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Postby WayneC » Thu May 11, 2017 8:29 pm

This is a copy of a talk I recently gave to the local 5 km running clinic. (credits to Matt Fitzgerald for some of the information)

Eating for Performance and for Health


I don’t know about you, but even I find the topic of nutrition very confusing. We are constantly bombarded by ads, articles and books on the latest miracle diet of the one true way to eat. Paleo, Zone, Atkins, South Beach, high fat, low fat, high carb, low carb, wheat free, etc. etc. You will read a running magazine one month with one view and exactly the opposite view the next month. We hear about the latest scientific study from our friends. (perhaps not the most reliable source). What is the one way?
The bottom line is that there is no one way. There are individual considerations regarding likes and dislikes, allergies, medical issues and intolerances (such as lactose and gluten) that will modify the diet.

DIET is a four letter word. If you Google the word diet you will come up with over 500 million responses. It typically means a temporary change in our eating behavior. The average diet lasts 3 ½ weeks. Successful healthy eating habits must be sustainable over the long term. Healthy nutrition is a marathon, not a sprint. Motivation and consistency is the key. It should be combined with exercise. Studies have shown that people who combine an exercise program along with healthy diet changes are more likely to succeed at both. There should not be a need to count calories and calculate specific nutrients that we will get with no difficulty in a healthy well balanced diet.


There is controversy regarding the balance of these nutrients, depending on whom you talk to. The bottom line is that we require all of them and how they are balanced is an individual thing. Typically the recommendation has been for a ratio of 55-65% Carbs, 20-25% Fat and 15-25 % protein

CARBOHYDRATES – Carbs are the main fuel source of our body. This includes things such as vegetables, fruits and whole grains. The amount that we need is dependent on our level of activity. Excess carbs are stored as fat in our body. Kenyan marathoners may have 85% of their calories in the form of carbs

PROTEIN – Protein is required for rebuilding our muscles as they adapt to exercise. This includes, meats, nuts, eggs and dairy as common sources. As we age, many studies are suggesting that we increase the proportion of protein in our diet, particularly with exercise and with aging (to help suppress the natural loss of muscle mass as we age). It also helps control hunger

FAT – Fat use to get a bad rap. It was blamed for causing all kinds of illnesses including heart disease and stroke. We now know that is not true. (although there is concern that trans fats that are made from processing do carry a higher risk)Fat is required for the absorption of a number a vitamins and the production of a number of hormones in our body. The key is to focus on healthy fats. Examples of plant based, or unsaturated fats are vegetable oils like olive, soy and coconut. Animal fats, or saturated fats, include meat, and dairy products. Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids such as those from soy, fish, nuts and seeds, avocados and the vegetable oils have antiflammatory properties. Fat is used as fuel for lower intensity exercise. They can also be a prime source of fuel at higher intensities if our bodies are adapted to using it for that purpose. There are studies showing that runners can train themselves to utilize fat as fuel by increasing the fat in their diet and exercising at low intensity while relying on their own fat as the primary fuel. This is a work in progress. Fat also helps satiety


It is not simply a matter of calories in and calories out. Chocolate bars are not the same as vegetables. One thousand calories from McDonald's is not the same as 1000 calories from whole foods.
The key is to focus on real foods that are closer to the source. Try to avoid things that come in wrappers and packaging. READ LABELS of those that do. Look for sugar content, trans fats, fiber content, protein content and calories. Some new labeling in UK equates the amount of exercise with the calorie content of the food.
Nutrient dense foods are unprocessed and contain higher quantities of nutrients, vitamins, fiber and antioxidants, all of which are important elements of a healthy diet. These include; vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds, healthy oils and fats, unprocessed meat and seafood, whole grains and dairy.
Low quality foods include refined grains (pasta, white bread, cereals, white rice…..) sweets and sugary drinks, processed meats, fried foods. These foods are stripped of a lot of their nutrients. Potato chips are responsible for more weight gain than any single food in the US. Refined grains and sugars are quickly absorbed in our body, promoting the production of insulin and subsequent fat buildup.
SUGAR comes in many forms. Beware added sugars. Comes in many names, eg. high fructose corn syrup, dextrose, maltose, sucrose, barley malt, cane syrup, anything ending in –ose. Total daily intake should be in the range of 25 grams per day. Note that the North American diet is typically at least four times this amount. 1 teaspoon of sugar is 4 grams. 1 pop is 40 grams of sugar, one glass of orange juice is 28 grams, 1 serving flavored yogurt is 20 grams. There is a definite increased risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes with increased sugar intake. Sugar substitutes such as aspartame may even be worse as studies have shown that they may increase abdominal fat. Agave is highly processed and should be counted as a sugar. Honey and syrup are sugars.

I tell my patients that weight loss is 80% diet and 20 % exercise. The combination is best.
People tend to overestimate the number of calories that they burn up during exercise.
We burn approximately 100 calories for every mile that we run and about 1/3 that amount with biking. This amount actually decreases with training as our bodies adapt and become more efficient. Now, we do burn up extra calories after exercise as well, as our metabolism is increased for 24 hours, but not as much as people think. Unless we are exercising a lot, we should not require any extra fueling before or after a short run. We have enough carbs stored in our body as glycogen, to run about 20 miles. We all have plenty of fat fuel to allow us to run more than 20 times that distance. Eating after a run is a social thing though and is often part of the things that we enjoy about running. It is just important for us to be mindful of what we are eating and to continue to focus on quality.
The current recommendation is for 30 minutes of moderate cardiovascular activity, five days a week. Increasing your muscle mass by weight lifting will increase your metabolism and therefore increase your calorie burn.


Drink to thirst is the mantra. In general, for short runs we should not require hydration. Water is the key source of hydration when used. If you are thirsty, drink. Your mother was right with the recommendation of 8-10 cups of water per day.
A number of studies in the past promoted drinking large amounts of fluid during our run with claims of decreased performance with even minimal dehydration. These studies were mostly funded by sports drink companies. The greater risk is for overhydration which promotes hyponatremia, which can be a life threatening condition for slower runners in marathon events.


As noted above, we should be able to get all of our nutritional needs from a high quality well balanced diet. In addition we have plenty of fuel stored in our body in the form of glycogen and fat to run long distances. A lot of the push for supplements comes from industry. Gels and bars etc. should not be necessary to fuel your run unless you are running for more than one hour.


The key for healthy eating is that it has to be sustainable. We must eat individually and eat foods that we enjoy. If those are occasionally on the low quality list, so be it. Nutrition is a marathon, not a sprint. It is the balance for the long term that matters. There are no bad foods. Just be mindful of keeping the quantities and frequency of low quality foods to a reasonable level so that the overall quality of the diet is maintained.
Note that under eating often leads to reactive overeating. Mindless eating is the most common cause of overeating.


Eating for performance and eating for health are the same thing. People who want to be healthy and fit just need to do some exercise (and here you are) and be mindful of eating a well balanced diet based on high quality, real food. Don't “DIET”. The focus should be on health. Healthy eating habits are for a lifetime. That’s as simple as it gets.
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