I receive a lot of emails asking how to find balance between our diets and our workouts. If you ask me (which many of you have), it’s an ever evolving quest for finding that balance. Although on some level it’s simple – eat to fuel your appetite – it’s not always that simple.
There’s no one size fits all dietary lifestyle and even for each individual, what works one week may not work the other. It’s important to realize that our bodies require different nutrition at different times which means we must be open to change in our diets and be adaptable.
Today is the first day in what will likely be a two or three-part series of finding balance between our diets and workouts.
My goal is to provide us with the information necessary to further understand just how much we actually need to eat and how to figure out the right balance for our bodies.
I want to help us get away from restrictive mindsets while finding pride in the foods that help fuel our muscles to keep us healthy and happy.
I have enlisted Laura’s help in covering these topics. While she is not a doctor or registered dietitian, she is so insightful, a certified running coach and has a really special way of explaining things so that we can understand.
On average, how many calories does a female runner/female who is active need on a daily basis?
The answer is probably more than you think! Since caloric requirements vary on height, weight, training, and individual metabolism, I can’t provide an outright answer. A calorie is not always a calorie: you could eat 1,500 calories a day of crappy food or 2,500 calories a day of whole foods and weigh the same, although you would see a difference in your athletic performance.
As a running coach, what I recommend to my athletes is that they calculate how many carbohydrates they need. There are very straight-forward formulas to help them determine this. Female runners need at minimum 2 grams of carbohydrate per pound of body weight per day; if you run for an hour, you need 3-4 grams; runners logging 2 or more hours of running require 4-5 grams of carbohydrate.
So let’s take a hypothetical female runner who trains for an hour a day and weighs 130 pounds. She needs 390-520 grams of carbohydrates a day; at 4 calories per gram of carbohydrates, that’s 1560-2080 calories from carbohydrates alone.
You of course need to also eat a healthy amount of protein to repair your muscles and fat to promote overall health.
While you should consult a RD for an exact number, this formula will help most female runners assess whether or not they are eating enough calories and enough of the right foods.
Editor’s note–> I am not an habitual calorie counter. However, there are times when you may need to check in with what you are eating to not only see if you are getting enough calories but the right breakdown of nutrients. I do recommend My Fitness Pal to help you get a look at your diet but if you are sensitive to calorie counting and restriction, do not use it as an everyday tool!
What are some approaches to making sure we fuel ourselves correctly?
I personally advocate intuitive eating with an emphasis on whole foods. Eat how much you want when you are hungry; by listening to your body’s signals such as hunger and fullness, you will know when you need to eat. Quality of diet matters significantly for everyone, especially athletes, so I recommend finding a healthy eating approach that works for you and helps you feel your best.
I never recommend restriction to athletes. If you are restricting your food intake and feeling hungry often, you are likely not fueling yourself correctly. If you eat high quality foods for a majority of your diet and eat until you are satisfied, you will easily maintain a healthy weight and see your body composition improve during training.
Editor’s note—> If I find myself snacking too much at night on chocolate chips, I know I am not eating enough during the day. Maybe my mileage increased, maybe my needs are changing. I make it a point to pay attention to this when it happens and eat more at my meals, not restrict anything just because I overindulged on chocolate – I overindulged for a reason and that reason is usually because I didn’t eat enough!
Which foods are best for runners and easily incorporated into meals?
This will vary based on dietary preferences, but fruits, vegetables (especially starchy vegetables), legumes, nuts, seeds, lean meats, eggs, and whole grains are the best foods for runners. This doesn’t mean you should restrict other foods; rather, these foods should constitute most of your diet to fuel your running and help you maintain a healthy weight.
I recommend that runners focus on complex carbohydrates for most of their daily carbohydrate requirements. Brown rice, oats, quinoa, whole grain bread, white and sweet potatoes, vegetables, and fruit all provide excellent sources of carbohydrates. Unlike refined flours and simple sugars, complex carbohydrates do not spike the body’s insulin levels (which can lead to weight gain and affect sports performance) while also providing more vitamins and minerals as well.
Healthy fats are essential for female runners, especially when it comes to your reproductive health. Omega-3 fatty acids also help reduce inflammation and speed the recovery process, meaning that you can train better. Great sources of fat include nut butters, chia seeds, flax seeds, avocado, nuts, and healthy oils (coconut, olive, grapeseed, etc).
I also recommend that all women include iron-rich foods in their diet. Women naturally lose iron during their periods, but endurance athletes lose iron through foot-strike hemolysis (when iron is lost through the repeated impact of your feet to the ground) and through the recovery cycle (the protein hepcidin, which plays a vital role in muscular recovery, blocks iron absorption). Iron supplements can be tricky to take safely, so instead you want to consume iron from foods such as black beans, lean red meat, blackstrap molasses, raisins, and lentils.
Editor’s note–> I am very careful about iron. I have definitely noticed a difference in my energy levels by making sure I eat a lot of spinach, lentils and quinoa, especially around my period. I will also say that sometimes I have experienced fatigue which turned out to be a need for more protein. Once I added in some extra protein in the form of eggs, I immediately felt better.
Never underestimate the power of food! Just a little bit extra of the right stuff goes a long way.
Stay tuned for part two next week! Thanks Laura for helping us 🙂Finding balance between our diets & workouts @thisrunnersrecipes #diet #exercise #balance… Click To Tweet
Do you have any questions specific to this topic that you want us to address?
Is there a specific food you tend to crave more often that is your signal that you aren’t eating enough?
Are you a night-time snacker?