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Portion Patrol
Run to eat and eat to run; how much do you need to eat to fuel your running?

Portion Patrol
How much do you need to eat to fuel your running?

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By Josh Clark
Posted Friday, 12 January, 2001

Many of us run so that we can reward ourselves by eating whatever we want. Or, perhaps, vice versa: we eat so that we can run wherever we want.

Either way, it's true that you burn a slew of calories when you run. Even if you are running specifically to lose weight, you should adjust your diet so that you give your body the extra fuel it needs. And you should not feel guilty in the least to give yourself the occasional culinary treat; you work hard on the road, and one of the payoffs is that you should be able to reward yourself to otherwise sinful foods when the mood strikes you to indulge.

All good things in moderation, of course, which begs the question: just how much should you be eating and how often? At the risk of over-quantifying what is really best left to your intuition (or, perhaps better put, your "gut instinct"), here is how you can get a sense of your proper diet proportions based on your weight and how far/fast you run.

The US recommended daily allowance (RDA) for the average person is 2000 calories. In the United States, "average" means relatively sedentary, so as a runner you will need more fuel. Just how much more depends on how many calories you burn on your daily run. The following chart should give you an idea of how many calories you kill per hour of running, based on your pace and body weight.

  Pace (Minutes per mile)
  10:43 9:41 8:46 8:02 7:26 6:54 6:26 6:02
100 lbs 450 500 550 600 650 700 750 800
119 lbs 486 540 594 648 702 756 810 864
128 lbs 522 580 638 696 754 812 870 928
137 lbs 558 620 682 744 806 868 930 992
146 lbs 594 660 726 792 858 924 990 1056
154 lbs 630 700 770 840 910 980 1050 1120
163 lbs 666 740 814 888 962 1036 1110 1184
172 lbs 702 780 858 936 1014 1092 1170 1248
181 lbs 738 820 902 984 1066 1148 1230 1312
190 lbs 774 860 946 1032 1118 1204 1290 1376
199 lbs 810 900 990 1080 1170 1260 1350 1440
207 lbs 846 940 1034 1128 1222 1316 1410 1504
216 lbs 882 980 1078 1176 1274 1372 1470 1568
225 lbs 918 1020 1122 1224 1326 1428 1530 1632
234 lbs 954 1060 1166 1272 1378 1484 1590 1696
Source: "Exercise & Physiology" (Lea & Febiger, 1986).

Add these calories to the recommended 2000 calories, and you should have a rough idea of what your daily calorie intake should be to maintain a healthy body weight. Following the recommended runner's diet of 60 percent carbohydrates, 25 percent fat and 15 percent protein, your diet should be roughly the following (note that there are four calories per gram of carbohydrates and protein, versus nine calories per gram of fat):

  Daily Calorie Level
Nutrients 2000 2250 2500 2750 3000 3250
Carbohydrates 300 grams 338 grams 375 grams 413 grams 450 grams 488 grams
Total fat 56 grams 63 grams 70 grams 76 grams 83 grams 90 grams
(Saturated fat) (19 grams) (21 grams) (23 grams) (25 grams) (28 grams) (30 grams)
Protein 75 grams 85 grams 94 grams 103 grams 113 grams 122 grams

It bears repeating that you should not be a slave to these numbers. While it is true that discipline is an important contributor to a healthy lifestyle, spontaneity and basic joie de vivre are equally important. Eating good food is one of life's pleasures, so why sully it with too much calorie-counting?

When and how often to eat

Most of us were taught that three square meals were the building blocks of any good diet. Turns out that this is only part of the equation. Although mom may have slapped your hand as you reached for a between-meal snack, grazing throughout the day is actually a good idea when combined with reduced portions at mealtime. In fact, many nutritionists recommend eating smaller meals every four hours.

The most important of these is breakfast. Too many of us give breakfast short shrift, but in fact this is the meal that sets the stage for a productive, high-energy day. Studies have demonstrated that breakfast eaters tend to be more alert and efficient and physically trim than those who skip out. It's true: eating breakfast can help you lose weight, since those calories are more likely to be burned than those eaten later in the day. You should look to eat between a quarter and a third of your daily calories at the breakfast table.

Recharge at lunch with a moderate, healthy meal. Too many people either eat too much at lunch or skip it altogether. This feast-or-famine approach puts your blood sugar levels on a rollercoaster ride. You might consider running right before lunch, since exercise tends to suppress appetite. Go out for a quick spin on your lunchhour and return to your desk for a light lunch of yogurt and fruit, for example.

When the snack gremlins start growling in the mid-afternoon or late evening, feel free to indulge in a light snack. It will keep your blood sugar level, keeping you alert and energized, while also keeping you from getting so hungry that you overeat later. Try to limit the snacks to low-fat, low-sugar foods so that you do not add too many calories to your day. Leave the chips on the shelf and instead have a bagel, fruit, pretzels, a sports bar, raisins, carrots, or a bowl of cereal.

Come dinner time, your snack will help keep you from overdoing it -- a good idea, since too much eating late in the day tends to add pounds to your middle. An evening walk after dinner is a pleasant way to burn off some of those calories and, of course, to relax.



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