Is there a perfect racing weight? Can you maintain muscle mass and be a distance runner? Will being stronger make you a better runner?
These are all questions that have been coming up more and more lately, which is why you’ve seen more about them! I reached out once again for answers to a phenomenal coach – Elizabeth at Inpny Coaching for tips because I’ve seen her athletes and they define Get lean, Get Fast and Stay Strong.
As a lifelong competitive athlete and in more recent years nutrition coach, I’ve seen my share of runners struggling with proper fueling.
Most of my clients come to me with a three-part request “I want to lose x-amount weight, I want to PR and I want XYZ (more energy/better sleep/less injuries). ”
Part of that is the ongoing idea that lighter runners race faster.
It’s true, but only to a point. Then you begin to sacrifice both health, speed and strength, which leads to a downward spiral of poor performance and often eventually to the female athlete triad.
So yes, you can achieve all three, but only if you train smart and create a very balanced eating plan. As much as we’d all love it, there is no magic bullet, no headline grabbing diet and no easy path to success.
I’m going to remind you of some of the dangers of not eating enough, warning signs to look out for that your body is suffering and then offer 7 valuable tips for getting on the fast track… pun intended!
Racing Weight or Underfueled?
I’ve never been to a race where you have to step on a scale before you are allowed to start– your results are based on your time and no one factors in your weight when determining that number.
While it’s true that a ‘leaner’ athlete can run faster, it’s a fine line between lean and thin. If you’re not eating enough, your body will suffer in the long run.
Some real and very serious consequences of restricting calories when training for endurance events include:
- reduced cardiac output
- low energy
- muscle breakdown
- nutrient deficiencies
- a weakened immune system
- hormonal imbalances
- lowered bone density
What you eat can make the difference between performing at your best or sitting on the sidelines.
Tired, sore muscles and stuck in a training plateau? – I call this the new normal. In our quest to get tougher, suffer more and be warrior athletes, we tend to ignore the red flags that something isn’t right.
Signs that you’re not fueling correctly include:
- Your body isn’t recovering from workouts
- You’re constantly getting sick
- You aren’t sleeping through the night
- Your performance isn’t improving despite increased training
- You’ve lost the motivation to work out.
Get Leaner Without Sacrificing Health and Performance
Because this is such a massive topic, you’ll find links to additional information under each item. That way you can decide which one’s are most important to help you make the right changes and then dive in!
Consider this your guide to being smart about weight loss as a runner who wants to perform. Running weight loss is a tricky topic and these tips are going to ensure that you come out the other side healthier, faster, and stronger!
Take one week to write down everything you eat, how you feel and how that influenced your training. Many athletes don’t realize the direct correlation between food and performance and often have no idea what they are actually consuming.
Being aware is the first step towards making positive changes. After that week, make a plan that gives your body everything it needs (or have a nutritionist help you) and then stop obsessing.
Read more >> Who To Work with for Sports Nutrition
Know Your Numbers (Calories and Weight)
While I don’t encourage people to count calories you should know about how many you need to eat during the day and make sure you’re getting enough. I recommend focusing on macro/micro nutrients – fat, protein, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals.
Because yes, weight loss is still that age old adage of calories in and calories out for the most part. How much does extra weight slow you down??
The idea is thrown around that you can cut 2 seconds per mile for every pound of fat, which is a lot at the elite level and could add up if you genuinely have excess weight to lose.
BUT THE FLIPSIDE which isn’t discussed is what happens when you start to lose weight that’s actually muscle?
- Losing muscle means losing power
- Losing muscle means higher injury chances
- Losing muscles lower metabolic rate
In other words, stop thinking about the scale as your sign that you’ve hit your best “racing weight”.
Read more >> Understanding your calorie burn and needs
Choose Food Wisely
Whole, real, unprocessed foods should be the building blocks and foundation of your diet. You’d never buy cheap running shoes; why put fake, low cost food into your body?
Nutrient rich vegetables, grains, fruits and fats are an essential part of your training plan. Runners need vitamins and minerals – make food choices that provide you with ample amounts of iron, magnesium, folate, Omega 3’s and Vitamins D,A,C and E.
Read more >> Ideas for fueling runs with whole foods Limit Sports Products
While they can be big a convenience, they aren’t always the right choice. Gels, blocks, bars and sugary caffeine-heavy hydration beverages not only get in the way of your weight goals but they also do a number on your gut. There is a time and place for these products but a 45 minute run isn’t it.
Eat correctly throughout the day and your body will have enough energy to get through that workout. And in fact when people say they gain weight running, it’s often related to all these additional products that weren’t needed, rather than the hunger we get from running longer miles.
If you’re training longer, try making your own snacks with nut butter, dried fruit and salted sweet potato chunks. Look for sports products made from whole food ingredients and include them only when your training calls for it.
Read more >> Ideal post workout meals for recovery
The most important meal of the day is…all of them. It’s true, but especially so for the meal you have directly after your workout.
Plan your healthiest eating around your training runs and workouts. After you’ve exercised, your body is in a weakened state and needs all the help it can get to repair and rebuild. If you want that PR this is the best gift you can give your body.
Read more >> 17 protein packed post workout green smoothies
Skipping Is For suckers
No one wins when you skip meals! You are setting yourself up for overeating later, impairing your bodies ability to recover and rebuild muscle, raising cortisol levels and disrupting your hormonal system. Make sure you eat on a regular basis throughout the day.
Have Role Models
I find it incredibly valuable to have a sports/nutrition role model. Look at other athletes that are leaders in their field (professional or amateur) who are performing at their best, not promoting crazy diets and achieving that fueling balance.
Mine is Meredith Kessler – a professional triathlete and all around incredible woman. Her body is a vehicle for performance and she trains harder than any human being I’ve ever met.
Meredith maintains that healthy, strong and fast body by eating enough of all the right foods. She doesn’t diet, she doesn’t cut calories and she doesn’t obsess over a number on the scale.
Not eating correctly will fail to make you leaner and sabotage your training by leaving your muscles under-fueled for maximum performance.
The key to achieving your goal of getting lean while running fast is about finding a balance between training and nutrition. I hope this has helped raise awareness on the importance of food in nailing your running goals.
- Is your workout causing weight gain?
- Ultimate guide to managing marathon hunger
- Understanding Metabolic Efficiency to Burn more Fat
MEET COACH ELIZABETH
Hi Run To The Finish readers– when Amanda contacted me about writing a post around fueling for performance I jumped at the chance, having been a loyal reader for years.
Elizabeth Inpyn is a Sports Nutritionist, former NCAA collegiate swimmer and water polo player and multiple 70.3 and Olympic distance triathlete. She works with endurance athletes, triathlon/run clubs and coaches to dial in training and race day nutrition plans from pros to amateurs.
What’s your biggest issue with weight while training?
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