Tag Archives: diet

Lifestyle Makeover: A Runner’s Dietary Analysis

My eating habits have improved since I started running, but exceptions remain. I have a fondness for pastries, and no desire to curb my enthusiasm for dark chocolate. But I can pass up fast food, white bread, and sweets of lesser quality without a qualm.

My “willpower” amazes people at times.

“What are you worried about?” they ask me. “You run so much, you’ll burn it all off anyway.”

Runners hear this a lot. There’s an element of truth in it, but it’s not the entire story. Sure, I burn a lot of calories. But the quality of those calories is just as important as the quantity.

Case in point: the photo below shows what we ate at a D&D session recently.

Yikes.

I can indulge on occasion but not regularly, even if I ran marathons three times a week. Food like this is dense in calories but low in nutrients. So most of what I eat is high quality, with lots of fiber and micronutrients.

Yet I wanted to know if I couldn’t do even better. Was I lacking some key vitamins or minerals I needed as a distance runner? And was I taking in enough to maintain weight without losing muscle? So when my wife signed up with a local nutritionist, I signed up too.

The results were surprising.

We began by discussing my goals and training. The nutritionist is familiar with runners and with my gym (Body Specs), so she understood the type and intensity of my physical activities. Then she gave me a food diary to fill out for three days. Everything I ate and drank, the precise amounts, and the date/time of consuming it. Oh, joy.

The three days included a D&D gaming session, but I figured it would balance out since another day was a Saturday long run. Except it was a home football game, and one of our club runners has a tailgating station. I indulged in what I liked but restrained my portions, helped in part because I’m not usually hungry after a long run.

The carrot balances out the nutrition, you see.

I turned in the food log, figuring that was that. Not quite; she asked me for more information. A sample:

On Thursday can you let me know how much cereal you had. 2.5 cups? How many pecans, and about how much milk and type? What brand of pumpkin ginger bar? On Friday what type of breakfast muffin was that?

This was going to be more detailed than I expected! I provided what I could, including a recipe for the muffin (Morning Glory) I found online I hoped was close enough.

Here are the highlights of her analysis. First, the quantity:

  1. I need an average of about 3,100 calories per day to maintain body weight. This was higher than I’d expected. According to the USDA, an active 55-year old male needs 2,800 calories per day. I must be “super active” then.
  2.  My average intake? About 3,100 calories per day. So without any scientific dietary plan or calorie counting, I’m covering my caloric needs exactly.

This explains why my weight remains consistent, varying only about five pounds from peak race season to recovery periods.

What about the quality of the calories? Going in, I was supplementing vitamin D, but also calcium/magnesium/zinc, figuring I might not be getting as much as I need. Here’s what she found, based on my food log:

Turns out I’m doing just fine with most nutrients. So what did she recommend I change? Not much, actually. Keep supplementing the vitamin D, and add fish oil to get more omega-3 fatty acids.

And as for the pastries and chocolate? Here she surprised me once more by telling me her “80/20” rule: We need to eat well, but also enjoy life. So make 80 percent of your diet high quality, and the remaining 20 percent can be treats.

No arguing with my nutritionist!

Coming up: I mentioned my wife also got a nutrition analysis. She’s okay with me sharing her results on this blog, so I’ll share it with you. Interesting similarities and contrasts. Stay tuned!

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Lifestyle Makeover, Part 2: What Goes In

While my wife is at home for several weeks recovering from abdominal surgery, we’re making some overdue upgrades to our house and our lifestyles. In this series of posts I’m sharing these changes with my readers.

Two weeks after her surgery, my wife surprised me by uttering a phrase I never thought I’d hear from her:

“It’s so nice to be able to eat salad again.”

For about the first twenty years of our marriage, our eating habits followed what is these days dubbed the Standard American Diet. Yes, it’s “SAD” for good reasons. It tends to be heavy on processed foods, highly refined flour, sugar, and saturated fat. (Wendy’s Spicy Chicken Sandwich and Frosty, anyone?)

To think I used to love these things. So did my cats.

We had our excuses. As young upcoming professionals (does anyone remember the term “Yuppies”?) we didn’t have time to cook for ourselves. Nor the inclination. As software engineers we spent our mental energy slinging code, not hash. And when we got home all we wanted to do was stuff something in our faces and go to bed. (Or stay up and watch Doctor Who, but I digress.)

Our upbringing didn’t help with this attitude. Both of us grew up in a standard suburban setting, with meals home-cooked by our moms. Unfortunately, it was an era of well-done everything, especially vegetables, which were often cooked to mush. For years I thought spinach only came in bricks doused with vinegar.

It comes in leaves? Awesome!

Salad? That was iceberg lettuce with carrots, radishes (yuck), and other raw stuff which needed to be bathed with thick, fat-filled dressing to be even palatable. Pass the steak and tater tots, please.

I’m not complaining; it’s the way it was, and we didn’t expect any different. But as adults free to eat as we pleased, we did exactly that.

Then things began to change. Having kids was one motivator. Finding ways to get them to eat their veggies required creativity, like incorporating them into pasta sauces and making stir-fries. We switched to whole-wheat bread and reduced-fat milk. We began watching cooking shows and picking up ideas. Still, we relied on convenience (i.e. tasty but not very nutritious) much of the time.

We also gradually became aware of the damage the SAD could do to our bodies. My wife struggled with her weight. I was physically active even back then, but I too was starting to notice some thickness around the waist. So we responded the way a couple of highly intelligent, problem-solving engineers would:

FAD DIET!!!!!!

We tried South Beach for starters, then another variant of low-carb. I remember one week in particular where I decided to give up bread and sugar, substituting lettuce wraps and unsweetened cocoa in milk. After three days all I could think about was when I was going to eat next. As a long-term solution, the fads were hopeless.

Our diet direction was positive, however, Through gradual adaptation and some trial and error, we exchanged our poor eating habits for better ones. More fresh vegetables and fruit. Whole grains. Reduced fat in baked goods. And we began to choose organic food over conventional.

And salads? Who knew they could taste good?

A salad I threw together at Whole Foods. A little of everything – just the way I like it!

By this year, our sordid food past was well behind us. My wife began consulting with a nutritionist to analyze her eating habits and make suggestions on further improvements. I signed up too, figuring that improving my nutrition could help make me a better runner.

And then, routine medical screenings discovered two types of cancer in her. Surgery was required. The good news was her improved eating habits and physical training prepared her well for the ordeal, and have contributed to a so far smooth recovery.

The “bad” part? Guess what her diet had to be for the first few weeks afterward? Yes. Easy to digest stuff. That meant white bread and white rice, vegetables and fruit cooked to death, and other refined products. Except for no fried food, it was the SAD! I felt guilty just shopping for it.

There’s a significant difference between now and back then, however. Neither of us longs for the bad old days any more. We’ve lost our taste for the SAD, and my wife couldn’t wait to start her “new normal” eating again. And thus her quote when she was once again able to eat a salad.

Tonight’s dinner: beef and bell pepper stir-fry with arborio race. Thanks, Joyce!

Coming up: What did the consultation with the nutritionist reveal? I’ll share the data with you all.

Guest Post: Running, My Life Saver

Today’s guest post is from Myla Miller, one of my readers, who wanted to let us know how life-transforming running has become for her. It’s the kind of story I’m hearing and reading about more and more. Could anyone do what she did? Myla thinks so! Here’s her story.

Running is not only a great form of exercise, an excellent weight loss solution, and an activity extremely beneficial to overall health, but to me is also a life saver.

Throughout childhood I was always very active, playing sports and participating in almost every extra curricula that a young girl could, playing outside on every single one of those warm summer days. (Yes, us folks used to go outside and play when we were young – hard to believe these days, thanks to Playstation, Xbox, and Facebook).

Fast forward to my late teens through twenties, and I became less and less active for various reasons such as school, boyfriends, and a few other reasons that, to be honest, were just poor excuses.  The food I ate on a consistent basis was of poor nutrition, my quality of sleep was horrible, and the care I really gave about myself as a whole declined day after day.  During this time, I gained quite a bit of weight and became very unhappy, to put it mildly, with myself and my body.

So a once very active and happy young girl turned depressed, unhappy, and I guess you could say lazy. Lack of self confidence, and shame, were everyday problems.  To this day when I think back to those darker times, I get an overwhelming feeling of anxiety and a sense of, ‘what the hell was I doing to myself?’

At the end of my rope, I sought out help to get my out-of-control self back on the paved road.  It took months to woman up and take this step, but it was the best decision I have ever made.  After a short period of time, I began to bounce back and get those oh-so-great feelings I once had as a little kid.  My depression began to lift, my self-confidence began to grow, and I was starting to feel much, much better.

This enabled me to start putting my life back together and in that plan was exercising and healthy eating.  Healthy body and healthy mind means healthy overall being, and that is what my number one focus was.

Then I sat down and put an exercise plan together.  It was wintertime, so I would start out by simply walking and going to the gym.  My plan consisted of walking a mile on the treadmill for the first month and going to the gym for weight training 3 days a week (those leg days were killer in the beginning).

After the first month I extended my time on the treadmill to 2 miles and then 3, and after that I got the urge to pick the pace up.  After about 2 months it was starting to get nice outside and the flowers were popping up, so it was time to take my activities outside.

Being a long distance runner in my early years of high school, once I got back into the swing of things, walking just was not cutting it anymore.  The urge to step up the pace grew more and more as did the feeling that I could get much more out of my body.

And I discovered my true love, running.

I started with one mile the first week and then 2 miles a day for the next 3 weeks.  After that I stopped keeping track; I would just throw the ear buds in, hit play on the iPod, and run as far as my little heart desired. This, coupled with a great diet, allowed me to shed 25 pounds in the first 4 months of my new life, and my confidence began to soar like an eagle high in the sky.

(Jeff here) My mom once said runners never smile. I just had to prove her wrong!

(Jeff here) My mom once said runners never smile. I just had to prove her wrong!

And during those summer months I was able to get a few of my friends out of the house and turn them into runners like I was becoming.  This was actually a pretty big goal of mine, which was to not only look out for their health, but to get us all like-minded so we could motivate and be there for each other.

It worked out perfectly, to the point where we all grocery shopped together and shared some great healthy recipes with each other.  We all were feeling amazing and our bond really grew a lot that summer.  It really is true that if you surround yourself with great people, you will become great, and that summer we all found this out firsthand.

To this day we still go on our daily runs, share recipes, take turns cooking dinner for each other’s families, and grow each and every day.

I got back to my old self 100% and then some.  I was and still am the happiest I have been in my entire life and I have running to thank for that.  It not only has helped me lose weight, but it has made me feel great overall, grown many friendships, mentally repaired me, and allowed me to get back to that young girl.

Very few things can match the thrill of finishing a goal race!

Very few things can match the thrill of finishing a goal race!

I wrote this to show you how powerful exercising and a healthy lifestyle truly can be.  A diet change and running has brought me out of the depths of depression and has put me on top of the world.  I know that this same exact thing can happen for anyone who is willing and committed.  And it does not have to be running – it can be walking, weightlifting, inter-mural sports, swimming, anything that you personally can do and enjoy doing.  It will be hard to get started, but once that ball gets rolling, you will find yourself disappointed if you miss a day, or are too busy to do your daily activity.  It becomes an obsession. It is funny how it goes from dreadful to desirable!

Don’t be afraid, stop putting it off, there is no better day than today to get started with your routine.  So sit down, come up with a plan, start slow and build up, and before you know it you will be a machine.

Good luck and I’m rootin’ for ya!

================================================

About the author:

Myla is an avid runner who enjoys all things healthy.  Her true love for running started at the age of 23 and has not slowed down since.  Myla runs a website where she reviews running shoes, and shares her favorite pairs.  As you can probably imagine, she has been through a lot of running shoes.  To check out her site go to womensrunningshoereview.com.