As a new runner and a nutrition nerd, I also wanted to know about the food I should be eating, the carb:protein ratios, the calorie count. I wanted answers to how I can fuel my body to make myself a better runner. Well, man, did I get some mixed answers. I took to questioning the RD’s on my campus, searching everything from scholarly articles to health blogs, reading advice from professionals. Everyone had different answers. “count calories. No, no need for calorie counting.” and plainly, “I don’t really know.”
Frustrated and confused, I took to experimenting with each piece of advice.
When training for my first half marathon, I didn’t count my calories, but just ate the portions and foods I ate prior to when I started running. Well, that frequently ended up leaving me hungry at 11PM when all of the dining halls were closed and I was trying to go to sleep. Unfortunately, my lack of snacking throughout the day led to hungry nights and a grumbly stomach that had to wait until breakfast.
I ended up losing weight, which was not appropriate for me. But, I successfully completed my first half marathon! I was happy, but I knew I needed to change something.
I decided I wanted to run the Hartford Marathon. I had to fuel correctly! Rounding on my second year in the Nutritional Science major, I was told I had to count calories. Calories, Calories, Calories. So, I counted calories religiously, which was actually pretty easy with MyFitnessPal and my school’s dining halls had the calorie count on every food item the offered. I would run 14 miles, my watch would say 1400 calories burned, so add that onto the 2,200 calorie calculation for myself and I am at a total 3,600 calories for the day. I’d thought, “well wow thats a lot of food, but if it’s calories burned I must need to replace them!” I made sure I would replace my calories with healthy food. I ate more oatmeal, more peanut butter, more salad, grilled chicken, carrots and hummus. I was eating constantly. I found that I could certainly eat that much, but with that also came extra weight. I was running about 40 to 45 miles a week and I gained all of the weight back from my half marathon as well as added an extra 5 pounds of fat. So, back to the drawing board.
I looked at my brother, he was running D1 Cross Country and Track and Field. He was 6’2″ about 150 pounds of muscle. Not an inch of fat. Yet he ate for about 5 people and their families. (It wasn’t all salads and hummus either…) Although he had been running for about 6 years at that point, he said he just ate when he was hungry. Purely tuned into his hunger cues.
Well, what I learned later on, is that it also seemed to matter that he was a boy. Boys seem to use their body’s fuel differently than girls do.
Well then I read that it isn’t about attaching the extra calories onto your daily need, but calculating a “new” daily need for yourself.