Q+A: Struggling with Weight and Eating as a Runner
Updated: Jul 12
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.
4. JUST AIM FOR VARIETY
This tip really helps keep it simple...just aim for variety in your diet! When you look at your dinner plate, is there a variety of colors and textures? If so, you're doing great or are working in the right direction. I always try to have a protein, a carb, 1 or 2 vegetables.
I also like to make bowls. For breakfast, lunch or dinner! This has been a great way for me to pack in a bunch of ingredients and nutrients. It takes the form of a loaded salad, a fajita bowl, a breakfast bowl, or many others.
I have my favorite vegetables, but I try to make sure I change up the rotation from time to time. For example, I don't often buy asparagus, but every few shopping trips I make sure to add it or another veggie I haven't had in awhile. Chicken is by far my favorite protein to use, but I try to always have other options on hand so that I can shake it up.
Every nutritional food is nutritious for its own reason, so your best bet is to eat a lot of them so you get all the vitamins and minerals.
5. MEAL PREP...AS YOU SEE FIT
Meal prep is declared by many as an "easy tip," but honestly, it can be kind of overwhelming. I've learned that there are many different meanings to the phrase though, and finding where it fits bet into your particular lifestyle is the key to making it worthwhile. Personally, I can't wrap my head around placing each meal for the week in a perfect sized container and having a grab and go all week. If that works for you, do it.
Some other methods of meal prep:
Think of or find recipes for the healthy, full of variety, meals that you want to eat the next week or two and on your next grocery trip have a list of the ingredients that you'll need to make that happen.
Make larger portions of versatile things. I love love love to make a big batch of rice or quinoa at the beginning of the week and use it again and again. It is like meal prepping, ya, but it's just part of the meal so you're not stuck with anything. You'll still have some leeway. You can do this with other things too, like a giant salad that you use as a side for all of your dinners.
Use the freezer! Buy bulk of something, like chicken, and cut it into the sizes you'll need for meals. Divide into freezer bags or containers so you can pull one out per meal. Frozen meat lasts a long long time so you'll always be prepared.
Just prep the ingredients. Chop up your peppers and onions and store them in an airtight container to pull from all week. Easy and helpful!
6. TRACKING NUTIRION
Keeping track of your nutrition can be a game changer if you're just starting a nutrition journey or aren't exactly sure what makes you feel and perform your best yet. I took a blood test with Inside Tracker, to get to the bottom of what I was specifically missing from my diet and it was eye opening! I learned that I wasn't recovering well and made changes based on their suggestions. Of course, this isn't really a cheap option so it isn't for everyone. But, other more basic blood tests can tell you if you're missing iron, etc and you can start tracking your intake.
If a nutritionist suggests supplements or adding more XYZ to your diet, tracking it with a habit tracker or some form of list where you can hold yourself accountable can be really helpful.
7. CREATE A HELPFUL ENVIRONMENT
This is one of the easiest things you can do to help yourself stay on track with nutrition goals. Create an environment around you that encourages you to eat healthy by purchasing healthy snacks and fruits and vegetables. If you have brownies in your cupboard, you're going to make brownies!
I'm in no way saying to stop buying things you love in entirety. But, I have noticed that if there are more unhealthy things around, I grab them. Even when it's things I normally don't ever want! When certain people are visiting, they always have cookies around as a snack. I don't really ever crave cookies. But when they're here with cookies, I always grab them. So, just a thought when you're stocking your pantry!
This is not the first- and definitely not the last- time that nutrition will come up on this blog! I hope that this was helpful in some way and answered your question. I wish you the best of luck on you athletic and nutrition journeys!