“I run because I really, REALLY like food!”
Show of hands… how many of you have spoken these words before?!
Yeah, I figured I wasn’t the lone runner who totally feels this way. I think most runners actually started running as a way to burn calories so the COULD eat whatever they wanted. I know that was how I fell in love with the sport. I had been an athlete all through high school and wanted to keep off the “Freshman Fifteen” when I got to college, so I started running.
While my love affair with running has certainly blossomed since then, I still have that same love of food as I always have. My relationship with food, however, hasn’t been nearly as pleasant as it has been with running. I grew up in a household that was always “on a diet”. (Sorry Mom.) Our fridge was always full of “light” and “low fat”, etc. I know my parents had absolutely NO intention of passively putting an impression of food on me, but I can see how this set a precedent in my relationship with food.
I started counting calories in high school and it grew into a full blown obsession in college. So much so that I avoided social events because I was afraid of overeating. And if I did overeat, I would try to find a way to burn those calories off. I remember, one night in college, I had eaten 5 cookies after dinner and spend the rest of the night at the student rec center on the elliptical (I had already run that day), studying for a big test the next day.
Even after college, I got married and started keeping notebooks of every single item I put into my mouth on a daily basis. After dinner, I would sit down on the couch with my husband and count how many calories I ate for the day, trying to keep under 1800, even while I was training for a marathon.
It wasn’t until I got pregnant with my daughter that I finally stopped the madness. I actually started listening to those cravings – bagels, French fries, pasta – everything that used to be “off limits” to me, I started eating regularly because NOTHING else sounded good. (I still can’t stomach spinach or oatmeal 6 years later – and those were STAPLES in my daily nutrition.)
Since then, I’ve started treating my body like an ATHLETE, fueling it the way that it should be fueled. I eat 80% WHOLE foods (fruits, vegetables, grains, protein, healthy fats) and 20% FUN foods (pizza, beer, ice cream, cookies). I’ve also shifted the way I fuel my body to go against EVERYTHING I learned in my college nutrition class and certification courses.
I used to think that I HAD to eat breakfast because it would help speed up my metabolism. Now, I “skip” breakfast 3 to 4 days a week.
I used to think that I NEEDED a high carb diet because I was a runner and that’s the gas that fuels our body. Now, I incorporate a low carb day 1 or 2 days per week, typically the day before a hard workout.
And guess what? I’m running FASTER than EVER! While I know a lot of it has to do with how I am training myself, a lot of it also has to do with how I’m fueling myself. I’m intentionally forcing my body to rely on my fat stores instead of glycogen on a run, allowing me to go harder for longer. I’m allowing my body more time to focus on recovery instead of digestion, which helps me to train harder and recover faster.
So, what am I doing differently now than before that is helping me achieve these major goals? I’ve started incorporating carb cycling + intermittent fasting into my diet. Let me give you a brief little overview of carb cycling + intermittent fasting…
What is carb cycling?
Carb cycling means we are intentionally alternating high carbohydrate days with low carbohydrate days. In this plan, your “high” carb days will fall on your regular calorie days, while your “low” carb days will fall on your recovery/intermittent fasting days. Carb cycling is meant to help you increase your fat loss and energy levels; however, for runners, this allows us to practice periods of glycogen depletion that will help you learn how to burn fat instead of carbohydrates, helping you to run for a longer period of time without needing to replenish your glycogen stores. If you were running a marathon, for example, by spending time in a glycogen depleted state, you are LESS likely to experience a “bonk” at the end of your race.
What is intermittent fasting?
Do not be scared by the word fasting. The one thing you NEED to understand about intermittent fasting is that we are NOT depriving ourselves of calories. For runners, we need to consume the RIGHT amount of calories in order to avoid injury and overtraining symptoms. You will still be eating the amount of calories your body needs, but you will restrict the TIME in which you eat those calories. Instead of eating multiple small meals during the day, you will allow your body to go into a fasted state, which helps to burn fat instead of carbohydrates, so you are able to perform at higher levels for a longer period of time.
While they both seem counterintuitive for runners – not eating and following a low carb diet – this way of eating actually WORKS for runners. By incorporating carb cycling + intermittent fasting into your diet, you will learn how to run harder for longer periods of time, as well as recover FASTER from those hard workouts.
Want to learn more about HOW to incorporate carb cycling + intermittent fasting into your running + training program? I’ve created this handy little guide that will take you step-by-step through each day and a sample week of exactly when to do what according to your training plan.