Do you need to be thin to run? Random thoughts on eating, not eating, and running.

Do you need to be thin to run?

This is a question oft debated in Runners World magazine.  Usually the conclusion is that:

“You don’t need to be stick thin to run, but losing a few pounds can’t hurt!”

Yeah, a lucid piece of information.  I guess the real answer is: it depends on how far you want to go with it.  If you look at the picture below:

"These fat chicks will knock minutes off their PBs if they slim down a little"

you might notice a certain similarity of shape.  It isn’t exactly a Northern Hen party.  If you want to be in the Olympics, then yes, you will have to be the minimum possible weight.  But for most people that isn’t the aim…

Different attitudes towards eating from different runners

  • Professional runner – I’m a professional runner.  I need to get 524 grams of carbohydrates today to support my morning tempo run and my afternoon recovery run. Eating half a chocolate cake will not give me the right kind of carbohydrates.  I wake up every morning dreaming of gold, not of chocolate.
  • Focussed runner – I run to be as good as I can get.  If being slimmer gets me there then I won’t eat that muffin.  My body is a temple.  There is no room in my temple for a muffin.  That sounds like a euphemism.  It isn’t.
  • Club runner – I try and eat less garbage, especially when I’ve trained for ages for a big race.  But if someone at my work has a birthday, I might eat a donut… Actually, maybe half…
  • Casual runner – I’m going to eat that turkey with all the trimmings.  Then I’m going to crawl into a giant Christmas Pudding, have them seal it behind me and eat my way to freedom.  This is why I run, so I can lapse and still stay fairly thin.
  • Slightly deluded runner – I did a 4km run last week so it is totally cool if I inject this 250g block of lard into me eye-sockets.  I’m a runner.  I can eat anything.  I am invincible.
  • Completely deluded non-runner – I read one page of Runner’s World over another passenger’s shoulder on the train.  Give me that cake bong.

Talking about weight is a Western Taboo

The fact that you can’t come up to someone and say:

“I’m surprised you are doing a marathon? You look too fat.”

is actually unique to a subset of cultures – mainly Western.  In certain Asian countries, this is far less of a taboo.  I used to have a Korean girlfriend who said to me one morning:

“Your Dad is looking very fat.  It is dangerous for his health as he gets older. He needs to eat less and do more exercise. I will tell him.”

I had to tell her that it would be culturally unacceptable to say that to my dad.  At which point she said:

“But he could be at a health risk?”

“Yep.  But if I tell him he is fat then I am the one facing a health risk.”

What I have noticed in Western Culture is that if you want to tell someone that they are fat, you can cloak it in clinical expressions.  Here are some phrases and their actual meanings:

I guess it is normal to have sore knees when you start…
You are huge.  Your massive bulk is putting more strain on your knees than they could possibly ever handle.

And then after 18 weeks you’ll be closer to race weight
You are massive walrus that could not even do a 10km run in Regent’s Park for fear the staff their will attempt to trap you in a net.

That’s a brilliant time on a hilly course
I actually placed money on you not being able to haul your fat a**e up the hills.  I am now 20 pounds out of pocket.  If I could take those 20 pounds off you, we would both be winners.

That’s OK, it was a cheap set of scales
You broke my scales again you fat f**k.  When you step on the scales and it says, “one at a time please”, does that not make you think about your lifestyle?

The basic calorie mistake that most people make when they first start running

I’m a runner now. It doesn’t matter what I eat, it will all get burnt.

Wrong.  People greatly overestimate the amount of calories that they burn when they run.  If you are female (they burn less calories), of average weight and run 5km at lunchtime, you will (on average) burn 250 calories.  So if you have that bit of carrot cake at Pret as a reward for all that hard work – you’ll put on a nice 400 calories and actually be worse off than if you didn’t run.  And it is really difficult, because running makes you hungry, and it makes you feel like you have to eat.  What often happens is that people put on weight as they begin running, because they don’t accurately calculate the calorie equations.

The best solution for the above problem is to accept that running makes you hungrier and be sure to eat lots – but make sure you are filling up on good stuff. This will help your running, and it will help keep your weight down, which will also help your running.

Don’t eat like a body-builder

I read Men’s Health the other day in a doctor’s waiting room (or through my subscription) and was shocked to see the stuff that bodybuilding blokes do to their bodies.  Here are some things to avoid:

  • Eating 6 raw eggs and half a chicken before lunch.  This won’t help any aspect of your running.
  • Creatine. What the hell is Creatine?  I think we can live without it.
  • Don’t buy any of these products:
Oh, and recovery shakes are Ok for running.  But try and get ones that  include 4 parts carbohydrates and 1 part protein.  Not the ones that are all protein. You needs carbs more.

What I learnt when I had to eat 500g of carbs a day

I think most runners have had to do the pre-marathon carb-loading.  I found it really, really difficult to eat my 500g of carbohydrates.  After a morning filling up on 2 bagels and drinking one carb drink I was only up to 120g.  I very quickly got to a stage where I saw food in two distinct forms:

  • Food that would give me carbs
  • Food that wouldn’t

And very quickly avoided all food that didn’t give me carbs.  And it gave me a little glimpse into the world of the pro athlete.  A pro runner trains so much that helathy eating has little to do with weight loss.  It is more to do with needing to achieve certain amounts of nutrition in a day.  Eating, say, a Big Mac is going to fill them up and it isn’t going to give them anything they need.  To a professional athlete, that is a waste of food.

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3 Responses to Do you need to be thin to run? Random thoughts on eating, not eating, and running.

  1. We don’t need to be thin to run, but if we run, we will get thinner! 😉

  2. sailerc says:

    Interesting. Especially how low on your food chain I find myself out I’m honest.

  3. Pingback: Running solely to lose weight – from zero to “size zero hero” without having to buy too much gear-o. | Boy on the run

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