I have to admit. When I started running, it was initially out of boredom – all of my friends had left my college town that I still considered home, and my friends who hadn’t left after college all had jobs. About a year later I picked it back up again as a way get healthier, and run some of my stress out from my internship. ‘
Another year 6-9 months later I started running as a means to push myself, and again to stave off boredom, as I searched for a full time job. From there it developed more into a healthy obsession of my pushing myself for myself, and against myself. It was never to “lose weight”.
The more I ran, the more it took a toll on my body, and I learned the hard way how incredibly important cross training is.
The more I ran, the more I noticed how when I put good food in my body before a run, I felt good both before, during, and after. When I put gross food into my body – I felt more sluggish, slower, and had more GI problems (no one wants to be the runner who poops his or her pants on a run, I know I certainly don’t).
So at this point in time, I have been steadily running (all seasons, rain, heat, snow etc) for about 2 1/2 years. I’d say in the past year or so is when I cracked down, and started paying WAY more attention to cross training, and what I eat. Somewhere along my running journey, I have said farewell to about 13 lbs – that I never really had any thought of losing, and said hello to more muscle, speed, and strength.
I took me losing about 7-8 lbs to realize “holy shit, I must be doing something right” and to keep tweaking and refining my routine to keep losing weight, but also forming muscle and getting more definition.
While, by no means am I claiming to be some kind of success story, I am claiming that through trial, and some error, and a lot of help from other Dietitians, and other runners I have been able to get faster, and leaner. Below is how I recommend going about doing that if that is something you’re interested in.
1) Find something you like to do, in terms of exercise.
It doesn’t have to be running, in my case it is, and parts of this post will be geared toward running/endurance specific activities. But if you don’t enjoy what you are doing in terms of exercise – how realistic is it to expect you’re going to continue with it ?
2) Find a program that fits into your life.
When I train for a race, I typically pick a program like Hal Higdon’s, and I modify it to my schedule, and what I think I can handle. For instance many of his plans have 5-6 days of running (depending on the plan), along with rest days, and stretch/strength days – I only like running 4-5 days a week – especially if my knee is bothering me. Also I am lazy, and it is really hard for me, to do a tempo run then go lift and stretch, or vise versa. So I do some adjusting, and it works for me. I also like using the Tone It Up workouts throughout the week to help me with my cross training, and strength. I’m currently figuring out a training schedule for the Chicago Marathon, as I will probably start my training at the end of this month!!!! It’s going to include 4-5 days of running, and 2 days of cross training. I think.
3.) Drink water/Don’t Drink Calories
Just do it. Add limes, lemons whatever, just stay hydrated, spring – thru – winter. Your body will thank you during a run, as will your waistline. Many times our perception of thirst is confused as hunger, so we eat instead of drink. Keep water with you throughout the day, I used to be so bad about this, but now typically whenever you see me, I have water with me.
Also if you are trying to lose weight DO NOT DRINK BEVERAGES THAT CONTAIN CALORIES. Sorry that includes alcohol (see #6 below). That means: fruit juices, lemonades, teas, punches, vitamin water, sports drinks, regular pop >>> the list goes on. Sub out these items for zero calories items, these sugary drinks are the epitome of empty calories. So back away.
An exception here is of course if you do participate in endurance activities, and you are running/cycling etc for more than an hour – especially if you are outside and it is hot – you may benefit from an electrolyte beverage like Gatorade or Nuun or Gu Brew. Especially if you are a salty sweater.
4) Snack Responsibly
I will say 9.7 times out of ten I opt for a much healthier snack than a “non-healthy” snack. With that being said I do eat my fair share of cookies. However, I snack on things like Kefir, greek yogurt, fruit, cheese & larabars more often than I snack on cookies.
At breakfast I try really hard to incorporate a healthy carb and protein: greek yogurt + small pc of fruit, fruit and HB eggs, oatmeal with peanut butter, these are my tried and true classics, and they typically will get me through the morning, but sometimes I need a little help – same thing for the afternoon. So when I hit my slump I try to select things that will keep me from hitting another slump – that’s where the CHO+PRO combo comes in. I love carb foods like fruit etc but they just don’t give me that feeling of satiety I need sometimes, but protein does. Sometimes just having an apple and some sting cheese, or a greek yogurt is really all I need.
5) Eat Cleaner
When I really changed my eating habits is when I really noticed my weight start to drop. I put A LOT more effort into incorporating and filling up on vegetables, with a lean protein, and a carb (yes I follow the plate method)
But I also started reducing my dependence on convenience foods, and making more stuff for myself. I have REALLY been better about cutting out excess fat, sugar, and salt – which has also changed my taste buds a little. When I eat like a really sweet cupcake, I have a hard time eating the whole thing now (but I find a way to). I am not saying you have to “eat clean” or follow the clean eating movement, but for me personally paying more attention to my food in general, made me more aware of my portion sizes. And for me, getting better about incorporating veggies, I think that has been the key for some of my weight loss.
6) Mind your booze (that is hard I know)
For me- I do not know which will be harder, sweaty, hot long runs this summer or saying no to going out to the bar the night before. I know the run will be infinitely hard should I go out the night before…. That is what I will essentially be dealing with this summer as marathon training goes into full swing. Is it possible to go out and have a few beers the night before and still get up and run? To me yes – I can do that.
But I learned the this next lesson the hard way, and it was terrible. Last summer I had an 11 mile run planned to run on a Saturday morning. I went out the night before and drank “a fair amount” what I did not drink enough of was water. So naturally I really thirsty so I guzzled down water before my run, I drank my entire water bottle within 5 miles during my run, and by mile 7 all I could feel was water swishing around in my belly, and I WAS STILL THIRSTY.
So not only can alcohol dehydrate you, but alcohol is empty calories. I REPEAT: ALCOHOL IS EMPTY CALORIES! Meaning you are taking in calories that have no purpose, they do not provide any nourishment or anything positive (except a buzz) to your body.
I know that was hard to read. It was hard to type. I have decreased my drinking significantly (I’m kind of a light weight now) – it was something that kind of happened without me realizing it. I did a lot of races last summer, which meant I was running either Friday/Saturday, or Saturday/Sunday. I didn’t want to be hungover, while I ran, or too tired to run.
The benefit, I lost some weight, and I am now a much cheaper date.
7) Nourish Your Body (Fuel & Refuel)
This for the runners, and endurance folks out there- when you put legitimate physical demands on your body, you need adequately fuel and refuel your body. This was hard for me at first. I would run 6 miles on a Tuesday, come home, eat a tiiiiiny bowl of oatmeal for dinner, shower, and go to bed, with the intention of running the next day. I knew what I was doing was dumb. To give your body adequate energy you need a variety of carbohydrates both complex and simple. For recovery your body requires protein for rebuilding, and repair. Inadequate fueling and replenishing can lead to more fatigue, and poorer performances. For me it did.
But over time I learned some tricks to get better at this. I plan ahead and pre-make a few meals that can be ready throughout the week like these mason jar meals (I found them on pinterest, and I think it’s a great idea, and they are easy to make) .
I also keep things like potatoes, brown rice, spinach, mixed greens on hand at all times, along with a ground meat, like lean ground turkey, bison, or ground sirloin. I still own a George Foreman grill, so when I am really tired after a run I season, and throw some meat on the grill, baked a potato (sometimes brown rice), and put some greens (with some vinaigrette) on my plate. I can have this done in about 15-20 minutes.
Or make some “brinner”, I like eggs, tortillas, cheese and hot sauce and avocado. Simple and quick.
Or as a last resort – oatmeal with peanut butter.
Gotta get that protein for your recovery
8) Every run does not = pig out
THIS IS IMPORTANT
Just because you do a long run, it does not entitle you automatically to a full pancake breakfast. Nor does it mean you need to excessively refuel. Just because you run 4 miles or work out for 30 minutes – that does not automatically warrant eating an entire pizza for dinner. Or really eating whatever you want. If I have learned ANYTHING both professionally and personally – weight loss occurs when you put in effort in the kitchen and effort at the gym/physical activity.
So is it important to nourish your body? Yes. Does that 30 minutes of cardio and 25 minutes of weight training give you a pass to eat whatever for dinner tonight? No.
I know there are a lot of people out there actively trying to change, and lose weight or be healthier etc. And it is possible, my last bit of advice would be not go crazy overthinking it. Get your activity in, and work with what you’re eating and your portions. And again, your activity doesn’t need to be running, (that is just what I relate to), and you don’t need to do this things specifically to lose weight, but rather to get more healthy/form healthier habits.