Q+A: Struggling with Weight and Eating as a Runner
Updated: Jul 12, 2021
Hey everyone! I'd like to continue on a streak of answering questions you send in and do my best to answer with what I know. I received this question recently (edited a bit to keep anonymous) and wanted to answer in a post in case anyone has similar questions! I mention this in the post, but I am not a certified nutritionist or trainer and you should see a professional if you need it. Read my disclaimer for more.
"I have always struggled with weight and eating. I believe I am underweight but I am working on it and used to weigh less. Buy by eating more I feel like it slows down my running tempo. Can you give me some advice on what I should maybe weight or eat. Thanks!"
First and foremost before I answer this question: I am not a doctor or a nutritionist and any questions about being at a healthy weight should be addressed with a professional, and not based solely through anything that I say. Please seek professional advice if you feel you need it.
Weight is something that runners often worry about or spend a lot of time thinking about. I myself have been, at times, constantly thinking about how my weight will affect my performance. So, you are not alone! This is a question we're all asking.
My main answer to this question is however, no, I cannot give you specific advice on what you should weigh and eat. There are soooo many- repeating: so many- factors that go into how much a person should weigh and they should be addressed with a doctor or a nutritionist. It varies person to person and you shouldn't compare yourself to those around you!
I can, however, talk about my own experiences a bit. For the most part, I choose to ignore the actual numbers on the scale because I believe thinking about it can do more damage than good sometimes. (Not true for everyone!) Since weight varies literally from day to day- even from morning to night- it's easy to start over-thinking how it's affecting your performance.
Instead, I focus on whether I am doing my workouts, lifting and eating healthy. All of these ingredients make up the recipe for running fast. Making sure you're doing what your coach prescribes and getting the right nutrients is way more important to me than worrying about an extra 3 pounds.
Our energy is limited- focus it where it really matters.
I try to focus more on the food I eat and the nutrients it contains and less on restricting myself from eating to "be lighter." Restricting yourself based on the number on the scale is dangerous, because, regardless of the number, if you're malnourished your body can't maintain a high level of performance. Aka the whole reason you became worried about weight to begin with in this scenario.
This is such a complex topic, and like I said, diet needs vary drastically from person to person. However, to help make this a better answer, I've narrowed down the top pieces of advice that have helped me with my own nutrition as an athlete and put them here. I hope they help!
1. GET PROTEIN SOON AFTER WORKOUTS AND PRIORITIZE IT IN MEALS
I make sure that I am prioritizing protein every single day. Have a bar or a pre-packed protein shake to eat immediately after you finish a workout. The quicker you get it into your system, the better the benefits will be! I also make sure to get natural protein as well every day. (This is more important than protein shakes, BTW)
For me, this means some form of meat or beans for every dinner and often lunch. Adding protein to breakfast is easy with chia seeds, Greek yogurt, nuts, eggs, breakfast meats and more!
I also try to sneak in smaller portions of protein throughout the day with maybe a smoothie or some trail mix!
PRO TIP: This simple protein shaker bottle has an attachment on the bottom for protein powder! This way you can leave the liquid up top and the powder below until you're ready for it after working out. I love this so much haha.
2. DON'T DELETE DESSERTS- JUST BE SMARTER
I do not restrict myself entirely from desserts and sweets. I am aware that people have differing abilities to avoid overeating sweets and having a plan for that works for you. But this is what I do to manage it.
Instead of restricting entirely, I look for creative ways to make healthier alternatives to sweets. Like these no bake cookie bites or by using natural sweeteners in lattes. And when I do want a heavy dessert, I have it and don't let myself get too caught up in it.
It's also helped me to mentally divide up the year. Let me explain what I mean by that. In the off season I definitely go harder on the desserts. When I want it I go get it and when I'm indifferent but someone offers me it, I take it. But during hard training blocks I try to be way more mindful about it. The night before a workout or a race, I'm not eating a huge plate of brownies. I simply won't feel good running the next day, so I'm mindful of that.
Sugar is a part of life. A naturally occurring substance. Issues arise when we consumer too much processed, unnatural sugars found in things like soda. Cutting down on this is always a good idea, but punishing yourself when you have some is always a bad idea.
3. STILL. EAT. CARBS!!
I know that a good chunk of runners have probably heard that we need carbs to perform. (Team pasta nights before a game/race in high school anyone?) However, I still think that this is worth mentioning because of the number of fads and diets out there that scream NO CARBS at us. We have to remember that low-carb diets are for weight loss programs (not sustainable long term), and not for athletic performance. The body needs carbs, period. That's energy.
Fruit has carbs. And I don't have to tell you that you should be eating fruit.
That being said, different bodies need different things! So you do need to know the amount that is best for you.