necessary for a balanced diet. Fat provides energy back-up when you run low on carbohydrates. Fat also helps transport nutrients and metabolites across cell membranes and protects organs and bones from shock. There are two types of fats to consider:
Monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats – These are the good fats – eat them. Think olive oil, nuts, peanut butter, soymilk, fatty fish like salmon and tuna (omega-3)
Saturated and trans fats – These are not healthy choices – eat sparingly. Think butter, lard, high fat cuts of beef, packaged snack foods (chips), margarine, vegetable shortening, candy bars.
Complete vs. Incomplete Proteins
Protein sounds like the stuff that we should put in our body, right? Eat protein and grow big muscles – run fast. Well, not exactly. Most of us get more protein than we need on a daily basis. Proteins are part of every cell, tissue and organ in our body. We need to eat proteins, which are digested into amino acids, to replace the protein that naturally gets broken down by our bodies.
There are two types of proteins that we eat; complete proteins and incomplete proteins.
Complete Proteins – These proteins contain all of the essential (20) amino acids. Our bodies cannot make complete proteins on their own and these proteins are knows as Essential Amino Acids. Think meat, poultry, fish, milk, eggs and cheese.
Incomplete Proteins – These proteins lack one or more amino acids. Think grains, nuts, seeds, rice, beans, and corn. It is possible to combine incomplete proteins to get a complete protein.
It is always good to choose lower fat protein sources - so skip the skin on chicken, choose lower fat cuts of beef or cut off the fat (yes we know it tastes good). Also, it’s a misnomer that vegetarians can’t get complete proteins – they can.
Your Diet and Running
It is clear after just a short education on Carbohydrates, Fats and Proteins that our bodies need all three. Eliminating carbs or fats entirely from your diet is a really bad idea – even if a doctor in a lab coat in a commercial recommends a fad diet. If you are training for endurance running you need the fuel (carbs and fat) and building blocks (protein). There are some carb cycling techniques before an endurance race where we can prime our bodies to store carbs more efficiently, but that is for another post. For normal training eat a well-balanced diet and…..when you are hungry…eat!
Diet and Running Faster
One of your goals with running or training for a marathon or half marathon may be to lose weight. There are benefits to maintaining a good diet in general, and as you increase your miles your body will respond better to the stress and recovery by putting good things in it. A good diet, with the right mix of carbohydrates, fats and proteins, will be a necessary with your higher level training. And if you drop a few pounds it can take some of the strain off of your joints and running will feel easier. A good piece of running advice especially at high mileage – if you are hungry…eat! But what should you eat?