Runners: Stave off Calories During the Holidays

 Image courtesy of rakratchada torsap/

Image courtesy of rakratchada torsap/

This time of year wrecks havoc on the diet—from holiday parties filled with fried finger foods to sit-down family dinners with all the trimmings and neighbors dropping off sugar cookies laden with colorful frosting, it’s so easy to blow through your daily limit of calories within hours. Runners generally watch their food intake to keep themselves in proper shape, except it’s very difficult for even the most rigid to stick to their diets. Here are a few ways to help keep fat and calories at bay during the toughest season:

Change your baking habits. Oils add in extra fat that you don’t need to keep cakes moist.

Do this:
Puree apples and citrus fruits and use the juice as an alternative to oil. It will not ruin your cakes; rather it makes them even moister and tastier because the fruit adds a flavor that oil cannot. Try it and see for yourself—you’ll want to share the results by baking for your friends and giving that as a gift.

Go into parties with a game plan. Know your weakness and fill up on healthy foods before diving in to something bad.

Do this:
Before you attend parties, eat something high in fiber, like apples, cooked pumpkin, sweet potatoes—this makes you feel fuller longer and you’ll no doubt eat less when you attend the party. The worst thing you can do is show up feeling ravenous as you’ll head straight to the dessert table.

During parties, fill up half your plate with crudités such as carrots and celery. Even if you want to, add a little dip. Although dip is typically high in calories, it’ll at least help you eat your vegetables. Be sure to place it on the side and not pour it all over the food. If the party offers hummus to accompany veggies, that’s even better as that offers protein.

Watch your beverages. Limit yourself to one drink or “spike” it with something low calorie.

Do this:
Try mixing drinks with a little diet soda; lime flavor generally works best or just use sparkling water. It’ll add a little carbonation to the drink, making it feel like Bubbly, but it’s actually just taking out half the calories. Pour a half glass of the carbonated drink and then the rest of the glass with a juice/adult beverage. You’ve just cut half the calories.

While it’s hard to stay true to the diet, it’s completely possible with just a few changes.

Happy Holidays!

Runners’ Hydration Levels

heat_0I was so thirsty during a weekend half marathon a couple days ago. It was hot, but I normally don’t get THAT thirsty. I drank so much during the race, I got waterlogged and it was tough to finish. I clearly wasn’t hydrated properly.

This caused me to pause and start researching hydration. What is the best hydration technique for an endurance runner in a marathon?

In the article “Fluid Replacement During Marathon Running,” by Tim Noakes, M.D., published in the “Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine,” it states, “During endurance exercise, about 75 percent of the energy produced from metabolism is in the form of heat, which cannot accumulate. The remaining 25 percent of energy available can be used for movement. As running pace increases, the rate of heat production increases.”

The greater the body mass, the greater the heat production. Thus, to keep oneself cool, you need to drink fluids to ensure proper sweat availability for evaporation and circulatory flow.

But how much is enough? Surprisingly, the article didn’t give specifics. Rather, it just states for runners to drink ad libitum, meaning, drink what you need, but no more than 400 to 800 mL per hour. Drinking too much water can lead to hyponatremia, which is when electrolyte balance falls too low. Too much body water can dilute the serum sodium.

I conducted more research and found helpful information from the International Marathon Medical Director’s Association (IMMDA). Being a visual learner, this chart helped me to discern proper fluid intake levels:

Fluid Intake for Marathoners During a Race*

Finish Time
Race Pace
Fluid Intake
Fluid Intake Total
< 4 hours 10-12 oz / 20minutes 3.5-4.0 liters
< 8 minutes/mile 30-36 oz / hour
1000-1250 ml/hour
4-5 hours 8 oz / 20 minutes 3.0-3.5 liters
9-10 minutes/mile 24 oz / hour
750 ml / hour
> 5 hours 4-6 oz / 20 minutes 2.5- 3.0 liters
> 10 minutes/mile 18 oz / hour
500-600 ml/hour


For anyone running in an upcoming race, this hydration chart is helping me to gauge what I need to do to not feel so water logged and hopefully finish strong.


Do Runners Need Protein?

Runners fuel their bodies with carbs, energy gels and bars, and sports drinks. They carbo load before races and replenish electrolytes after a long run with fruity drinks endorsed by athletes. Perhaps they take in a protein shake after a workout, but are they really getting enough protein? Most are not.

Protein needs are higher for those who run because you burn through your fuel stores at a much quicker rate. For runners, a general gauge should be to maintain a daily diet of 0.5 grams to 0.8 grams per pound of body weight. This is according to a 2009 study published in the Journal of American Dietetic Association. This is quite substantial quantity higher than in a typical diet of someone sedentary.

Here is a standard calculation for determining just how much protein you should take in daily:

Step 1:  Take your weight in pounds divide that by 2.2.

Step 2: Take this number and multiply it by 0.8-1.8 gm/kg = protein gm. Use a higher number if you’re a training for race such as a marathon.

Here is an example for a 140-pound female runner:

140/ 2.2 = 64. This is her weight in grams rounded up.

64 x 1.3 = 83 grams rounded up. This is the total number of grams she should shoot for each day. The number 1.3 is used because she is in a heavy part of her training program for a marathon.

It is possible to achieve the recommended dosages with a little advanced planning. For breakfast, try adding in yogurt into a smoothie. For a mid-day snack, eat a hard-boiled egg. For larger meals such as lunch and dinner, add healthy protein such as grilled chicken to a salad, lean red meat to a sandwich and try adding beans into side dishes.

If you fall short on protein, the risks aren’t worth it. You’ll lose your ability to build up your muscles that you need to run and train at an optimal level.


Why You Should Add Omega 3s to Your Running Diet

untitledRunners burn through calories and often, for endurance athletes, they dip into their fat storage for long runs. To execute workouts at optimal performance, runners need to gauge their nutrition just as much as they track their Garmin numbers.

We all know how hard it is to follow a proper diet. We are all busy and taking the time to make nutritious meals takes effort–but so does following your running schedule. It’s almost best to cut back on workouts to take the time to fuel your body with the right nutrients.

One vital nutrient runners need is Omega 3 fatty acids. Omega 3s do help with larger lifestyles issues such as controlling blood clotting, heart disease, and potentially cancer, stroke and inflammatory bowel diseases.

However, on a smaller scale, they are helpful to runners in that they can limit inflammation. Even with stretching, icing and taking Aspirin, another way to change how your body reacts to inflammation from a long run is by adding Omega 3s into you diet.

Omega 3s also help in weight management. The leaner you are, the less exertion you need to make as you run.

According to a study published in “Advanced Nutrition” in 2012, Omega 3s do keep you healthy and aging properly–allowing you to keep running for a long time.  But because our bodies don’t naturally produce some omega-3 fatty acids , it is necessary to obtain proper amounts through fish and fish-oil products.

You can either add Omega 3 supplements to your diet or start eating foods such as soybean, canola, flaxseed, vegetable oils or fatty fish like salmon. If you don’t like to eat fish, it’s best to add in an Omega 3 capsule of 500 mg per day to receive the maximum benefits.


Love to Snack? This Computer Game May Help

 Image courtesy of rakratchada torsap/

Image courtesy of rakratchada torsap/

As runners, our appetite levels rise when we are in the middle of our training. However, we often snack a little too much when we aren’t on a hardcore schedule. It’s easy to keep eating the same amount of calories during the off-training season. If this describes you, an online computer game may help control your snacking impulse.

In a study published in the journal Appetite, researchers from the University of Exeter and Cardiff University used 41 adults and had them complete four 10-minute sessions of playing a game involving snack control.

How the game works: Users avoid pressing on pictures of certain images, such as photos of heavy foods, while they respond to other images, such as images of fruits. The goal is to trick your brain into associating heavy, calorie-laden foods with stopping.

Participants were weighed and given food-rating tasks and diaries to complete one week before and one week after the training.

The results showed that participants lost an average of one and a half pounds and consumed around 220 fewer calories a day with a simple computer game. In addition, the reduction in weight and unhealthy snacking was maintained six months after the study.

“These findings are among the first to suggest that a brief, simple computerized tool can change people’s everyday eating behavior,” said lead researcher Natalia Lawrence of the University of Exeter. “This opens up exciting possibilities for new behavior change interventions based on underlying psychological processes,” said Lawrence.

Ten minutes isn’t too long to spend changing the way your brain looks at food.

You can watch this YouTube video to find out more information abut the game.


Can Prebiotic Fiber Help With Weight Loss?

Dietary fiber is sort of an odd thing, nutritionally speaking. It is vital for our health and significant amounts of it are recommended each day (38g for men, 25g for women) – but our bodies can’t actually digest it. Still, this tough stuff has been connected to a huge number of health benefits, including improved digestion, reduced cholesterol, balanced blood sugar and – most famously – weight loss.

This ability of fiber to help you achieve a healthy weight has really been the reason that so many people pay attention to it. We have known for a long time that fibrous food tends to contain fewer calories while making you feel fuller for longer periods – thus preventing you from overeating. But, recent research shows that a surprising mechanism is at work here.


A Surprising Connection

It’s an odd and somewhat off-putting concept, but there are innumerable microorganisms living inside of your digestive tract. The existence of this gut bacteria isn’t a newly discovered fact, but experts are only just starting to understand the impact that these little bugs have on our health.

In a new study from the University of Calgary, a team of researchers demonstrated a powerful and surprising link between dietary fiber, gut bacteria and weight loss. Mice that were fed a high-fat, high-sugar diet were split into two groups: the control and those fed dietary fiber in addition to the diet. It’s very important to know that the fiber was a particular type, called oligofructose.

At the end of the study, the team reported that the fiber-fed mice gained much less weight than the control group.


How It Works and How To Use It

The reason that oligofructose was used in this study is because this specific fiber is known to act as a prebiotic – a nutrient that is especially useful to your but bacteria. While the exact mechanisms are not fully understood, it’s clear that oligofructose changed the gut bacteria of the mice in such a way that weight gained is restricted. Previous studies have demonstrated this property in humans but this study was the first to look closely at effects of the fiber on gut bacteria.

It’s also interesting to note that the oligofructose changed the hormone profile in mice so that they felt full longer and therefore craved less food.

But, as always, we need to be clear that there is no magic bullet for weight loss. Oligofructose alone should not be seen as a replacement for healthy eating and regular exercise. The fiber could be used, though, to give your otherwise healthy lifestyle an extra boost.

Fast Food – the New Recovery Trick?

When a 2012 study reported that chocolate milk was an effective post-exercise recovery drink, athletes and exercisers everywhere rejoiced. Not only did the findings mean that you could save money by skipping some of the fairly expensive recovery products out there, but it also gave you an excuse to drink chocolate milk guilt-free.

A similar wave of excitement – albeit with a little more hesitation – is sweeping the health and fitness realm in response to a University of Montana research paper entitled “Post-exercise Glycogen Recovery and Exercise Performance is Not Significantly Different Between Fast Food and Sport Supplement.” While the title itself may not be particularly exciting, the findings of the study carry some interesting revelations for athletes when it comes to post-exercise nutrition.


What They Did and What They Found

For the study, 11 male subjects (all recreational athletes) completed two separate time trials on a stationary bike. First the men took on a 90-minute ride, designed to deplete their glycogen stores, followed by 4 hours of rest. During this rest period, muscle biopsies were taken to measure glycogen levels.

The subjects were also given a recovery meal, consisting of either traditional sports supplements or fast food. Each of the meals was designed to contain roughly the same amounts of total calories (about 1300) and macronutrients. At the end of the 4 hour rest break, the men were put back on their bikes for a 20K time trial.

After various numbers – including performance, glucose response, insulin response, cholesterol response – were crunched, there was no difference between the fast food and the sports supplements.


Implications and Cautions

After this story first broke several months ago, many publications latched onto it. But, according to one of the authors of the study, these articles misrepresented the findings. This study is not a free pass to load up on fast food.

The positive results in the study, related to eating fast food as a means of recovery, were achieved with small portions.

You also have to consider that food contains a lot more than just calories – especially fast food. There are plenty of preservatives, dyes, flavorings and texturizers added to processed food that may have any number of negative health effects. While these additives most likely will not have any acute impact on your athletic performance, they probably aren’t doing you any favors in the long-term. So, then, you have a choice to make: If you do not typically indulge in fast food, you may consider allowing yourself this one dietary lapse as a recovery meal. On the other hand, your repulsion from fast food might be too strong to even let that slide.

Either way, the facts remain: Fast food is – depending on your personal attitude toward the subject – an acceptable recovery meal. If your dietary conscience allows and you can practice moderation, grabbing a bite from the nearest fast food establishment can provide you with a cheaper, more accessible option than the more traditional sports recovery foods on the market.

Is Souping the New Juicing?

Juice cleanses and detox programs have been all the rage for several years. As it turns out, though, it seems like a new fad is on rise: souping. In fact, several companies have even gained rapid success selling either premade soups that make up a complete detox program or “soup makers” so that you can make your own healthy soups at home.

So, let’s get down to it: Is souping worth it? What are the benefits of this new fad? What do you need to now?


The Deal With Detox

The first thing that we need to address is the proposed detox benefits of both juicing and souping. In short, cleanses do not work. Or, if they do, there is no science to prove either their efficacy or necessity.

Your body has natural systems in place for removing toxins – primarily, your liver and kidneys. And these do an excellent job. It is true that some of the more dangerous chemicals are not removed by the liver and kidneys, but that’s because these substances are fat-soluble. This means that even a high-fiber cleanse wouldn’t be able to get to them since they are stored in your body fat. The only way to reliably get rid of any potential toxins, then, is to lose weight. And research backs this up, suggesting that slender people are more efficient when it comes to naturally getting rid of these chemicals.

Any weight-loss benefits attributed to these detoxes are generally because the programs are severally calorie-restricted. One of the most popular soup cleanses on the market right now, for example, provides just about 1200 calories in a single day. The standard juice cleanses would likely be even less.


Souping Vs. Juicing

All that being said, is there any benefit that souping has over juicing?

Depending on the ingredients used, many juices are extremely high in sugars and can carry a considerable glycemic load. Souping, on the other hand, tends not to have the same impact. Again, it all depends on the ingredients used.

Soups will also likely be more filling and made with heartier ingredients, so you may not encounter the same feelings of hunger that you would on a juice cleanse.


Final Word

All in all, cleanses are unnecessary – regardless of whether they include soups or juices. There is no proof that either approach can effectively help your body remove toxins, or that it even needs help.

It is worth stating, however, that following an extremely low calorie diet for an extended period can be damaging to your metabolism and encourage counter-productive yoyo dieting. In terms of weight loss and general health, it’s much more effective to simply eat a balanced diet and allow your body to do it’s job.




Breakfast for Runners

 Image courtesy of rakratchada torsap/

Image courtesy of rakratchada torsap/

We all know “breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” You’ve heard the cliche since childhood. However, loads of websites lately are posting new information about  your first meal of the day.

I’ve rounded up some breakfast rules for runners to follow. You’ll need your energy to fuel your early-morning workouts.

Eat when you first wake up. You should try to eat within 30-60 minutes of first waking to keep your metabolism boosted, especially because your body’s starved all night. If you are someone who finds taking in heavier foods in the morning difficult, try smoothies. I prefer green smoothies that are sweeter in flavor. Try the following and mix to your liking:

2 C spinach or kale
2 C fruit, such as bananas, sliced apples or watermelon (or a mixture of the above)
1 C water or coconut water
1 T protein powder

Add in the liquid first into a blender, then add the fruit, then greens and protein to make it blend more easily.

Bananas are a runner’s best food. Potassium is key to runners and bananas are chock full of them. Plus, they are easy on the stomach, so it’s no surprise you find these at the finish line of races and sometimes even at aid stations. They are best at breakfast, providing you your necessary potassium and resistant starch.

Best breakfast to try:
1 C steel cut oats
1 C banana slices
1 t honey

The oats and banana provide resistant starch and burn fat for fuel.

Add in protein. If you run first thing in the morning, sometimes protein sits heavy on your stomach. I recommend trying synthetic protein such as powder into a smoothie to make it easier to digest. If you don’t run in the morning, try out egg whites mixed with spinach for your breakfast. It’ll make you feel fuller longer.


According to the National Weight Control Registry, 78% of those who keep weight off eat a morning meal every day. Your diet makes a difference.


The Dirty Dozen

 Image courtesy of rakratchada torsap/

Image courtesy of rakratchada torsap/

One of my goals for 2015 is to eat healthier. Although this sounds simple, it’s easy to fall back into a routine of pre-made food because of my busy schedule.

Eating healthy requires work, time and grocery shopping. But it’s worth it because your body will run much more efficiently when well oiled. Here’s a bit of recentfood news to help you along that healthy path.

The new Environmental Working Group’s 2015 Dirty Dozen was recently released containing all the foods you should buy organic and scary findings when it comes to pesticides in our produce:

Make-you-gag findings:

One single grape sample and a sweet bell pepper sample contained 15 pesticides.

Single samples of cherry tomatoes, nectarines, peaches, imported snap peas and strawberries showed 13 different pesticides apiece.

Potatoes contain more pesticides than any other produce tested. I know loads of runners that snack on sweet potatoes for good carbs, even some that eat them during ultramarathons.

Happy findings:

Avocados (a great food for runners!) were the cleanest with only one percent showing any pesticides.

Approximately 89 percent of pineapples, 82 percent of kiwi, 80 percent of papayas, 88 percent of mango and 61 percent of cantaloupe had no residues.

Full list:

Dirty Dozen–Buy organic!

Sweet bell peppers
Cherry tomatoes
Snap peas (imported)
Hot peppers
Kale and collard greens

Clean Fifteen–Safe!

Sweet corn
Sweet peas (frozen)
Sweet potatoes


Happy healthy eating!