Runners know the miles they log on the pavement, trails, and the treadmill are great for keeping them fit and healthy. High on the list of the sport's many virtues? It is an amazing tool for weight control. But weight loss is a different story. Because you run, you may think you can eat whatever you want and still drop pounds. Unfortunately, that's not true. Running is only half of the equation. You have to look hard at what and how you eat, too.
8 Healthier food picks for runners
Leslie Bonci, M.P.H., R.D., pinpoints eight crucial nutrition rules of weight loss in "Run Your Butt Off!," a new Runner's World book for beginning runners who are coming to the sport to lose weight. (The book also includes a sensible beginner's training plan and tips for runners of all abilities.) Bonci's methods were tested by real runners who overhauled their eating habits and shed dozens of pounds over 12 weeks. And if they can do it, so can you.
1. TAKE REALLY GOOD NOTES
Writing down everything you eat may sound tedious, but it pays off: Studies have shown that people who log their food intake regularly keep more weight off than those who don't take notes. Bonci recommends recording everything you eat for at least one week (and then doing so again every few weeks after that), making sure to include important details, such as when, where, why, and how much you eat-seriously, measure what you're eating! "Reviewing these details will help you glean important information about your habits," says Bonci, "and highlight ways you can make healthier choices." You may discover that you're eating mindlessly while watching TV.
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Make It Work
"My clients have different systems for keeping a food log," says Bonci. A notebook will do the trick, as will an Excel sheet, or storing details in your smartphone. Bonci suggests recording whether or not you're hungry when you eat and grading the day from 1 to 5 ("1" is a day with unhealthy food, and "5" is a superhealthy day). "This can be a reality check," says Bonci, "like, 'I'm not doing so badly after all,' or 'My diet is worse than I thought.'"
2. BEEF UP YOUR PROTEIN INTAKE
Protein is essential for a healthy body; it builds muscle and preserves lean body mass. Every day, runners need at least a half gram of protein per pound of weight. For a 150-pound person, that's 75 grams. Protein also takes longer to digest, so you feel fuller longer, and it helps keep blood-sugar levels steady, so you don't get ravenously hungry and feel the need to overeat. Studies show you should spread your protein intake throughout the day, eating some at each meal. "Doing so is better for bone health, muscle mass, and satiety-feeling full," Bonci says.
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Make It Work
Even if you add protein to every meal, it can still be hard to meet your daily needs. Bonci suggests getting more by adding it to your snacks. "Many snack foods are high in simple carbohydrates that digest quickly," says Bonci, "so they don't keep you full for long." These weight-loss friendly options offer a dose of protein to satisfy your hunger.
• Smoothie with low-fat chocolate milk and whey protein isolate (27 g protein)
• 5.3-ounce container of fat-free Greek yogurt (15 g protein)
• 1/2 cup cottage cheese with vegetables to dip (14 g protein)
• 1/2 cup edamame (11 g protein)
• 1 cup Raisin Bran cereal and 1/2 cup skim milk (9 g protein)
• 2 tablespoons of peanut butter on a banana (9 g protein)
• 2 slices reduced-fat cheese with an apple (7 g protein)
3. ADD COLOR TO EVERY MEAL
Eat red, yellow, orange, green, or purple food-that is, pack your diet with fruits and vegetables. They're low-calorie and loaded with vitamins and minerals your body needs to function, keep your immune system up, and maintain strong bones and muscles. They're also rich in fiber, which is key for slimming down. Tufts University researchers have found that people who eat high-fiber diets are less hungry and lose more weight than people who eat less fiber. "It takes longer to process fiber," says Bonci, "so you're full longer."
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Make It Work
"Many people have good intentions and buy a bunch of fresh produce," says Bonci. "Then they forget to use it, and find it later rotting in the bottom of their fridge." While fresh is great, it's not the only way to work in fruits and vegetables. "Frozen, canned, dried, jarred-those are all fine, too," says Bonci, who suggests filling at least one-third of your plate with vegetables.
• Add a sliced banana to cereal.
• Add frozen, defrosted berries to yogurt, waffles, or oatmeal.
• Add jarred salsa to scrambled eggs.
• Put extra vegetables like cucumber or shredded carrots on sandwiches.
• Use hummus or refried beans as a spread, instead of mayo or mustard.
• Have raw vegetables in place of chips or pretzels.
• Add dried apricots or golden raisins to rice pilaf.
• Roast vegetables on the weekend and add to meals all week.
• Add frozen vegetables or canned white beans to spaghetti sauce.
4. STOP GRAZING!
A few years back, "grazing" came into vogue in dieting circles. The idea was that instead of eating three meals a day, you'd eat six or so small meals.
Eating constantly throughout the day increases salivary secretion, explains Bonci, and the production of digestive enzymes that stimulate the gut. "The appetite switch is always on," she says. "Cows graze. People shouldn't." Plus, people tend to graze on unhealthy foods like crackers or cookies, says Bonci.
Make It Work
Divide your calories around three meals and one or two snacks, going at least three hours and up to four or five without eating. The goal is to eat when you're hungry but not starving, which reduces the risk of overeating. It will take a few weeks to find the timing that works best for you.
5. ALWAYS HAVE A PLAN
Runners-like anyone else-encounter trouble when there's nothing healthy at home. What's for dinner? Nothing? Might as well do takeout. "You can whack a lot of calories by creating a menu and making a meal plan," says Bonci, "and then shopping ahead of time for the ingredients you need." That doesn't mean you have to be rigid about your menu if, say, you get held up at work.
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Make It Work
Set aside half an hour every weekend to map out your meal plan for the coming week. Then create a shopping list for the ingredients you'll need. Stock up on quick-and-healthy staples, such as tomato sauce and whole-wheat pasta for busy days. You'll notice when you take the time to plan meals, one thing will be missing from your grocery cart-junk food.
6. SLOW DOWN!
Scientists know it takes at least 15 to 20 minutes for nerve endings in the gut to send the signal to the brain that says, "Yup, I'm fed! You can stop eating now!" Wolfing down a meal faster than that can lead to overeating-and that can pack on serious pounds. In fact, a study published in 2008 in the British Medical Journal found that people who eat quickly and eat until they feel full are more than three times as likely to be overweight than people who take their time and eat slowly.
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Make It Work
You have to teach yourself to eat slower, simple as that. "If you consume your lunchtime sandwich in front of the computer in five minutes, stretch it out," says Bonci. "Eat half, wait a few minutes, have a few sips of water. Then eat the other half. Chew your food, taste it, and savor it rather than inhaling it and getting on to the next thing." Try Bonci's other tips for slowing down your next meal.
- SIT DOWN: Don't eat standing at the counter, which makes it easier to get distracted or quickly refill your plate. Sit down at your kitchen or dining-room table.
- AVOID FAMILY-STYLE: When food is at arm's length, you're tempted to refill your plate and eat more than you need. Keep it on the stove or counter and away from the table.
- DON'T EAT ALONE: It takes longer to eat (and is more fun) when you're talking to other people.
- BE WARY OF THE TV: If you're hungry while watching TV, measure out a finite amount of food and put the bag away before you sit down. Don't leave the bag open so you can reach for additional handfuls.
- EAT IN LIKE YOU'RE EATING OUT: Put your salad on the table, eat it, and then serve the main course. It extends the time it takes you to eat.
Healthy snacks for on-the-go
OH, AND DON'T GIVE UP
Just because you had an extra cookie, don't fall into the "I've blown it" mind-set. "People set up such rigid guidelines," Bonci says. "Then it's, Uh-oh, I deviated, so I might as well continue eating until I go to bed. Get out of the 'good' or 'bad' mind-set. Maybe it was more than you wanted, but it's not the end of the world. Move on. You'll be far more successful on your path to weight loss."
What are your own golden rules for losing weight in a healthy way?
Susan Rinkunas is an associate editor at Runner's World, a magazine (and website) that informs, advises, and motivates runners of all ages and abilities-and we mean it. Her blog on Yahoo! Shine offers tips on running technique, nutrition and weight loss, shoes and apparel, and balancing fitness and life.
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