I ran 50 miles, so now I can eat anything...right?

"You ran 50 miles? Man, you can go crazy at the Thanksgiving table!"

I have heard some version of these sentences about 15 times since my 50-mile race on Saturday. So exactly how much of a caloric deficit did I create and how quickly could I blow it? 

Over the course of 50 miles, someone of my size burns somewhere around 4,500 calories. There may also be a post-exercise burn where my body continues to burn calories quickly, so I'll be generous and round up to 5,000 calories burned. 

By just existing--breathing, heart beating and systems running--my basal metabolism is somewhere around 1,100 calories, so we'll subtract that from the 5,000 to get the caloric deficit:

5000 - 1,100 = 3,900 deficit

Between gels, bananas, sugary drinks and other food on the race course, I at somewhere around 1,200 calories, so that gets subtracted as well... 

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3,900 - 1,200 = 2,700 calories. Let's spend extra those calories! 

3 giant slices of greasy cheese pizza at the finish would run 1,200 calories

A slice of frosted cake would hack off another 350 calories

A big breakfast the morning after of waffles + syrup and hash browns would run around 1,000 - 1,200 calories depending on how greasy the grill was.

Serious waffle photo courtesy Waffle House, where arteries go to get clogged.  

Serious waffle photo courtesy Waffle House, where arteries go to get clogged.  

...and that's it. The deficit is spent, and now it's back to healthful eating in reasonable, non-maple-syrup-coated portions. Seems like that level of effort should have enabled a runner to drag out the party for days, but unless your exercise habits are like those of a professional athlete, working out for hours day in and day out, exercise doesn't really enable us to eat whatever we want and maintain or lose weight.

 

But if you're exercising solely so you intake more calories, you're overlooking all of the wonderful benefits of exercise:

  • Building strength that will carry on well into advanced age
  • Boosting energy
  • Reducing stress
  • Reducing symptoms of depression
  • Building self-esteem (it's not just kids who need that boost!)
  • Protecting our brain
  • Helping us to sleep better
  • Protecting our heart as HDL, the "good" cholesterol is increased, and trigylcerides--fat in our blood--are decreased, leading to better functioning of the heart
  • Managing blood sugar for diabetics, both juvenile diabetes and later onset diabetes brought on by lifestyle

Many of these benefits of exercise you will be tapping into not just today but 10, 20, 30 years into the future! 

Who needs pizza when you have this rich + tasty soup on the table in less than 45 minutes?! 

Who needs pizza when you have this rich + tasty soup on the table in less than 45 minutes?! 

And sure, with a little extra caloric deficit, exercise does afford us the ability to enjoy a treat here and there, but after a little splurge, I'm very happy to reward my hardworking body with a meal loaded with vegetables, lean protein and healthy fats. Click here for this recipe for Red Lentil Soup. 

 

Best Laid Plans

I had a goal this winter: Run my first ultramarathon--the HAT Run 50K. As I shared in a previous post, this was way outside my comfort zone for so many reasons, but I knew I could get there if I had a plan:

  • Join a training group for guidance, accountability and a bit of fun. [Achieved this one easily by joining up with the Charm City Run crew]
  • Commit to run every single long run on the training schedule. 
  • Commit to complete as many of my weekday training runs as possible--even if it meant dragging my butt to the gym to use the...shudder, shudder...treadmill.
  • Run more on trails to prepare myself for the intense hilly course.
  • Practice pushing hard up hills and recovering on the downhills.
  • Eat healthfully to support my training--lots of vegetables, fruit, nuts & seeds, legumes and whole grains--without letting my ravenous appetite take over.
  • Follow a strict carb load protocol in the days leading up to the event.

I had a solid plan.

Look at these smiling suckers--our crew from Charm City Run has no idea what's about to hit us! That's me all the way on the right in black (with jacket pockets stuffed full of gels, dates and rice balls), standing next to my husband John. Stupidity is a family affair.    Photo via  Charm City Run

Look at these smiling suckers--our crew from Charm City Run has no idea what's about to hit us! That's me all the way on the right in black (with jacket pockets stuffed full of gels, dates and rice balls), standing next to my husband John. Stupidity is a family affair.

Photo via Charm City Run

 

However, the world had alternate plans for me. Wicked cold made running a real challenge this winter. Then the snow came. Days passed where my the roads from my house were un-runnable, and trails were buried deep in ice and snow. Did I mention it was cold? Because it was. But I stuck with my plan as best as I could and tried not to make excuses for skipping runs or eating poorly.

And then there was the race itself.

I was prepared for the brutal hills, but what I (and the other 400-something runners) did not expect was the mud. The snow and ice that was so beautiful and bright and scenic when we began turned to thick, sludgy mud as the day warmed. Miles and miles and miles of brownie batter-consistency mud worsened as the day went on. The uphills were treacherous, but it was the downhills--the places where I was counting on recovery from the 7,200 feet of incline--that were the real nightmare. Inches of wet slippery mud that provided ZERO traction, sending me careening wildly more than once, arms flailing trying to gain balance with every muscle clenched.

 

This is the actual elevation map for the 30+ miles. Now imagine about 25 of those miles in several inches of wet, slippery mud. 

This is the actual elevation map for the 30+ miles. Now imagine about 25 of those miles in several inches of wet, slippery mud. 

Runners commiserated, volunteers consoled (I cannot express how amazing those volunteers were--the best, most empathic, generous human beings I have ever encountered on a race course!!!) and plans were put to the test. Around mile 24 that wave of despondence that many long distance runners know passed over me. The mud was deep and endless, and the non-stop up-and-downs were grueling. "If I have to walk-run-slide the next 7 miles at an 18-minute pace," I began reasoning, "that would take me nearly two hours. I cannot do this for two more hours." I bargained with my quads to push harder. I pleaded with the sun to hurry up and dry out the mud. And I drew on all the work I had done this season. I got a surge of energy with three miles left to go, and cranked it up to the finish line.

Things did not go exactly according to plan. But I can't imagine how they would have gone if I didn't stick to my plan leading up to the event! I was well-fueled, I was physically strong, and I had good mental game. The world reminds me over and over that there is so much I can't control. But if I can take responsibility for what is under my control, it sure makes it a lot easier to deal with everything that isn't.

 

Need help developing your plan for being your healthiest self (which, by the way, does NOT necessitate running a 50K or even a 5K if that’s not your thing)? Let’s chat… lauren@live-full.com

 

What's the deal with Fat Loading and Carb Loading?

Apologies to my non-marathon-running readers and friends, because this space is going to be monopolized for the next couple of weeks with posts on strategies for the couple of weeks before the marathon.


And they’re really big weeks!

We marathon runners (and half marathon runners, too) have been training for months, but now, we’re cutting waaaaaaay back on our mileage to rest and restore our bodies after all those pounding, runs. Sadly, that means we lose the benefit of the powerful endorphins we’ve been releasing during tough workouts, and we need those feel-good fuzzies more than ever because the impending race is weighing heavy on our minds and our nerves. Speaking of heavy, one of the biggest concerns for runners during this time is weight gain. For months we’ve been feeding ourselves to fuel intense runs, and now we’re not burning calories at the same level. Try and tell that to our appetites! And then we’re supposed to carb load carefully so as not to put on weight? It’s enough to push me—I mean, someone—over the edge!

But fear not.

In the next couple of posts, I’ll break down the carb load into easy to understand concepts.

Simply put, carb loading involves eating lots of carbohydrate-rich foods before an endurance event to load up your muscles with glycogen (aka stored carbohydrates). We can only store a small amount of carbs in our muscles—90 minutes to two hours at a hard effort of exercise. We have hours of fat to burn, but using fat for fuel is far less efficient than glycogen, so we need to maximize the carbs stored before we hit the start line, or we risk a very painful finish (click for a story on a particularly painful run I had last year).

For my half marathoners: Carb loading is only effective for events lasting more than two hours. Most half-marathoners don’t need to undertake a carb-loading regiment of several days, though they definitely benefit from enjoying carb-rich foods the day before their race and in their evening meal the night before the night before the event (that wasn’t a typo: that all important carb-filled dinner happens two days before the half marathon!).

The two-phased carb load for the full marathon is a widely accepted practice (Writer/Athlete/Coach/Nutritionist extraordinaire Matt Fitzgerald has written extensively on this topic and informs my process considerably):


Step 1 is adapting a low-carb, high-fat diet of about 65% fat for several days—up to 10 if you can manage it. Your body adapts to burning fat for fuel during this phase, especially during the short workouts you’ll be undertaking without the benefit of carbohydrates.

Step 2 is the carb load, a diet of 70% or greater carbohydrates for about three days to fill up then top off your bodies carbohydrate stores.

Marathoners can opt to skip fat loading, but they tremendously benefit from a multi-day carb load. If a marathon runner waits until the day before the race to carb load, it’s already too late! Most of us need more than a day to fill those stores. 

I’ve heard quite a few questions about how much more we should be eating to carb load. That’s actually a bit of a misconception. The carb load doesn’t necessarily require us to eat lots more food—don’t forget that our bodies can only store a relatively small amount of carbohydrate. If you over do it by forcing down significantly more calories than you need, you could be carrying extra poundage to your 26.2 miler.

Carb loading is more about shifting the proportions on your plate.

Allow me to illustrate what a healthy everyday dinner plate looks like:

 

Should a runner opt to try the fat load (again not a requirement for every marathoner), the plate shifts to more fat, a regular sized portion of protein, and a small amount of starch vegetable or whole grain.

 

 

And for the carb load (my personal favorite illustration!), the shift is toward a larger serving of carbohydrate rich food with smaller amounts of protein and fat.



The easiest way to jump into the carb and fat load is to think of the meals and snacks you already like and to make simple adjustments to proportions and ingredients. In my next post, I’ll share practical easy swaps you can make to meet the nutrition requirements of race week.


Need help developing a custom dietary plan for your race week? Let's talk: lauren@live-full.com