If you train for a marathon or triathlon, surely your body fat will melt away. Correct?
Wishful thinking. If you are an endurance athlete who complains, “For all the exercise I do, I should be pencil-thin,” take a look at your 24-hour energy expenditure. Do you put most of your energy into exercising, but then tend to be quite sedentary the rest of the day as you recover from your tough workouts?
A study with of male endurance athletes who reported a seemingly low calorie intake indicates they did less spontaneous activity than their peers in the non-exercise parts of their day. Yes, it's really easy after a long run to lounge around and eat bon-bons because you "deserve" them...
Even when you are marathon training, you need to keep taking the stairs instead of the elevators, and keep moving in non-exercise parts of your day. Again, if weight is an issue, you should eat according to your whole day's activity level, not according to how hard you trained for an hour or two that day.
Being injured is one of the hardest parts of being an athlete. If and when you do get injured, you’ll likely wonder how to eat better to heal better. My motherly advice is: Don’t treat good nutrition like a fire engine!
Rather than shaping up your diet when you get injured,strive to maintain a high quality food intake every day. That way, you'll have a hefty bank account of vitamins and minerals stored in your liver, ready and waiting to be put into action. For example, a well-nourished athlete has enough vitamin C (important for healing) stored in the liver to last for about six weeks. The junk food junkie who gets a serious sports injury (think bike crash,skiing tumble, hockey blow) and ends up in the hospital has a big disadvantage. Eat smart every day!
The fear of gaining weight plagues most injured athletes.Here are two myths, debunked!
MYTH: Muscle turns into fat.
Wrong. If you are unable to exercise, your muscles will shrink, but they will not turn into fat. Have you ever seen the scrawny muscles on a person who has just had a cast removed when the broken bone has healed? Those muscles did not get fat!
MYTH: Lack of exercise means you'll get fat.
Wrong. If you overeat while you are injured (as can easily happen if you are bored or depressed), you can indeed easily get fat. I know of many frustrated athletes who have quickly gained weight because they continued to eat lumberjack portions. But if you eat mindfully, your body can regulate a proper intake. Before diving into meals and snacks, ask yourself, “How much of this fuel does my body actually need?” Eat for fuel, not entertainment.
When injured, some underweight athletes do gain to their genetic weight. For example, a 13-year-old gymnast perceived her body was “getting fat” while she recuperated from a knee injury. She was simply catching up and attaining the physique appropriate for her age and genetics.
Whatever you do, don't skimp on protein and calories when injured ... that will delay healing.
Why are thin people “fatter” than they used to be?
Why is morbid obesity, type 2 diabetes—and even sex reversalis fish species—becoming common?
…Is something pervading our environment that is making us fatter?
Traditionally, we look at overeating and underexercising as the main contributors to the obesity epidemic. Diet and exercise are deemed to be the solutions to the problem. Maybe we are overlooking other factors? Do we need to pay attention to new research on “obesogens”?
Obesogens are chemical compounds found in food, drugs, and industrial products (like plastics) that may alter metabolic processes and predispose some people to gain weight. These compounds may contribute to more and bigger fat cells. Exposure to these compounds in utero may explain (in part) why childhood obesity is on the rise, why even thin people are “fatter” than they used to be, and why morbid obesity, type 2 diabetes, and sex reversal in fish species is on the rise.
Clearly, we need to explore all possible factors that contribute to weight issues, not just diet and exercise. Some of these factors include looking at ways to reduce potential environmental obesogens that might be in plastics, canned goods, nonstick cookware, air fresheners, laundry products, and personal care products. Obesogens may be yet another reason to eat less processed foods, particularly those that come packaged in plastic or cans. The research is in its infancy, so stay tuned—and until we know more, start eating more foods that are minimally processed!
Sleeps is restorative and is needed to align circadian rhythms. Sleep deprivation erodes well being. Speaking at the SCAN Sports Nutrition Conference (Baltimore, April ,2012), Allison Weiss BS reported that Americans are sleeping less than they used to sleep:
--Nearly 30% of adults report sleeping less than 6 hours per day.
--80% of teens report getting less than the recommended nine hours of sleep.
This lack of sleep is having detrimental effects on our health.
Obesity and sleep deprivation are concurrent issues; sleep seems to be a risk factor for obesity. One in four post-menopausal women has problems sleeping; is this linked to mid-life weight gain? When people are tired, grehlin—the hormone that makes us feel hungry—becomes active and we become hungrier and can easily overeat.
Sleep deprivation is also associated with development of Type II diabetes, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease. People younger than 60 years who sleep less than five hours a night have a higher risk for developing cardiovascular disease.
Athletes who travel through time zones are at high risk for sleep deprivation. This can impact performance by disrupting the circadian rhythms and causing undue fatigue and reduced motivation. Because mental alertness enhances athletic performance, low motivation can be detrimental to performance. On the other hand, extending sleep can enhance performance. A study with basketball players indicates they shot more baskets and completed more free throws when they were well rested (as opposed to sleep deprived).
The Boston Marathon is over and we hope that you are proud of your efforts! You have spent many months preparing for this race both physically and mentally; it’s common to come to the end of the race and wonder what’s next. Many runners worry about how to adjust their eating plan. Here is a short guide on adjusting your eating after training.
Assess your weight and define your goals
Before adjusting your eating plan, assess your current weight. Did you lose, gain, or maintain your weight during training? Then, determine if you need to adjust or maintain your post-race weight.
Listen to your body
Your body is very good at adjusting your food intake for training. That is, as you increase your training, you are hungrier and as you decrease your training you feel less hungry. Therefore, within the week after the big race, your appetite should decrease. This is your body telling you to eat less.
Writing down what you eat for 3-5 days can be helpful to see when, where, and how much you are eating. Even better, record how hungry you were before and after you ate. This can help you understand if you are eating enough to prevent hunger, or perhaps you’re just eating out of habit. Food logs will show you where the best places are to cut back, or perhaps identify meals in which you aren’t eating enough.
Eat throughout the day
The best way to manage hunger and maintain energy throughout the day is to fuel your body on a regular schedule. People generally get hungry about every 4 hours, so try to plan meals or snacks at least every four hours.For example, breakfast at 7am, lunch at 11am, 2nd lunch (or snack) at 3p, and dinner at 7p. For some it may work better to break this up into more, smaller meals in 3 hours blocks, so find what works for you.
Not eating enough at breakfast, lunch, or second lunch can lead to overeating at dinner. However, since you’re exercising less than you were during training, your body may be satisfied with smaller portion sizes at each meal. But, don’t skip meals! For example, instead of eating a large bagel with peanut butter, a banana, and a large glass of orange juice at breakfast, morning runners maybe only need 2 pieces of toast with peanut butter, half a banana, and a small glass of orange juice (or just water). Pay attention to when you feel full – your appetite is a good gauge for how much you need to eat.
If your goal is to lose weight, fuel your body throughout the day and chip off 100-200 calories each evening. You can achieve this by eating a smaller dinner, choosing fruit for dessert instead of ice cream, or choosing to drink water instead of wine or beer. Eat a mix of carbohydrates, lean protein, and healthy fats at each meal. Choose fiber rich carbohydrates such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to keep you feeling fuller, longer. Protein and fat also help slow digestion, adding to a feeling of satiety.
Make an appointment with a registered dietitian
For a more personalized plan, make an appointment with a registered dietitian (RD). An RD can help assess your current weight and diet and provide you with the best eating plan to move forward. Visit the Sports,Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutrition (SCAN) website to find an RD that specializes in sports nutrition.
How do you plan to adjust your eating plan post-race?
Which is the more effective way to lose undesired body fat: add on more exercise or knock off more calories?
According to Dr Jim HIll, speaker at the American College of Sports Medicine's annual convention, knock off the calories. While a combination of exercising more and eating less is a good idea, the key to losing undesired body fat is to eat fewer calories. Subtracting food seems to be more important than adding on exercise for fat loss.
While aerobic exercise like running or cycling does help create a calorie deficit, a smart choice is to also lift weights. This helps preserve your muscles. Otherwise, more of the weight you lose will be in the form of muscle.
Exercise becomes more important when you are ready to maintain your fat loss. Research suggests that dieters who have been obese need about 60 to 90 minutes per day of exercise. (Having been obese seems to reset the metabolism and creates a strong biological drive to regain the weight). Walking is a popular exercise among dieters. Pedometers are helpful tools to guide people to ramp-up their activity, with a goal of 10,000 to 12,000 steps per day.
Do Hummers need more gas than Mini-Coopers. Of course!
Do athletes who weigh 180 pounds need more calories than those who weigh 120 pounds? Of couse.
While this seems so obvious, I spend too much time counseling 180-pound over-fat athletes who try to eat like a 120-pound ballet dancer. They believe:
1. Food is a fattening “enemy.”
2. The less they eat, the faster they will lose weight.
3. The lighter they are, the better they will perform.
Wrong, wrong, wrong!
1. Food is fuel, not fattening. People who eat normally tend to be lean. People who diet tend to be heavy. Hence, dieting tends to make people heavy (in the long run) while learning how to eat normally contributes to a leaner physique.
2. The less you eat, the more likely you are to binge and regain all the weight you lost. This urge to binge is physiological. Just as you gasp for air and cannot breath normally after having stayed too long underwater, you can eat normally after having restricted food the point of feeling ravenously hungry.
3. The best-fueled athlete (who is genetically gifted and well trained) will out-perform the starved athlete who is thinner-at-any-cost.
I invite you to eat wisely, perform well and be at peace,
For food help:
To consult with a registered dietitian (RD) who specializes in sports nutrition, find your local expert at www.SCANdpg.org.
“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.
More often than not, I talk with novice marathoners who assume they will lose weight once they start training for a marathon. After all, if they are running for miles and miles, how could they not lose weight???
Well, guess again, according to a study presented at the American College of Sports Medicine's Annual Meeting. In a survey of 64 participants in a three-month marathon-training program, only 11% of the runners lost weight and 11% actually gained weight. (The rest remained at a stable weight.) Of the 7 who gained weight, 6 were women. They got hungrier and ate more!
Among the entire group of runners, three-quarters of the women reported eating more while training, as compared to only half of the men. It seems that Nature works hard to defend women from losing weight! After all, in terms of evolution, a woman’s job is to be fertile.
Hence, if you are a woman who decides to run a marathon, be sure the primary goal of your training is to improve your endurance, not to lose weight. If you want to do both, you have to carefully manage your appetite. All too often, marathoners can convince themselves they deserve to eat several extra cookies because they just ran a few miles…
If you are a gym rat who reads-and-exercises at the same time, be aware: the kind of magazine you read can influence your state of mind after you leave the gym. That is, if you read National Geographic, you will likely feel better about yourself after you finish your workout. But if you are a man who reads magazines such as Men’s Health or a woman who reads fashion magazines such as Glamour, you will likely end up feeling worse about your body.
Yes, the media has a powerful effect on your self-image! All those lean and beautiful models can make you believe you are fat and frumpy. Please remember, in real life, we rarely see people who look like models. That’s because the photos with models are air-brushed and convey false images of humanity.
Rather than compare yourself to a model, your better bet is to appreciate your body for all the wonderful things it does for you and be grateful for your good health. Your body is likely “good enough” the way it is. Stop comparing and stop despairing!
In one of the blog posts for new runners, a frustrated woman commented "And everyone said the weight would fall off when I started to run. Not true!"
I agree. Most novice runners start their exercise program believing undesired body fat will melt away. Not the case. If running contributes to a calorie deficit, body fat does dwindle away. But all too often, new runners eat a little bit more than usual, either because they are hungrierexercise can stimulate the appetite for women (more so than for men)or because they believe they deserve a reward of a cookie or two. The combination of hunger + desire for a reward = no fat loss, and often fat gain.
The other thing you have to look at is 24-hour energy expenditure. That is, some new runners become less active in the other parts of their day ("I ran today, so I'll sit and read instead of clean the house.) A study with middle-aged people who added on an hour of brisk walking each day indicated they did they eat more, nor did they lose weight. They simply napped and slept more In 24-hours, they did not burn additional calories.
I recommend you run for health and fitness, and pay attention to eating smaller portions at dinner to lose undesired body fat. Just chip off 100 to 200 fewer calories at night. For information on how to lose fat and maintain energy to exercise, you might want to read my Food Guide for New Runners: Getting It Right From the Start.
Regardless of weight, enjoy feeling proud of your running accomplishments!
"I am a bad evening eater even though I do quite well during the day. I'm trying to keep busy in the evenings so I'm not sitting around and snacking which is my downfall!"
When my clients report their eating is "good by day but bad by night", I notice they are "too good" by day-- that is, they are eating way too few calories. That is why they are starving at the end of the day and "being bad" in terms of snacking and overeating. The solution is to fuel by day (so you have the energy to exercise) and then eat just a little bit less at night.
Theoretically, if you create a small calorie deficit by knocking off 100 calories at the end of the day, you'll lose 10 pounds of body fat a year. If you create a 200 calorie defict at the end of the day, you'll lose 20 pounds of fat. To their demise, too many active people knock off 500 to 800 calories during the day, and then get too hungry, overeat at night, and then end up gaining weight. I recommend their eating be "bad" by day and "good" by night! That is, that they eat enough during the day to feel satiated, and then eat just a little bit less at night ... not to the point of being too hungry to sleep, but just enought so they are not quite full.
My Sports Nutrition Guidebook has a strong section on how to lose weight without starving yourself. The information teaches active people:
- how many calories are OK to eat,
- how to maintain energy to enjoy exercise while losing undesired body fat,
- how to manage snack attacks, and
- how to find peace with food.
In addition, you might want to meet with a sports nutritionist for personalized advice. This food expert can help you create a personalized food plan that's sustainable and will help you reach your goals. Use the referral network at www.SCANdpg.org to find a local sports nutritionist.
Recently, I was asked to bring skinfold calipers to a social gathering. Ann (not her real name), a young mother who had succeeeded in losing 50 pounds by diet and exercise, wanted me to measure her body fat. She wanted to lose 10 more pounds, but her mother and other relatives had been making comments she was tooo thin.
The calipers provided unbiased data and Ann was actually shocked to learn she was a very lean 16% body fat. Because her physique had always been on the heavier side, she still saw herself as being bigger than she was. She ascribed to the belief Ill always be too fat, and never be too thin. Not the case. She now was thin-enough and had no need to be thinner-yet.
Body fat measurements can be a helpful tool to give dieters the data they need so they know when to stop dieting. Ann could now believe her weight was indeed low and she could focus more on building muscle than on losing fat.
I encouraged Ann to allow her body a 5 pound weight range, to account for muscular growth. I offered to do repeated body fat measurements, to help her through the after-the-diet stage when the scale goes up as muscles get rebuilt.
If you, too, have lost a lot of weight, you might want to seek a sport dietitian who can measure your body fat, to give you data regarding a good weight for your body. The referral network at www.SCANdpg.org can help you find a local sports dietitian.
More often than not, the avid bicyclists I counsel express concern about the power to weight ratio. As one cyclist, Hal, explained to me. Nancy, biking is all about the power to weight ratio. Ill be more powerful on my bike if Im lighter. I really want to lose about 20 pounds so Ill be able to bike faster. I asked this lean man what his wife thought about this idea. He responded, She thinks Im crazy. I silently agreed with her; Hal didnt have 20 pounds of excess fat to lose.
I reviewed Hals eating patterns and made some suggestions to help him ride faster by being better fueled. In his efforts to lose weight, he currently was actively restricting his breakfast and lunch. No wonder he lagged on energy during his late-afternoon bike rides. He thought he was slow because he was weighed too much. I think he was slow because he was underfueled.
Ill see him for a follow-up consultation in a month. If hes like other cyclists, hell happily report, I havent lost any weight, but by eating better, Im much faster and Ive been setting PRs.
I just dont have time to run or go to the gym the way Id like to. Im in a demanding semester at grad school and I barely have time to breathe. If I take a semester off from the gym and just try to walk as much as I can as a part of my day, will I get fat? I am afraid to stop working out four times a week
I could hear the fear and frustration in my clients voice. I assured her she could exercise less and not gain weight. In fact, I generally separate exercise from weight management, particularly with women. Exercise has little impact on a womans weight. Exercise, in fact, often increases a womans appetite so she wants to eat more after a workout.
If you are fearful of taking time off from exercise, whether for grad school, injuries, or other reasons that limit your time to exercise, fear not. You may lose fitness, but you need not gain fatness. The trick is to eat mindfully, according to hunger -- not according to boredom. The mindless eating that accompanies boredom and loneliness contributes to fat gain.
If you listen to your body and eat when you are hungry, then stop when you are content, you can maintain weight, even without exercise. (Just look at the number of people in a hospital who lose weight even without exercise; they create a calorie deficit that is essential to lose undesired body fat.) I told my client to eat when she was hungry, stop when she was content, and trust that her body could regulate the proper intake without micro-management of diet and exercise. She just needed to trust this process. Easier said than done!