[By Ella Chen]

How to lose weight without sacrificing energy or performance.

Think about this scary fact: It takes only 100 extra calories a day to gain 10 pounds in a year. That’s one high-calorie pre-run snack that you didn’t need. Or one unnecessary bottle of sports drink before a 30-minute walk. A bottle of Vitamin Water already contains 125 calories!

On top of that, many runners assume that since they need the energy boost, they have the license to load up on energy bars before their workout. That may be true if you are a professional runner but many of us are merely recreational runners, and the four mile run you do each day isn’t going to justify the additional calories you are putting into your bodies. The extra weight many runners carry around is simply the result of eating for energy or performance–with little regard for total calories. But calories do count, and as runners we tend to underestimate the amount we eat and overestimate the amount we burn.

In fact, if runners can shed some pounds, they can probably improve on their running distance. The trick is to ensure you are getting rid of fat, not muscles which you will need for peak running performance.

What you need to do is match your eating plan to your running habits. You need to know exactly when to eat those carbohydrate-rich foods that will give you the energy you need to run well. Here is the runner’s optimal diet:

The Runner’s Diet is a 50-25-25 eating plan, where 50 percent of your calories come from carbohydrates, 25 percent from protein, and 25 percent from fat. With half of your calorie intake coming from carbs, the diet provides you with plenty of readily available fuel for your runs. And with the rest of your calories split evenly between proteins and fats, you feel full longer, which is key to losing weight. The diet also focuses your carbohydrate intake around your runs and emphasizes the right proteins and fats for all other meals to optimize performance and weight loss.

Step 1 : Determine Your Daily Calorie Goal

To estimate your daily calorie needs for maintaining your current weight in pounds, take your present weight and multiply by 13. That number covers your metabolic needs for the day, factoring in a bit of light activity. So if you weigh 150 pounds, you need about 1950 calories per day. To lose a pound a week, you must then create a calorie deficit of 500 calories a day (3,500 calories equals one pound).

How many calories you can cut from your diet depends a lot on how much you’re eating right now. Remember: Weight loss is a lot easier when you factor in your running mileage (1 mile = 100 calories). So your calorie deficit can–and should–be created by eliminating some calories from your daily diet and increasing the number you burn per day through running.

Step 2: Distribute Your Calories

After you’ve determined the total number of calories you should be consuming per day to meet your weight-loss goals, divide those calories so that 50 percent of them come from carbohydrates, 25 percent come from protein, and 25 percent come from fat.

So, for example, if you’ve determined that your daily calorie goal is 1,800 calories, then 900 of those calories should come from carbohydrates, 450 from protein, and 450 from fat.

Step 3: Selecting Carbohydrates

While it’s true that elite runners need a very high percentage of calories from carbohydrates, recreational runners simply don’t need as many carbs. Taking in 50 percent of your daily calories from carbohydrate sources will provide you with all the energy you need.
High-carb foods sustain you during your workouts so they are best eaten just before and just after your runs. Tip: When choosing which carbs to eat, opt for those that are rich in fibre and have a high water content to keep you feeling full.

Carbs to Choose Often:

  • Fruits (about 60 calories per serving)
 Apple, orange, pear, nectarine: 1 small (tennis ball size), 
Banana: 1 small (5 inch),
 Peach, plum: 1 medium (fist size),
 Grapefruit: 1/2 whole fruit, 
Canteloupe: 1 cup,
 Berries: 1 cup, 
Fresh pineapple: 3/4 cup, 
Canned fruit (in its own juice): 1/2 cup
  • Low-Starch Vegetables (about 25 calories per serving)
 Carrots, celery, cabbage, brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, eggplant, leeks, onions, green beans: 1 cup raw or 1/2 cup cooked, 
Green pepper: 1, whole 
Asparagus: 7 spears cooked or 14 spears raw, 
Lettuce/raw greens: 1 cup, 100-percent vegetable juice: 1/3 cup

Carbs to Choose with Caution (watch those portions!)

  • High-Starch Vegetables (about 80 calories per serving):
Beans (lima, navy, pinto): 1/3 cup,
 Corn: 1/2 cup,
 Peas/lentils: 1/2 cup,
 Baked white or sweet potato with skin: 1 small (tennis ball size)
  • Pasta/Rice: (about 80 calories per serving)
 Couscous (cooked): 1/3 cup, 
Brown or white rice (cooked): 1/3 cup, 
Noodles/pasta (cooked): 1/2 cup, 
Bulgur (cooked): 1/2 cup
  • Breads/Cereal/Crackers: (about 80 calories per serving)
 Tortilla (white or wheat): 1,
100-percent whole-wheat bread: 1 slice,
 Mini-bagel: 1, 
English muffin: ½,
 Pretzels: ¾ oz, 8 sourdough nuggets,
 Popcorn (air popped): 3 cups,
 Saltine crackers: 6, Rice cakes (all varieties, large): 2, 
High-fiber cereals: 3/4 cup,
 Oatmeal: 2/3 cup cooked or 1 instant packet

Step 4 
Selecting Proteins

While protein’s primary role is maintaining muscle integrity, it also satisfies hunger. Protein provides a greater feeling of fullness, ounce for ounce, than an equivalent amount of carbohydrate. The effect: You’re content with fewer calories. That’s why 25 percent of your calories should come from protein.

When you choose proteins, lean is always best. A good rule of thumb: The fatter the protein, the smaller the serving.

Protein Picks

  • Very lean (about 35 calories per serving)
 Chicken or turkey breast (skinless): 1 ounce,
 Fish fillet (all whitefish): 1 ounce, 
Canned, water-packed tuna: 1 ounce,
 Shellfish: 1 ounce, 
Egg whites: 2 large, 
Egg substitute: 1/4 cup
  • Lean (about 55 calories per serving)
 Chicken or turkey (skinless dark meat): 1 ounce,
 Salmon, swordfish, herring, trout, bluefish: 1 ounce,
Lean beef (flank steak, top round, ground sirloin): 1 ounce,
Veal or lamb (roast or lean chop): 1 ounce, 
Pork (tenderloin): 1 ounce, 
Canadian bacon: 1 ounce,
 Low-fat hot dogs: 1, 
Low-fat luncheon meats: 1 ounce
  • Dairy Products (about 90 calories per serving) 
Fat-free or 1-percent-fat cottage cheese (calcium fortified): 1 cup,
 Low-fat, sugar-free yogurt: 3/4 cup,
 Fat-free, sugar-free yogurt: 1 cup,
Low-fat cheese (all types): 2 ounces

Step 5: Selecting Fats

Most dieters immediately start cutting fat but they also cut fatty foods that are healthy, including nuts and nut butters, and olives and olive oil. 

Foods with a little fat help slow the rate of digestion and provide a sense of fullness. Try to get 25 percent of your daily calories from good fats by selecting heart-healthy vegetable, nut, and fish sources.

Fats of Choice:

Full-Calorie sources (about 50 calories per serving) – 
All oils: 1 teaspoon,
 Avocado (medium): 1/8, 
Almonds, cashews, filberts: 6,
 Peanuts: 10
Pistachios: 15,
 Olives (green or black): 8 medium, 
Peanut butter (creamy or chunky): 1 teaspoon

Reduced-Calorie sources (about 25 calories per serving) – Light tub margarine: 1 teaspoon, 
Light mayonnaise/salad dressing: 1 teaspoon, 
Light cream cheese: 1 teaspoon,
 Fat-free salad dressing: 1 tablespoon

Step 6 
Eat/Run Pattern

Consume mostly carbohydrate-rich foods to fuel up before or after your runs. Eat your protein and fat calories during the rest of the day when you’re more sedentary.
Don’t go too many hours without eating or your brain will signal starvation mode and stimulate your appetite. So go ahead and have a morning, afternoon, and evening meal, along with snacks. Just make sure that when you tally up all your eating, you’re still within your daily calorie range.


* Selected as Article of the Month Jul 2012*


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7 thoughts on “The Runner’s Diet”

  1. red bull works for me. Gets me all geared. and i get one of those gel packs for when i am running long distance to refuel midway. Not sure about the calories though

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