Running without carbs, The new runners diet and how to lose weight running
The runners diet can be summed up in one word: carbs. Running and carbs go together like peanut butter and jam, a burger and a shake. Almost as common as talking about the new running shoes, weekly mileage and the tight ITB is the runners diet discussion. What carbo loading you’re planning to do before the race, what sports drink to use, how many gels to take. Carb replacement has legitimized the post race beer 6 pack. And the pre race glass bottle of wine. And endless bananas – live with a runner and you can never buy enough bananas. But now the carb has fallen from grace, pasta is off the menu and gluten has become a dirty word. The hoards of fit but chubby runners have realized that they need a new runners diet to lose weight running. But all those runners who supplicated to the carb god are now lost without a religion. The problem is that the carb died but nothing has been a good replacement in the runners diet. I’m going to share with you what I’ve researched and found to work the best for me and my training buddies. And how changing my diet has helped me to lose weight running. Well first a little background –the food pyramid has been turned on it’s head. The food pyramid recommended to eat in decreasing order: mostly grains, then fruit & vegetables, a bit of meat/fish and avoid fats (oils, nuts, seeds). This eating recommendation was based more on lobbying from grain producers than actual science and results. It turns out those grains are predominately carbohydrates. And many grains contain a lot of gluten which has had many health questions raised. The old school runners diet was happy with the food pyramid because carbs are meant to be the ideal fuel for running performance. While carbs are a significant energy source, carb consumption also promotes weight gain. The runners that are trying to lose weight running are shooting themselves in the foot by using carbs as an energy source.
Warning may contain science, what the runners diet of carbs actually does in your body:The biological term for a carbohydrate is saccharide, which comes from the Greek word for sugar. We know sugar is bad for us but people don’t really know that the carbohydrates in bread, pasta, cereals are essentially similar to sugar. The body processes these carbohydrates in a similar method to sugar. This is to say carbohydrates elevate the blood glucose level, which triggers the insulin response. The Insulin response does three things:
- It helps your cells metabolise glucose into energy – which is the good part and why carbs used to be recommended for the runners diet but
- The 2nd thing insulin does is that it converts this excess blood glucose into fat. That’s right, our body makes fat when our body converts excess blood sugar for storage. This is why eating carbs is what makes you fat and not so much eating fats. It’s a bit counter-intuitive which is why I think people have struggled with this concept. And people running to lose weight think that they should avoid fats and eat carbs. But eating fat doesn’t make you fat, eating carbs makes you fat (Warning – simplification)
- Insulin stops the use of fat as an energy source by inhibiting the release of glucagon. This is a double penalty for people running to lose weight – eating carbs actually stops you from burning fat!
If you’re a runner following the runners diet you’ve probably seen this as that extra layer of padding around your belly. Despite doing high mileage, restricting calories in and eating ‘healthily”. If you’re running to lose weight this is why your aren’t getting the results you should be. Obviously this is a bit of a simplification of the complex science going on. Because the body in all it’s wonderfulness is a lot more complicated. And different people are affected in different ways. Some people can follow the classic runners diet, do no exercise but still be thin. These people annoy me.
OK you can look now, the science is overSo in other words when we eat the classic high carb runners diet our body converts these carbs into fat stores. Also the rather annoying thing is that insulin is stopping us from using fat as a fuel source. This makes sense for survival purposes because it’s more efficient to keep the fat stores as spare and use the freely available glucose as an energy source. But survival fat stores aren’t helping your PB’s. And running on carbs is growing your belly, not keeping you lean and trim. Besides the weight increase, the classic runners diet elevates blood sugar levels. Elevated blood sugar causes other health problems. Your Pancreas get’s fatigued from producing too much Insulin, meaning insulin production decreases. Your body becomes desensitised to the Insulin response. This means that a high carb runners diet can lead to diabetes in otherwise healthy and active people. A lot of research is looking at other effects of excess grain/ carbohydrate consumption. Scientists are researching links between carbs in the runners diet and practically every major modern disease from cancer to Alzheimers. It’s a pretty scary thing to think that carbo loading, gels and sports drinks are actually causing serious long term health issues. I enjoy running but I also do it to stay healthy. I feel pretty betrayed that a lot of nutrition advice given to me is what lead to me becoming a bit soft around the edges!
But if you take my hi-carb runners diet away, I won’t be able to run
Well not really. There is an effect but it’s different to what you might think. If you need a high carb runners diet to have energy and run well, this is probably a sign of something else being wrong which I will talk about later. Fat is a good energy source and when you cut down on the carbs you teach your body to use fat as an energy source. This is the route to the new runners diet and also will help you to lose weight running. I like to think of metabolism as a fire. Carbs are like throwing paper on a fire – paper lights immediately and burns strongly. But paper also burns out quickly – you’re not going to heat a house or cook a meal with a paper-based fire. Metabolizing fat is like getting the big logs started. They burn for a long time. But it takes a bit of effort to get the logs burning. You will need to go through a period of adjustment to your new runners diet to become a better fat burner. This varies from person to person. Some switch quickly without effort and some take months and miss the sugar boost. I’m not going to go into the full explanation of teaching your body to metabolize fat and putting it into a state of ketosis. There are others that can give you better advice than me (if you want more, read about the Fat Revolution). What I’m going to do instead is recommend a few runners diet changes and running supplements. And I’m also going to talk about why you feel you need the carb boost from the old runners diet and what you can do about that. The New Runners Diet advice is simple: Reduce carbs and in particular avoid grains and processed, simple carbs. It’s most of the usual recommendations:
Runners diet FOOD recommendations:
Things to avoid in a New Runners Diet:In general carbohydrate rich food, processed foods, food that comes in a box and sits on the shelf for months without going bad:
- Wheat – Pasta, bread, cake, cereals
- Other grains – cereals
- Alcohol in particular beers and sweet drinks. Sure have the odd glass of red wine but know that it’s a trade off between alcohol consumption and running goals
- Sugar: Sweets, softdrinks, sauces, high fructose corn syrup
- Excessive fruit (yes fruit is natures candy)
Things to replace with in a New Runners Diet:Replace with natural, organic real food, high in fat and protein, grass fed not grain fed:
- Good quality meat, poultry, fish (no you don’t need lean cuts)
- Nuts and seeds
New Runners Diet Supplements to avoidAvoid sugar laden factory products full of chemicals, such as:
- Energy bars (unless made of the same things that are on the replacement list)
- Sports drinks containing carbohydrates and sugars
- Supplements containing sugars and requiring a chemist degree to understand
New Runners Diet Supplements to use instead:Unfortunately looking at the shelf in most local run stores means you won’t be able to get a thing. So what can you use:
- Sugar free isotonic sports drinks for rehydration. Such as Zero – these are tablets that you add to water. These contain replacement salts to lessen cramping and increase absorption of electrolytes.
- Nuts and seeds. I’ve seen athletes get amazing endurance results with a bit of good old fashioned trail mix (can include a bit of dried fruit). The best include Macadamias, Almonds, Sunflower Seeds, Pepitas
- An interesting natural supplement that I’m using to replace gels is pre-workout tea. It’s all natural ingredients and gives you an energy and metabolism boost. I use it when I’m tired and I need a boost. And also for my high intensity workouts and races.
- Take a look at Amaze Tea Co's Get Physical Tea as a workout and running supplement and hydrator.
Carbo loading was never your problem anyway:But most runners don’t need to be carbo loading and sipping on energy drinks anyway. Your body only needs extra energy stores when you race longer distances. The average person has enough readily available glycogen in their muscles for around two hours of sustained running. For my last big race (Marathon distance), my coach gave me a pretty full on training schedule. But even this 4 month schedule only had a few training sessions that required additional nutrition. In other words – the average runner does not need to be running around drinking energy drink every week, let alone every run. And you don’t need to follow a high carb runners diet. A small meal a couple of hours before will give enough energy for more than 95% of all runs. For me I prefer to start to use some extra nutrition for distances of half marathons and beyond. If you are looking for a boost for a particular run then use some of the old staples like coffee. If you’d like something different to coffee and a lot stronger then the pre-workout tea is a good alternative. If you are getting to a race/ training session feeling fatigued and thinking you need a gel or carbo boost. Before you go down the unhealthy sugar boost, I encourage you to look at these items first. Because they are much more likely to be the cause and solution:
- Over training – in particular too much long duration, high intensity without recovery sessions. I got a big training boost by reducing the intensity of my recovery sessions. This enabled me to increase the intensity of my tough sessions with fewer injuries and colds.
- Not enough training: If you’re not running more than twice a week, you will struggle to get the form that makes your running enjoyable, easy and fast
- Training rut: Doing the same run every time has a surprisingly large performance penalty. Run fast, run slow. Run long, run short. Mixing it up is key to effective training
- Lack of sleep – trying to compensate for tiredness with sugar is the path to long term health problems
- Overdependence on sugar, caffeine and generally a poor quality diet. Repeated sugar / carb boosting dulls your bodies ability to function well without them. Also these prevent your body from burning fat.