Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Carb Loading vs. the "See Food" Diet?

The past several weeks I've been focusing a lot on nutrition. The reason being that I've been anxious to get back my "pre-dating" runners body, and looking back, the times I've felt the best are when I've been eating the best and had my lowest body fat percentage. The challenge now was how to cut body fat, gain muscle, and keep up the long distance runs required for marathon training.

If you haven't already heard, long distance running is not necessarily the best form of exercise to pick up for weight loss. (Not without some education anyway). Why? Because as you run more miles, you tend to find yourself justified in eating more and more food; usually much more than your body actually needs. Most people are familiar with the general concept of 'carb loading' for distance runners- by taking in a lot of carbohydrates your body will have the necessary energy for long runs. So it's become somewhat of a tradition in the running world to load up on huge amounts of food or big plates of pasta in the days leading up to long runs or races.

Have I done this? Absolutely! Particularly those first few marathons. The week just prior is a huge celebration of sorts. I just finished training for a MARATHON, and I'm going to celebrate by eating everything in sight! ("See Food" Diet) :-)
Was it fun? Sure. The only problem being that by the time I actually made it to the starting line of my race, I felt 'fat' and lousy. So recently I took on the challenge of learning how to eat the best for my body and maintain the long run miles. While it was very frustrating at first, I seem to have finally found the plan that's working for me.

Disclaimer: I am not a nutrition expert by any means. This happens to be what has worked for me. I'm just sharing. And you should always consult your doctor before beginning any new exercise or weight loss plan. (Ok, now that I've satisfied the legal department, here we go...)

Most of what I learned here was from this book, by far the most user friendly I've found on the subject. If you want some very confusing ones which talk all about the research studies backing up the recommendations, and ones that require advanced degrees in math, I can recommend those too.Here are the Cliff Notes version of what I've learned:

1. Take your current weight and multiply it by 13.
- This is your basal metabolic rate (the number of calories you burn in a day doing pretty much nothing).

2. Find a way to track your 'calories in' and 'calories out'.
- For me, I found an iphone app (called Nutrition (very original), that makes this very easy. Start by setting your calorie 'allowances' (BMR).
Calories in- Now log in all the foods you eat. This is actually not as hard as it sounds since you can save them as Favorites, and select them again and again. You can also look up info on Common Foods or favorite dining out places.
Calories out- Log in the number of calories you burn (above and beyond your BMR) every day. I get this information from my Garmin for runs or walks, or you the app allows you to look up calories burned based on activity and time.
**All of this information gets saved in your 'Journal' and tells you exactly how many calories you've consumed compared to how many you've burned.

3. Losing Weight
- Obviously the idea is to make sure you burn more calories than you consume. If you want to lose about 1 pound a week, then you need to burn an average of 500 calories more than you eat every day. (3500 calories = 1 pound)

4. Carbs/Proteins/Fats - Does it matter?
Well, yes. Particularly if you're trying to stay active (long distance runs or otherwise). Cutting out all the carbs is bad news for athletes. Sure you'll lose weight, but you won't have energy for much more than sitting on the couch.
Shoot for about daily ratios of consuming 50% carbs, 25% fats, and 25% proteins. Sound confusing? Again, the iphone app saves the day by automatically creating a nice little pie chart showing how you're doing throughout the day.

5. When to eat what...
This was the real key for me to learn! While it's good to try and eat balanced amounts of carbs, fats and proteins at every meal- in general you want to focus on consuming more carbs during the meals or snacks during which you're most active during the day. (AM if you're a morning runner, PM if you work out in the evenings, etc.). During your less active times (post-workouts or between workout meals), focus more on the proteins and fats as these will make you feel fuller longer.

6. Invest in a good scale that tells you not only your weight, but body fat percentage as well. These don't have to cost a lot, I found a decent one for about $45.

So far this plan has worked amazingly well for me. As far as the nutrition part of things goes, I've been feeling great for workouts, and never feel hungry or deprived of food. I am getting very close to my body fat percentage goal. Sticking with this current program, I should be there by August. (I was going to insert a joke about dating possibly messing that up again here, but I'll hold back). :-)

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