How to Fuel Your Body for a Run When You're on a Diet
By Tina Haupert
In January, I ran my first marathon. Tackling 26.2 miles was a huge accomplishment for me and one that I will never forget, but I crossed the finish line 10 pounds heavier. Never in a million years did I think my body would change that way because of marathon training—I thought I'd lose weight!
Since marathon day, I've worked to lose those extra pounds by watching my diet and sticking to my workout schedule. Like many novice marathoners, I overestimated the amount of calories I could consume during training, so I gained weight because I ate calories above and beyond what I was burning. I'm still training for races—four half-marathons are currently on my calendar—but I'm fueling my body with healthier foods. They'll give me energy for my training but not show up on the scale so easily!
When training for a half-marathon, I always schedule one long run into my weekly workouts. My long runs usually keep me out on the course for more than an hour, so I need to make sure that I consume quality energy before, during, and after.
I eat a meal about two to three hours before heading out on my long runs. My go-to meal is some sort of whole-grain carbohydrate, such as a whole-wheat English muffin or a couple of pieces of bread, which give me plenty of energy to get through the first part of my run, and then I add a thick layer of peanut butter and banana slices on top. I used to choose foods based on their calorie count instead of reaching for satisfying options that give me energy. This will not work for long-distance running. When my breakfast includes a healthy mix of carbohydrates, lean protein, and a little bit of fat, I perform better on my runs than when it doesn't include those components.
During my run, I continue to fuel my body with calories. A training run requires a lot of energy, so I make sure that I have continuous calories coming in so I don't hit the proverbial "wall." As a general rule, I aim to consume 150 to 200 calories for every hour of running. For me, this means that I eat or drink calories every six miles or so. I like the convenience of engineered sports foods, so I often eat vanilla-flavored GU on my long runs. It tastes just like vanilla pudding!
After my long run, I eat and drink within 30 minutes. Post-run, my favorite food options are a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, an egg and cheese sandwich, or a smoothie made with a frozen banana, almond milk, and protein powder. I know I need to help replenish my muscles, but now I know that I can't eat everything in sight, or else my jeans won't fit! I know that it's normal to feel hungry during training, but now I think twice about what and how much I put into my mouth.