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An Eating Strategy for Losing Weight in a Running Fitness Program


Consider the glycemic index, simple and complex carbs, and the Mifflin equation.

© 2011 ; all rights reserved; content may not be copied, rewritten, or republished without author’s written permission. Author’s Google profile

Whole wheat high fiber pizza is a complex carbohydrate; photo courtesy Kelly Smith


It’s no secret that losing unwanted pounds is likely the main reason why many people embark upon a fitness program, whether it’s running, kick-boxing classes, weight lifting, swimming laps, or even gardening.

Other folks are simply aging and discover that their metabolism is slowing like a line of traffic entering a school zone. When this inevitably happens, all that extra baggage starts loading up in areas dictated by inherited genetics. With most people, it manifests as belly fat.

I don’t know of anyone (other than a sumo wrestler) who really really has aspirations to minic the Michelin man. On second thought, granted that some people are into it as a weird fetish, but those folks aren’t likely to be reading this article so we’ll dispense with that and focus on topic.

Calorie Intake Minus Calories Burned Equals Weight Management; Simple Math

It sounds simplistic, right? It is, theoretically; eating less than you burn in physical activity will result in burning stored fat and losing weight other than (hopefully) lean muscle mass.

On the other hand, eating more than you burn ends up in weight gain. But there really more to it than that. There is a strategy that will work to your advantage.

For example, consider the ratio of what kind of calories to consume. Madelyn Fernstrom, PhD., suggests a ratio in The Runner’s Diet: 50% carbohydrates, 25% protein, and finally, 25% fats.

It seems to be a standard approach that has stood the test of time. Any spectator of pop culture knows that fad diets come and go on a regular basis. Many others are a bit more credible.

Consider this; the South Beach Diet actually does result in weight loss although it wasn’t developed for fitness enthusiasts. Actually, it was designed for cardiac patients and it reduces refined carbohydrate consumption. But runners need carbs for fuel.

But after the first couple of weeks (of mostly protein consumption) the South Beach Diet does allow for carbs that are not heavily processed. And that’s fine; complex carbohydrates are what runners need in their diets.

Another thing to consider when cutting back on calories is the concept that not consuming enough will put the body into “conservation mode”. One commercial on TV recently stated that the threshold is 1000 calories/day. So take a “Cheat day” each week to avoid this.

Obviously, the real number to be considered is highly dependent on each individual. And on a psychological level, any reduction in food consumption that is too strict is doomed to fail with most of us. That’s one reason why many diet gurus allow for one indulgence day per week.

So, How Many Calories Does a Runner Actually Need?

It goes without saying that a runner needs more calories than a sedentary person. Fernstrom illustrates an elementary method that takes the athlete’s weight into consideration. The concept is straightforward — just multiply your weight shown on your bathroom scale by a factor of 13. That’s how many calories/day you need for normal, common activity. Now reduce this number to cause weight loss.

A a reduction of 500 calories each day will amount to about one pound of weight lost each week, give or take, depending on what you are starting with. Of course, working out will amount to more energy burned, and more loss.

If you would like to be even more accurate (with a little more math), then factor in your exercise intensity, your weight, height, as well as your age through the Mifflin Equation and then factor in your level of activity.

When Should Your Calories be Consumed?

Carbohydrate-derived calories should be consumed both before running and afterwards. Recent studies show that protein should also be consumed following exercise to aid in recovery.

Carbohydrates are rated from simple to complex, depending on the glycemic index and molecular composition. Simple carbs are fast-burning and complex are slower-burning; it takes more energy to break down the glucose chain.

The more complex they are, the less you tend to experience the crash associated with over-processed sugars. But all carbohydrates are located somewhere on the scale between the simple and complex extreme. Check out a detailed glycemic index for each food.

Obviously, complex carbs should be eaten before working out. The slower burn means for a steady and smooth energy expenditure. And as for simple carbs? During (gels, for example) workouts and following exercise. They will metabolize more quickly and replace depleted glycogen in your muscles and liver at the exact time when they are most receptive to absorption.

And there it comes full circle. These simple carbs don’t turn to fat during recovery as they would at other times, but they will they prepare you for your next workout.

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