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Nutrition — Weight loss suggestions for runners

Coach Joe English

Coach Joe English

One of my athletes wrote to me with a question that’s on a lot of runner’s minds. The question goes like this:

“I was wondering if you had a list (or know where I can find one) with foods that will help me with running and also slim me down? I would like to drop about 15lbs by the end of November, and I want to make sure I am eating the right foods to do that.”

I’ve already written a great deal here on the blog about choosing the right foods to fuel workouts and how to figure out the more technical details of things like the number of calories we burn during workouts. Let me instead give some of my secrets to eating that will lead you to lose weight, by picking more nutritious foods and having better eating habits. If you follow these tips, you’ll essentially be doing the following: cutting down on fats, increasing the amount of nutritious foods from fruits and vegetables, and eating at the right time of day to fuel your workouts.

General weight loss tips for runners (and everyone else for that matter):
Fuel during the day, diet at night — as a runner who is trying to lose weight you still need food to fuel your workouts. What you need to do is provide yourself fuel during the day to power your activities and then cut down on what you take in late in the day before you settle down for the night. Eat normally at breakfast and lunch and then cut down on the size of your meals at dinner. Too many people leave their calories until the end of the day and then eat too much because they are hungry. Eat or snack every four hours to keep hunger from building up and then eat a lighter dinner. This is one of the most effective things to do to lose weight.

Fill up on fruits and vegetables — eat all the fruits and vegetable that you want, because they are highly nutritious yet low in calories. But I’m not talking about french fries here — the more colorful the fruits and vegetables the more nutritious (think: beats, blueberries, bananas, spinach) and the closer to their raw state the better. Try to avoid fried vegetables if you can, because you are just removing most of the nutrition in cooking them in hot oil and then adding a lot of fat. A salad of beats, corn, oranges, and tomatoes topped with some balsamic vinegar for example, is packed with nutrition, dietary fiber and is low in fat. That would be a great lunch along with some low-fat protein, a piece of whole wheat bread and a piece of fruit. This will leave you feeling full and give your body lots of good nutrition.

Cut out the fat — Look for foods that have little to no cholesterol and are also low in sugar (think trail mix, crackers, nuts, dried berries) and snack on or eat these foods. The reason that I suggest cutting cholesterol is because it is only found in animal products (meat, milk, dairy, cheese, sour cream, butter) and is often accompanied by a lot of fat. If you pick up any product and give it the “zero cholesterol test” — (meaning no or almost no cholesterol) it will probably also be lower in fat. For example, non-fat yogurt has no cholesterol or also has no fat. I’ve found that the “zero cholesterol test” on food labels is a handy way to cut out a great deal of fat from my diet. Most of the key foods that runners want in their diets (starches like bread, pasta, rice as well as seeds, beans, and potatoes) all pass this test. Just make sure that your still picking healthy foods and not only going by this test. Also note that fats are not limited to animal products. Foods like coconut contain fat, but no cholesterol. So again, choose wisely.

Cut the processed sugar — Start looking at the ingredients of what you’re eating and try to avoid eating anything that contains “high fructose corn syrup.” If you’re eating plenty of fruits then you’re getting plenty of natural sugar in your diet. Processed sugars should be highly limited in the diet.

Try blending your breakfast — One of the most nutritious ways to start your day is to do a blended smoothie that will be easy for the body to digest. Starting your day with a vitamin rich breakfast, packed with fruits, protein and anti-oxidants will give you great clarity and energy. It takes a week or two to get your body to stop craving solid foods at breakfast, but once that craving is gone you may never go back.

My home recipe for smoothies goes something like this: one banana, one half-papaya, five or six strawberries, and a half cup of blueberries go in first. You can use frozen everything, by the way, to cut costs. Then add in ground flax seed, hemp or whey protein powder, 2-3 pitted dates, 1 tbsp pumpkin seeds, 1 tbsp pomegranate seeds, hemp or soy milk, water and ice. If you can’t do it yourself, go to a smoothie place like Jamba Juice and order an “all fruit” smoothie with mix-ins such as flax and vitamins. You can avoid smoothies with sherbet, ice cream or yogurt, because they are just adding sugar and fat. At Jamba Juice in particular, I usually get an “Acai Berry Topper” with the following mix-ins: flax and fiber, soy protein, and the daily multi-vitamin. The “Topper” also comes with a banana on top and a scoop of granola to fuel your morning workout.

Too many people approach weight loss by counting calories. Try picking foods that are packed with nutrients and you’ll feel better and have better overall health. If you also cut down on the fats and sugars then the pounds will come off.

Coach Joe English, Portland Oregon, USA
Running Advice and News
www.running-advice.com

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6 responses so far, want to say something?

  1. 1. Nutrition — Weight loss suggestions for runners « Running Advice and News October 7th, 2009 at 12:09 am

    […] To continue reading, click here. […]

  2. 2. Ken Goddard October 7th, 2009 at 2:36 am

    The book that I would highly recommend is "Nancy Clark's Sports Nutrition Guidebook" (links provided below). She has great advice, including advice to help with weight loss. I know, Joe, that you're vegan, so a lot in her book doesn't meet your dietary requirements, but for most of us it's great.

    Ken

    Nancy Clark’s Food Guide for Marathon Runners

    Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook

  3. 3. JoeEnglish October 7th, 2009 at 5:37 pm

    Ken,
    I certainly agree with your recommendation of Nancy’s book. I had actually hoped that this article would serve as an easy set of tips for those who wouldn’t commit to a book might try. Nothing in these tips (e.g. managing the time of day when we eat, eating less sugar and fat, and eating more fruits and vegetables) would be out of step with her thinking.

    I do also want to point out that the information here and in Nancy books would be equally appropriate for both vegetarians and non-vegetarians. The tips that I’ve outlined can be used by someone on either type of diet. Vegetarians simply use different sources for their proteins. But the ideas of eating less fat and processed sugar — and eating more fruits and vegetables — go for everyone.
    Joe

  4. 4. Training: Will I lose weight when I start running? | Running Advice and News October 7th, 2009 at 5:24 pm

    […] Another thing that I’ve noticed is that for new marathon runners as the distance of their weekend long runs increase, most runners will tend to lean out in their mid-sections. This is simply because of the greater number of calories that are being burned by these long runs slow runs. So when new marathon runners start hitting about 15 miles in their weekend runs, they start burning enough calories and even if they aren’t eating particularly well, things start to balance themselves out. Their stomachs start to get flatter and their pants fit more loosely around the waist. Do I need to go on a diet? It isn’t always necessary to “go on a diet” to lose weight when starting a running plan, but if you want to lose weight you need to consider what you’re eating as you start running. Most important is the idea of shifting your eating toward foods that you need and away from foods that you don’t. For some easy recommendations on changing your diet to help with weight loss, click here. […]

  5. 5. I Hunger « Journal of a Jogging Neophyte January 3rd, 2010 at 5:47 am

    […] since running two months ago, and my weight loss has plateaued. Thankfully Coach Joe English offers a few reasons why. Wish I could “lean out” my […]

  6. 6. Cherri Tenhaeff October 8th, 2011 at 8:57 pm

    One thing I would really like to touch upon is that fat burning plan fast is possible by the appropriate diet and exercise. A person’s size not just affects appearance, but also the overall quality of life. Self-esteem, major depression, health risks, plus physical skills are damaged in an increase in weight. It is possible to do everything right and still gain. Should this happen, a problem may be the perpetrator. While an excessive amount of food and not enough work out are usually responsible, common health concerns and traditionally used prescriptions might greatly add to size. Kudos for your post in this article.

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