Nancy, here’s a question for you. Should my calorie intake fluctuate based on how much training I'm doing? I usually do between 90 and 120 minutes a day, but sometimes I might do just a 45-minute workout. Do I cut my calorie count proportionally?
On days when you are doing less exercise you will likely want to eat just as much (or almost as much) because—
1) Your muscles are using any extra unburned calories to refuel your depleted glycogen stores from the previous days’ tiring workouts, and
2) You may be more active during the rest of your "light exercise" days. That is, observe if on your light days or rest days you decide to mow the lawn, vacuum the house, wash your car, and do lots of errands. That extra activity counts!
Your best bet is to listen to your body; it is your best calorie counter. If you are thinking about food and fighting the urge to eat, your body is saying it needs more fuel. When you eat something to resolve that hunger, observe if you--
--stop obsessing about food, and
--have interest in doing something other than fight off urges to eat.
I generally eat just as much on rest days. Sometimes by dinner I am not as hungry, so I eat a lighter dinner just because I don't want a heavy meal. I listen to my body and trust it can regulate an appropriate food intake. Perhaps you can experiment and observe ithat your body can also naturally regulate a proper intake? (It that seems too hard, you might want to meet with a sports dietitian who can help you eat intuitively. Use the referral network at www.SCANdpg.org.)
'Tis the season for nutrition resolutions. My advice is: be realistic!
I have a lot of clients who resolve to eat the perfect sports diet (no sugar, white flour, red meat, processed foods, etc.). These are the same athletes who then scold themselves for “cheating” when they eat a cookie or “being bad” if they sneak a French fry. Sometimes they let their bodies become ravenously hungry because “there was nothing healthy to eat” at an event. Somehow eating a white bagel would negate all other efforts to choose whole grain foods.
As you make your New Year’s Nutrition Resolutions, I suggest you think about enjoying a diet that averages out to be at least 90% “quality calories” and about 10% “whatever.” That is, you need not eat a perfect diet to have a good diet. And remember: there are times when eating any food is better than eating nothing. (Yes, getting “too hungry” is abusive. Don’t do that!) On the afternoon when you get stuck without any trail mix or "healthy" snacks, I’d rather see you munch on a candy bar than abuse your body with lack of fuel.
What are your New Year's Nutrition Resolutions? Are they sustainable?
With best wishes for a 2012 filled with enjoyable meals and balanced food choices,
“I’m hungry all the time,” my clients commonly complain. They just don’t understand why they are hungry all the time, even after having eaten meals. Is this a personality quirk? Are their bodies different from everyone else’s?
The answer is plain and simple. Hunger is a request for fuel. If we did not get hungry, we would waste away to nothing. These active people feel hungry all the time because their bodies ARE hungry. They have not eaten enough food to accommodate their needs.
To live hungry is abusive … Would you withhold food from a crying (hungry) baby? No. That would be called child abuse. Please, do not abuse your body by withholding food from yourself and living hungry all day.
“But if I eat more, I’ll get fat…” is the common fearful response to my suggestion to enjoy double portions at breakfast and lunch. These hungry athletes fail to understand they are more likely to “get fat” from skimping at breakfast and lunch, because they will later undoubtedly succumb to too much dinner or evening snacking. Excess evening calories are indeed fattening.
You will be better able to manage your weight if you fuel adequately by day, and feel fed and satiated. You can then lose weight at the end of the day by chipping off 100 to 300 calories from dinner and evening snacks. How about this for your motto today: “Fuel by day; diet by night”?
Eat wisely and feel great,
For more information on how to abate hunger, lose weight and maintain energy to exercise, read Chapters 15 and 16 in my Sports Nutrition Guidebook.
For personalized advice, consult with a sports dietitian. The referral network at www.SCANdpg.org and can help you find a local expert.
We currently have 9 dogs that we train and compete with in herding competitions. We train on a daily basis, locally as well as nationally. (www.fourmileaussies.com is our kennel website.)
I can tell you for sure that a hungry dog isn’t at his best. Hungry dogs are quicker to get in a fight, but they may not necessarily win. When we compete with our dogs, not only do we need physical strength but also we need mental sharpness. (The dog has to obey some pretty complex commands when taking the livestock through the course.) A dog that is hungry (or hasn’t eaten the morning of a competition) tends to get tired when things get tough (i.e., he won’t work as hard to turn back a running cow.)
They also get mentally sloppy as the day wears on. They will forget what ‘right’ and ‘left’ means sometimes. Or they will get sloppy and allow one sheep to split from the group and they won’t bother putting it back. All this sloppiness results in losing points during your run.
Since our dogs can’t talk to us, we have to observe their behavior and adjust their nutrition based on the results we see. I can tell you for sure, that a dog that has had several small meals (or snacks) throughout the day lasts longer, tries harder and is mentally sharper than a dog that skipped breakfast and has only had water to drink. I think dogs are pretty much like humans.
I’m thinking any coach that gave that advice never trained dogs!
“I don’t eat much before I compete because my coach told me a hungry dog fights harder. Right?” asked this high school cross-country runner who had made an appointment with me to figure out how to enhance his performance. The simple answer was: a hungry dog might fight harder, but a hungry teenage runner will drag through events and be in a bad mood. He agreed.
Too many people think exercising on empty is a smart idea. I have yet to see research that supports that belief. The studies consistently indicate that pre-exercise fuel enhances performance. Just as your car runs better with fuel, your body runs better when appropriately fed. Pre-exercise food boosts your energy, enhances your ability to focus and concentrate on the task at hand, enhances stamina and endurance—to say nothing of puts you in a better mood. Why be tired and grumpy when a pre-run granola bar, banana or pretzels could boost your energy and your spirits?
Granted, some people have trouble difficulty tolerating a full meal pre-run, but most active people can enjoy 200 to 300 calories of some fruit, bread or energy bar. Give it a try? Experiment, observe the benefits (or costs), and tweak your diet accordingly.
“What should I do to jump-start my diet?” my client earnestly inquired. She was ready to get back on track after having gained three pounds over the holidays and was eager to lose that weight plus seven more “quick loss” pounds to get to her "happy weight.”
“Don’t bother jump starting your diet!” I responded. Here’s why:
Dieters who lose weight quickly by severely restricting their calories inevitably regain the weight, if not more. That's because the body overcompensates for extreme dieting (extreme hunger) with overeating. Just as you will gasp for air after having been trapped under water without oxygen, you will devour food after having been denied calories during a crash diet.
Hunger is physiological. Just as your body needs air to breathe, your body also needs fuel to function. Extreme hunger is simply an urgent request for fuel. Crash diets lead to binge eating (also called “blowing your diet”). This overeating has little to do with your "having no willpower" and lots to do with the physiology of hunger.
Yes, you can white-knuckle yourself to stick to your crash diet, but your well-meaning plan to quickly shed some pounds has a high likelihood of exploding into a demoralizing pattern of yoyo dieting. You’ll inevitably end up gaining more weight than you lose. Don't go there.... it’s depressing.
“If I eat breakfast, I feel hungrier all day” complained a working mom who came to me looking for help with losing 10 pounds. She was a breakfast skipper. She believed skipping breakfast would save her some calories and help her shed a few pounds. Plus, when she ate breakfast, she reported she felt hungrier the rest of the day.
The reason she felt hungrier when she ate breakfast was because she did not eat enough breakfast. She’d have just an English muffin with a dab of jelly. That was only 200 calories. Her body wanted at least 500 calories – English muffin plus a tablespoon of peanut butter on each half of the English muffin plus a banana plus a ½ cup of milk in her coffee!
If skipping breakfast was truly an effective way to lose weight, she would not have needed my guidance; she would have successfully lost weight on her own. But that was not the case. She described her eating as being “so good during the day, but so bad at night.” That is, the minute she got home from work, she’d devour cheese and crackers and then a big dinner and then graze some more.
She thought her nighttime eating was the problem. It was actually the symptom and the result of her having dieted “too hard” during the day. I suggested she experiment to determine if eating MORE breakfast would curb her evening appetite. Although she shuddered at the thought of eating more food, she completed the experiment and discovered that the heartier breakfast did stay with her and enabled her to curb her evening over-eating.
If you believe that breakfast makes you hungrier, think again and trust that eating a heartier breakfast is indeed the best way to start a day of dieting. Give it a try?
As I mentioned in my previous blog, too many active people starve by day, in their efforts to lose weight, and then blow their diet by night. They think they lack "will power" when they overeat at night. Wrong. They lack nutrition "skill power."
Hunger is physiologicalas is the need to urinate. That is, if you need to pee at 11:00 a.m., do you make yourself wait until noon to go to the bathroom? Doubtful. But if you are hungry at 11:00 a.m., do you make yourself wait until noon to have lunch? Likely. And when the skimpy lunch does not fill you up, you then make yourself wait until dinner to eat, at which time you are too hungry to have control over food. You overeat, and that is physiology of hunger!
Once you understand that hunger is physiological and allow yourself to eat adequately during the day, life is easier and more enjoyable, and weight loss become more successful.
Think of it this way: if you were babysitting and the child was crying because it was hungry, not feeding that child would be called child abuse. Yet, if you under eat all day and are hungry, you are simply "on a diet." Wrong, you are abusing your body.
You can lose weight by eating just a little bit less at night. There's a big difference between being "starving" and "not quite full." Chip away at weight loss by eating just 100 to 200 calories less at night, and youll be more successful in the long run than trying to live hungry all day. Give it a try!
Many of my clients report they are "always hungry", as if hunger is a personality quirk. Hunger is simply a request for fuel. If you are hungry all the time, you likely are eating too little food during the day (only to overindulge at night).
Think about hunger this way: If you were taking care of a little baby, and the baby was crying because it was hungry, not feeding that child would be called child abuse. Not feeding your own body when it is hungry is being abusive to yourself. Don't do that!!!
Even if you want to lose body fat, you can lose weight without being ravenously hungry. Just eat 100 calories less at the end of the day, and that will theoretically contribute to 10 pounds of fat loss a year. Two hundred calories less at the end of the day, 20 lbs of fat loss. Chip away at weight loss, rather than living hungry (no fun, and not sustainable).
Nancy Clark MS RD
For more information on how to find the right balance of food so you can feel content without getting fat, take a look at chapters 15 and 16 in my Sports Nutrition Guidebook. You'll learn how to lose weight without starving yourself!