Food is the most essential element in life, & yet it causes incredible trauma in our society. We know we must eat to live but the experts can’t seem to agree on what it is we should eat. The television advertises the most effective diet (if it worked for Oprah, it will work for me), the radio DJ tells you of their latest miracle cure, your doctor will proscribe a “little purple pill” to cover up your excesses, & on the way to work a sign on light post promises you will lose 30 pounds in 30 days if you just call their number. There is no wonder that everyone is looking for guidance in relation to nutrition. It is important at the outset of this essay to let the reader know that we do not recommend any particular method or diet, other than balance & moderation. This essay will strive to give a simple, basic overview of the rules & principles regarding nutrition so that the runner can begin to clear up some of the confusion.
The nutrition section of your local bookstore is choked with books recommending almost as many different diets as there are foods. You will hear conflicting information about protein; carbohydrates & fats, what proportions you should include these in your diet. All of these diets & nutritional plans have research & statistics to corroborate their information. How can the average person determine what their diet should consist of? It is important to understand some basic nutritional principles.
There are three basic rules of nutrition.
1. The body requires essential nutrients: carbohydrates, protein & fat (which supply energy) & vitamins, minerals, trace elements & water (which utilize that energy.) These energy producers are commonly called fuel & the body burns these fuels differently, depending upon the body’s needs & the exercise undertaken.
2. These nutrients are contained in four basic food groups: the meat, fish & meat-substitute group; the fruit & vegetable group; the milk & dairy produce group; & the bread & cereal group.
3. The body functions differently depending on what food groups are eaten in what proportions. A walker has different dietary needs than a cyclist competing in the Tour de France. This is the rule that causes the most confusion, as every individual has different a body type & goals, & therefore different needs. These differences make the discussion of nutrition difficult, even for those who are professionals. What follows is a moderate, but sound, guide to the principle concerns of those who want to lose weight & who are concerned with optimum sports performance. A great reference for those who are interested in the most current, up-to-date & thorough information is this website: www.thedietchannel.com. It discusses, in detail, each essential nutrient & the different approaches to diet that are currently popular.
The following are some useful nutritional principles:
Calories In, Calories Out (or If the Furnace is Hot Enough, Anything Will Burn): This basic adage may be overused but its truth is indisputable. Ultimately, the number of calories that you consume must equal the amount of calories that you expend. If your goal is to lose weight then you will want to consume approximately 1,000 less calories per day than you burn through exercise & the general activities of living. If you are more concerned with performance, you will need to eat around 500 calories more that you expend throughout your training & general life functions. You cannot lose weight if you are consuming more calories than you are expending & you will not be able to maintain optimal performance if you do not eat enough calories.
Even with this said, there are individual concerns & issues that should be considered by your family doctor or nutritionist. There may be medical concerns that need to be addressed by a professional.
Run Early, Burn Fat All Day Long: Each person’s metabolism may have a different effiency but there is no doubt that the earlier you rev the engine the more fuel it will burn. If you exercise earlier in morning you will increase the rate that your metabolism uses calories & you will begin to burn those calories at a higher level throughout the day. This is one of the simplest principles to implement & one that will have the most lasting effect.
Weight Loss? Stay Easy, Go Long: One of the biggest misconceptions about weight loss is that if you work harder you will burn more fat. This is not necessarily true. The body consumes different fuels depending upon the effort exerted. If you run above approximately 85% effort then you are running anaerobically & burning sugar calories (glycogen), when you run out of glycogen then the body begins to feed upon the next available fuel source, protein. Eventually, it will consume the muscles before it ever converts fat calories to energy. When the body runs below 80% (aerobic) effort then the body burns fat calories first & foremost. It is not only the effort of your activities; the duration is just as crucial. The longer you run at an aerobic effort the more fat you will consume. However, after 30 minutes the fat calories are consumed is a much greater efficiency. Each 30-minute increase in duration benefits the effientcy of burning fat exponentially. This is the little secret of weight loss. You gain far more benefit, in terms of weight loss, walking easily for 2 hours than running hard for 30 minutes. This is why cycling & walking can be the best ways activities for weight loss. Our principle aim in this training group is to complete a fall marathon & not to focus on weight loss. You can utilize the cross training days to work on weight loss if that is an ancillary goal for you.
The Rawer, the Better: Stay away from processed foods as much as possible. Raw fruits & vegetables have two major benefits. One, they acclimate your palate to simple, effective, nutritious fuels & two, they produce less waste & do not have the same harmful, cancer-causing agents that processed foods have. Our society has used advertising to sell us these processed foods & few recognize the harm that these foods do to our bodies & our environment. Your body runs far more efficiently with natural fuels than with those that have additives. Now that you are paying special concern to the how’s & why’s of fitness & training, it is equally important to investigate what you put in your body.
Well-Balanced Meals: The lessons we learned in kindergarten about the food pyramid & eating a “square” meal are still sound advice. The best way to take in the vitamins, minerals & calories that we need to function is through our diet. This simple principle is still the best nutritional advice you can follow. These simple principles should be helpful in getting you on the right nutritional track.
Special Concerns for Marathoners
Please remember that the author of this essay is not a professional & the principle contained here are only the experience of one individual. It is highly recommended that you discuss this with a medical expert or nutritionist before adopting these principles, especially if you have any special medical issues.