Eating like a Runner

Whenever it comes to talking about what I eat and how I fuel for runs, I shy away from it. Probably because I have a past of disordered eating, and I recognize talking about food can be triggering for some people.

My most recent disordered eating jag was this winter. Due to stress and anxiety I basically stopped eating. I couldn’t tell you if I ate, what I ate, when I ate. None of that. Obviously I ate at some points, but I’m also certain it wasn’t healthy or balanced. Even still, I managed to lose 17 pounds.

Oops.

While I wouldn’t say I needed to lose the weight, I am much more comfortable in myself having lost it. That said, I never, ever want to go through a weight loss like that again. It still makes me uncomfortable when people I haven’t seen for a while, comments on it. “Oh, hey, you look amazing!”. “Umm, thanks, I was so stressed I stopped eating…..”.

See?

Awkward-city.

Anywho, with running my half marathon and now training for my marathon, I’ve needed to really take a close look at how I’m fueling my body.

Feelings

I view food two ways 1) as a necessity and a way to fuel and 2) as pleasureful experience. I do my best to balance these two views of food when fueling my body.

I read many blogs that are focused on clean eating and are filled with lean protein and salads and other healthy foods, but they seem to be missing the fun side of eating. The joy of inhaling an amazing pasta dish after completing a 24km (and 1500 calorie!) run.

I know with my disordered eating past, I cannot classify food as “good” or “bad” as that just puts me into a spiral where I start to shame myself and think of all the ways I’m a horrible human being. True story, the spiral really does work that way.

Sunday night I went out for dinner after my long run, and normally I’d agonize over what I should eat vs. what I want to eat and then if I got what I should eat I’d feel deprived and if I got what I wanted I’d feel guilty. Not this time. I ate those fish and chips, loved ’em and made myself a healthy smoothie for breakfast on Monday. Bam. No guilt, no shame.

Iron

Since I’ve upped my mileage (my next two runs are 30+km, 1 week break and then two more runs at 30+km before tapering) I’ve been noticing more fatigue. My muscles feel fine, one day after my 24km run I’m not sore, but I am tired. I found an (old) article in Runners World that talks about iron levels in runners and there’s a common issue, especially among female runners, where iron is lost during running.

So, what does this mean? Well, it means I’ve got to make sure I’m eating more iron.

I do have about 3/4-1 cup of spinach in my morning smoothie, but that doesn’t appear to be enough, so I’m now working to up my red meat intake to about twice a week. This is up from, oh, about zero. Steaks used to be a regular in my diet, but who wants to cook a steak for one person? Oh right. No one. However, I’ll have to take one for the team (or, my training) at eat some more steak.

Carbs (yikes!)

Carbs are super important for distance running. They truly are the main fuel for the glycogen stores that keep me from collapsing (or, will hopefully keep me from collapsing) on marathon day.

I don’t purposefully restrict my carb intake (I love me some pasta!) but I do feel better when I eat fewer carbs. I’m trying to make sure I’m fueling enough, so that means eating a bit more in the way of carbs at lunch (veggie sandwiches for lunch this week!) and lots of fruits and veggies throughout the day.

Protein

There are many sources that will give you readings of how much protein to eat. I know that I’m quite active and running is hard on the body. Protein is pretty vital in keeping my body strong and it can also help to keep my immune system healthy while training hard.

My best estimate is I should be eating between 56 and 96 grams of protein per day. That is a LOT of protein. Thankfully I’m about to get about 20 grams from my breakfast, and just focus on beans (chickpea spread on my sandwich) and lean protein for the remainder.

If I’m short one day, I don’t worry about it too much, since I know not every day is going to be perfect; all I can do is my best.

Vitamins and Minerals

For me, I find potassium and magnesium to be the most important minerals when running long distances. This may vary for other people, depending on how your body reacts to running. Potassium helps to balance fluid and electrolyte levels and can help prevent cramping and even settle an uneasy stomach. I eat a banana nearly every day, they’re amazing for a mid-afternoon slump. Nature’s Snickers (apologies to whomever coined that phrase, I love it!).

Magnesium helps with aerobic performance, and, according to my massage therapist, can help to alleviate muscle soreness. I tend to recover rather quickly from long runs, so whatever I’m doing, I’m getting sufficient levels of magnesium.

(Unrelated fun fact: if you’re looking to get pregnant make sure you increase your magnesium intake because your body can’t absorb magnesium during pregnancy and magnesium helps prevent morning sickness)

As I’m a very salty sweater (what, like you’ve never licked your own sweat before) I also need to make sure I’m taking in enough sodium, especially the day before a long run. Sodium is super important in maintaining hydration levels and since I’m running quite far in quite warm weather, it’s really important for me to take in enough sodium. Ultra-marathoners will even ingest salt tablets to keep their sodium levels optimal while racing for crazy long distances (since, let’s face it, a marathon is crazy enough!).

Calories

I don’t count calories.

Given my history of disordered eating, things can go downhill quite quickly if I start logging all of my food. Normally, one of two things will happen: I’ll either starve myself when I should be eating because I don’t have many calories left for the day, even if I am hungry, or I’ll binge eat because I have calories left at the end of the day so why not eat them?!

I’m now living by the rule eat when I’m hungry, stop when I’m not. So far, that seems to be working well for me.

Sunday I definitely used intuitive eating, so let’s consider my BMR, what I burned and (approximately) what I ate.

BMR: 1600

Burned: 1500

Total calories to be consumed: 3100

Vega pre-race energizer: 70

Vega gels consumed: 200

Vega recovery drink: 80

Coffee: 30

Oatmeal w/PB: 200

Watermelon juice: 50

Beer: 150

Fish and chips: 950 (estimated)

Total calories: 1730

Could I have eaten more? Not really, I can’t say I was hungry after that food. I don’t eat breakfast until around noon when I run, so I don’t have a lot of hours in which to eat.

Should I have eaten more? Probably……but, I wasn’t hungry. In no way did I try to starve myself; not at all. I ate what sounded good and stopped when I was full. The end.

How do you look at food when exercising?

What about when you’re not exercising?

Are you a calorie counter?

13 thoughts on “Eating like a Runner

  1. If you don’t want to cook a steak for one person, you could try using beef strips in a stir fry. You’ll absorb more iron if you pair it with vitamin C (and avoid dairy), so a perfect pairing is bell pepper or broccoli. Just a splash of soy sauce and a smidgen of sesame oil, and you’ll use less sodium and sugar than with a bottled stir fry sauce.

    • Oh, beef strips. I LOVE that idea! I picked up two steaks and was planning on cutting them up, but I’ll have to remember beef strips for next week 🙂
      My mom and I were just talking about the Vitamin C thing on Saturday – and that calcium inhibits the absorption (as do tannins in black tea), I should have mentioned that too 🙂

  2. I have a history of disordered eating too, which is probably why I’m a freak about working out. I’m nowhere near as bad as I used to be (anorexia and bulimia) but I still have to shut the voice in my head up. I’m just now getting to a point where I’m eating brown rice without guilt! :\ I don’t count calories either. I used to, but it takes so much time.

    • Right now my struggle is that it’s OKAY and GOOD to take a rest day.
      Moderation, everything in moderation; even exercise (and, unfortunately, cookies).

      • I agree. I’ve always struggled with moderation. I’m an all or nothing kinda girl, so I’m trying to practice that today. I biked 15 miles and hiked this weekend, and took today off from the gym with zero guilt. It felt good. 🙂

  3. Don’t forget when you’re thinking of iron that the dark meat in chicken (thighs/drumsticks) have a higher level of iron than breast meat. Not as much as beef, obviously, but if you’re looking for other ways to get iron besides spinach you can opt for dark meat poultry. Of course, then you have the gross, disgusting googlies to deal with. 🙂

    • But then I’d have to buy something other than chicken breasts 🙂 And I don’t even buy those very often because it’s just me. A pack of 2 breasts can usually feed me for 3 days. And preparing legs/drumsticks. Nah 🙂 Ha! I’m high maintenance 😛

      • I NEVER buy thighs or legs. They are too ookie. 🙂 Are you too high maintenance for fish? I love, love, love fish! I’m not trying to dissuade you from red meat. I’m a meat and potatoes girl, but I get bored. And now I’m sounding high maintenance but I’m NOT. 🙂

      • Oh, I totally eat fish. I usually buy it frozen and cook it up at least once or twice a week. I’m all about healthy lean protein. With the exception of chicken legs and thighs…..and pork. I LOVE bacon. Other pork products? Meh.

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