Monday, October 3, 2011

Twinkies, Bacon or Pasta? – What’s a Runner to Eat?

Twinkies, Bacon or Pasta? – What’s a Runner to Eat?

In our running email discussion list, someone posted a link to a professor of nutrition who, as an experiment, went on a diet of mostly twinkies and junk food and lost 27 pounts in 2 months:

The trick is that he kept his total calorie intake to 1,800 calories/day, while calculators show that he needed 2,600 calories/day to maintain weight. The conclusion, for many people, is that caloric deficit will lead to weight loss, no matter what you eat.

Personally, I think that it is a bit more complicated than that, since some foods can affect your metabolism (the 2,600 calories that he needed to maintain weight) plus some foods affect your hunger more than others, which makes it difficult to maintain the diet, unless, as in the case of this professor, if you have something to prove. And it is an open question how this diet will affect your running (the professor had to stop running while in this experiment).

But even if we assume that ANY diet with a caloric deficit will lead to weight loss, the question then is what kind of diet/nutrition is easier to follow for weight control, while maintaining your running strength and is healthy for you in the long run?

Here are the observations of this experiment of one:

This morning I was 157.5 pounds. That's the lowest weight I ever remember being in my adult life. I have lost 14.5 lbs in 7 weeks and I am not even on a diet. I eat plenty of good food until I am not hungry, and maybe a bit more. I do not crave anything I do not eat. I have plenty of energy, as manifested by my recent races, like the Akron marathon. This weekend was a good example: On Saturday I went out running alone while drizzling. I did not have a preset time/distance in mind, so I kept running (and thinking). I went for 11 miles like that, enjoying my run. On Sunday I ran with my wife, 15.5 miles, no problem. I ran up some steep hills (pre-low-carb I would have walked these.) Having fun while running for hours, now that’s what I call “the joy of running”.

Last week I used and logged everything that I ate. I ate an average of 2450 calories/day, with these ratios: Protein: 21%, Carbs: 17% (102g), Fat: 62%

2,500 calories is a lot of food. But since I am losing about a pound a week, that means that I am operating at 500 caloric deficit a day. I should eat 3,000 calories/day to maintain weight, if the calories in/calories out balance theory is correct. But I do not feel hungry to eat more.

So, the answer for me to the question of what to eat to lose weight is to forget the conventional running wisdom and eat more fat and less carbs. Eating excessive carbs made me hungry, and I gained weight, no matter how much I ran. I also did not enjoy running as much. Now, I am losing weight without being hungry and I am running strong and enjoying running more than ever. I also believe that I am doing the right thing for my body on the long run. Now some people will dispute this, claiming that a high fat, high cholesterol diet is bad for you. From what I have read, I am convinced that a low-carb diet is a healthy diet. But no one can dispute the effect that this diet has on my body and running.

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