Category Archives: Guest Expert Contributions

Why Some Runners Eat Lots— But Don’t Get Fat

FoodChoiceNarrowNancy Clark MS RD CSSD

Some of my clients seem jealous of their teammates. “They eat twice as much as I do and they are skinny as a rail. I just smell cookies and I gain weight,” spouted one collegiate runner. She seemed miffed that she couldn’t eat as much as her peers—and she couldn’t understand why. They all ran the same mileage, did the same workouts, and were similar in body size. Life seemed so unfair!

Yes, life is unfair when it comes to weight management. Some runners gain (or lose) body fat more easily than others. Unfortunately, fat gain (or loss) is not as mathematical as we would like it to be. That is, if you persistently overeat (or undereat) by 100 calories a day, in theory you will gain (or lose) 10 pounds of body fat a year. But this theory does not hold up in reality. People vary greatly in their susceptibility to gain or lose body fat in response to over- or under-eating.

In general, when people overeat, research has suggested about 85% of the excess calories get stored as fat and the rest gets lost as heat. Overfed fat cells grow in size and in number and provide a storehouse of energy. Obese people commonly have enough fat stores to last a year or more; even lean runners have enough fat stores to fuel a month or more. Fat can be advantageous during a time of severe illness or a famine.

Fighting Fatigue: Why Am I So Tired….???

The Athlete’s Kitchen
Copyright: Nancy Clark MS RD CSSD May 2016

“I feel tired a lot. What vitamins will give me more energy?”

“When I get home from work, I’m just too tired to cook dinner…”

 “I feel like taking a nap most afternoons. I get up at 5 a.m. to run—but really, should I feel this tired at 3:00 p.m.?” 

Runners commonly complain about fatigue and feeling too tired, too often. Granted, many of them wake up at early o-thirty to run, and some do killer workouts that would leave anyone feeling exhausted. Many routinely get too little sleep. And the question remains: How can I have more energy?

The Depressive Edge? Going Downhill After the Race

Aren’t You Supposed to Feel Happy, Not Depressed, After Running a Race?!

(Published on September 8, 2014 by Kate F. Hays, Ph.D. in The Edge: Peak Performance Psychology. Republished with permission)

A few days ago, Susan completed a marathon. Her hard training paid off: she did well. Now, along with the expected body stiffness, why, she wonders, is she feeling so out of sorts? She’s cranky, snapping at people, has no appetite, can’t find a comfortable position for sleeping, can’t focus at work. If she didn’t know better, she’d say she was depressed.

Then there’s her good friend, Sharon, who also ran this same race. Coming back from injury, Sharon wasn’t even sure she could complete the race. She did, but had been miserable—and achieved a miserable time. She too is moody, unfocused, and irritable. She keeps re-playing the race in her head, thinking “If only…” and “I should have….”

What Are Your Guts Telling You?

The Athlete’s Kitchen
Copyright: Nancy Clark MS RD CSSD Oct 2016

What Are Your Guts Telling You?

When I think about eating, I think about the yummy taste of food and the pleasure of feeling satiated. But after attending a Harvard Medical School conference on Gut Health, Microbiota and Probiotics Throughout the Lifespan, I now realize I am not feeding my body but rather the 100 trillion bacteria that live in my gut – my microbiome. We have about 3 to 4.5 pounds of microbes that outnumber human cells by a factor of 10 to 1.

The microbiome is a signaling hub. Gut microbes produce neurotransmitters that talk to the brain. This ultimately impacts our immune system, brain, weight, and mood. Genetics, diet, and environment influence these microbes.

Wishing for the Perfect Body?

The Athlete’s Kitchen
Copyright: Nancy Clark MS RD CSSD Aug 2016

Too many runners spend too much time complaining about their bodies:

I feel too fat. I’m too thin. I want a six-pack ab. I hate my spare tire.

Obviously, you will perform better if your body is the perfect size and bone structure for your sport—not too fat, not too skinny. If you have excess flab to lose, yes, you will run faster if you are lighter. If you are scrawny, yes, you will be more powerful if you can build some muscle. Agreed.

The target audience for this article is the many runners who already have an excellent body yet spend too much time wishing for what they believe is the perfect body. The perfect body is illusive and nearly impossible to attain. However, being satisfied with an excellent body is an attainable goal. An excellent body might be less muscular than desired, or have more body fat than you want, but it is more than good enough.

Fat is not a feeling

5 Essential Tips to Ensure Your Nutrition Supports Your Training

The Athlete’s Kitchen
Copyright: Nancy Clark MS RD CSSD July 2016

For runners who want to optimize their nutrition with a sustainable plan, I offer these suggestions:

  1. Evenly distribute your calories throughout the day. Most female runners need about 2.400 to 2,800 calories a day; male runners may need 2,800 to 3,600 calories a day. This number varies according to how much you weigh, how fidgety you are, and how much you exercise. That’s why meeting with a professional sports dietitian can help you determine a reliable estimate. To find a local sports dietitian, use the referral network at www.scandpg.org 

What Should I Weigh?

The Athlete’s Kitchen
Copyright: Nancy Clark MS RD CSSD April 2016

Runners commonly ask me “What should I weigh?” — as if I had a crystal ball. Although I could look at weight charts, I find charts to often be misleading; each runner’s body is unique. I prefer to suggest an appropriate weight range for a runner based on a conversation with them, not by looking at a chart. Yet, many runners pick a number that sounds good for their ideal weight. Sound familiar?

Achieving an arbitrary number can be a relentless task, particularly if you are in a sport that focuses on leanness, such as running, light-weight rowing, cycling, etc…  While “lighter is better” is true to a certain extent, you want to take into account:

1) Your genetics; the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree.

2) The fact that the bathroom scale weighs both muscle and fat.

3) Your quality of life (very low, if you are trying to attain a weight that requires relentless white-knuckling of hunger).

I frequently help runners figure out what a good weight is for them. If you have a similar concern, here are my answers to some weight-related questions my clients commonly ask me.

Nutrition & Fitness: An Emerging Religion?

The Athlete’s Kitchen
Copyright: Nancy Clark MS RD CSSD Jan 2016

In both my personal and professional lives, I try to abide by the following rules:

1) Carefully choose with whom I talk about religion and food.

2) Teach, but don’t preach nutrition and fitness.

I have learned, for example, that preaching against The Biggest Loser (because it is abusive) or in favor of milk (because it is rich in nutrients), results in a bombardment of negative emails written by zealous opponents.

With this article, I am deviating a bit from my standard offering of sports nutrition information, and instead I am sharing some food for thought about nutrition and fitness as an emerging religion.  That is—

For Weight-Sensitive Runners: Food for Thought

FoodChoiceThe Athlete’s Kitchen
Copyright: Nancy Clark MS RD CSSD   Dec 2015

While many athletes yearn to be leaner and lighter, some athletes have to be leaner and lighter. As a runner, your sport does not have weight classes (as does wrestling, light-weight rowing), but the sport is sensitive to weight. Hence, you may put pressure on yourself to achieve a weight that might defy your genetic physique. Some runners can achieve the desired lightness healthfully; others struggle with poor energy, lethargy, and depressed mood.

It’s no secret that disordered eating practices are common among weight-conscious athletes.

An estimated 30% to 60% of active women and up to 19% of active men struggle with finding the right balance of food and body-fatness (1). Their quest to be light easily leads to restrictive food intake, over-exercising, and too little fuel to support normal body functions. In women, strict diets trigger amenorrhea —loss of regular menstrual periods. While some women seem content to get rid of that monthly hassle, they lack knowledge that amenorrhea leads to weaker bones, higher risk of stress fractures (today) and early osteoporosis (in the future). It’s hard to be a life-long runner when your skeleton won’t support your goals.

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