Written by Michelle Kempton
Published in Canadian Running Magazine
I have tried every fad diet out there, and never found one that worked long-term. Instead, I just try to burn more energy than I consume, and voila! - the pounds melt away. Over a two-year span, I have lost 120lbs by increasing my activity and making healthier food choices. I've tried different forms of exercise, but it wasn't able to consistently lose weight and keep it off until I became a runner.
Well, that was until I took a hiatus from running this winter - what a mistake. Over a three-month span, I managed to gain 30 pounds. The combination of lack of physical movement, stress and my nightly over-indulgence of gourmet ice cream were major factors in this significant and sudden weight gain.
When I got back to running in March, the weight affected my performance. I'm considered a pretty fast runner - or I was, but the first 5K run with extra junk in my trunk took me 32 minutes. Yikes. This was the wake-up call that I needed to get both my training and food back on track.
I made some appointments with a dietitian, Krista Leck-Merner, who diagnosed me as a carb-a-phobe. I blame the North American diet industry for promoting high-protein, low-carb diets. Many work for the short-term, but it's not a lifestyle that you can or should sustain for very long.
She was right: I cringe at the thought of consuming carbohydrates - so much so that about a year ago I had depleted myself of so many carbs that I developed vertigo. Basically, I felt dizzy and it was hard to walk in a straight line, let alone run. My family doctor quickly diagnosed that it was because of the lack of carbohydrates in my diet, and by incorporating some complex carbs such as whole grain bread, whole wheat pasta and brown rice into my meals, the condition went away within a few weeks. But during that time, I had to pay the ultimate sacrifice: I wasn't allowed to run. I listened to my doctor and started eating some complex carbs but I didn't really want to.
Leck-Merner, who is a marathoner, explained that carbohydrates are essential for runners. "Distance runners require high-carbohydrate diets to properly fueled and refueled their energy stores that are used in training and racing," she said. Leck-Merner suggested choosing nutrient-dense carbohydrate sources such as whole grain breads, pastas, cereals, fruits and vegetables to maximize your nutrition choices. She also explained that you shouldn't mistake fatigue for overtraining. Nutrition plays a key component to successful training and performance. Low-carbohydrate diets, low iron levels, dehydration, irregular eating patterns and poor nutrition choices can all be sources of fatigue.
Carbohydrates are fuel. Most athletes require a minimum of six grams per kilogram of body weigh of carbs on a daily basis, Leck-Merner says. Higher-intensity training can require upwards of 7-10g/kg.
Leck-Merner recommends we choose to be "conscious eaters." Understand what you are eating - when and why - and you will be on the path to health and a successful running career.
Michelle Kempton lives in Cow Bay, N.S