I had two people in the last week ask me about low carb dieting and running, one was an athlete and one was a newsletter subscriber. I thought this was a sign to do a video about it! Check it out below and let me know what you think in the comments!
Can a low carb diet and running work well together? - Click to Tweet!
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Self-awareness is in part, being mindful of what you’re good at and what you are not good at.
As a running coach, my primary job is to work with training modulation. When an applicant fills out the client application I tell them that I do not work with people who cannot currently run due to injury or if they are suffering from a mental issue such as an eating disorder. In such cases like injury, a running coach may not be the best person to work with, but perhaps a physical therapist or athletic trainer to help rehab and heal the damaged area, or perhaps a nutritionist to discuss dietary issues that could cause an injury.
I wanted to share with you a few links to a few of these experts whom I follow. I hope you seek them out, let them know I recommended them, and learn from them!
Diet: Matt Fitzgerald – He’s not a registered dietitian, but over the years he has studied general nutrition and more importantly the nutrition of top athletes and is a true expert in the area of sports nutrition.
Research: Alex Hutchinson – Sweat Science is one of the best resources to keep up to date on the latest research. Whether he simply tweets a new study out or shares an entire article he writes on a subject, it’s fascinating stuff.
Strength & Mobility: James Dunne – A physical therapist out of the UK, he puts out so many strength and mobility routines that it seems a bit overwhelming. I’m a big fan the courses he offers, such as a 30-day knee/leg strengthening course that guides you through a progressive day by day strength and mobility routine.
More SAM: Steve Gonsor – and the team at Run Smart Online also touch base on many aspects of running form, runner-specific strength work, etc. A great account to follow for some cutting edge information.
Running Shoes & Foot Mechanics: Craig Payne – He’s basically the anti-Huffington Post clickbait headline. Craig really dives deep into the research on mechanics and footwear.
Of course, I’m always willing to speak with the individual because in so many cases it was an error with training modulation that caused the injury! Many people make the mistake of running too hard too often, running too much, not enough easy running, jumping into workouts that are too long or too hard. These are my areas of specialty!
Recently I was asked about getting adequate calories in as a distance runner.
This is a valid concern, however what threw me off was that the individual mentioned they were vegetarian and seemed to think being a vegetarian was making it difficult for getting adequate calories into a diet.
I’ve been a plant-based eater for a decade now and have never quite understood this concern. It’s not as if meat is a huge amount of calories that people take in while running or in general it’s not terribly high in calories.
Below I’ve broken down dietary recommendations for distance athletes and provided examples of my own diet!
For those engaged in run training, we typically consider protein and carbohydrates first. Fat is usually not an issue and comes naturally in adequate amounts when you eat adequate food in fairly unprocessed forms.
With carbohydrates, depending on your training load you may need anywhere from 3 grams / kg daily for someone with a light/moderate training volume to 5 or 6 grams / kilogram daily for athletes with very very amounts of running.
There’s a term for vegetarians who eat a lot of vegetarian junk food. Being a junketarian must be avoided at all costs. One cannot thrive off of Oreos and Ramen Noodles.
Many vegetarians, especially new ones, fall into the trap of cutting out meat and going overboard on wheat without even realizing it. Wheat based food (primarily bread and pasta) is super convenient and cheap, however isn’t the most nutrient dense.
Healthy carbohydrate sources include
In regards to protein, a daily intake of 1.5 – 1.8 grams / kilogram of bodyweight is recommended for optimal run fueling and body regeneration.
There is no vegetarian who has not been asked where they get their protein from.
Unlike vegans who avoid all animal products, vegetarians don’t eat fish or meat but usually can eat everything else.
Great vegetarian protein sources include:
Pro Tip: Having vitamin C with iron rich food like legumes increases the iron absorption.
Unfiltered, here’s what I had for meals the day of writing this.
Dropping some weight is both simple and incredibly difficult.
Simply, you must eat fewer calories than you burn.
Difficult, because that’s a huge challenge.
Unless you are running a great deal, you’re not actually burning a huge amount of extra calories. 20 miles weekly is only 2,000 extra calories, and that’s not even a pound (that’s 3,600 cals). It’s very easy to unknowingly consume an extra 300-400 calories daily if you’re running 3-4 miles daily.
In my opinion, a runner looking to drop some weight must do some form of food restriction. A 500 calorie deficit at least 5-6 days weekly will yield nearly a pound of weight loss each week.
When I’m consciously looking to drop some weight I’ll restrict what I eat in the AM and noon hours to about 500 calories in the morning and 500 calories over lunch. In the evening I’ll eat nearly ab libitum and not be as strict with the calories but still try to remain at about 2,000 calories daily intake.
Why 2,000? Because most people with a semi-active lifestyle (walking around, no exercise) burn about 2,000 calories daily. Roughly. So if I ate 2,000 calories and didn’t run, I’d not gain or lose weight. But if I eat 2,000 calories and run 36 miles weekly I’m going to be in a 3,600 calorie deficit and lose about a pound a week.
I am typically in a calorie deficit Monday – Friday. I simply find it easier to restrict my food/calories when I’m on a set schedule during the week. Weekends I don’t restrict so much and if I don’t run long I’m probably not in a calorie deficit, which I think is good a few days weekly.
Recording your weight or not is a common issue. How often do you step on the scale? I typically weigh myself daily before breakfast and after pooping. Yes, I know it’s very common to see recommendations to NOT weigh yourself daily, but I like to see the overall trend. I’m not worried if a day I’m 146 and the next I’m 149. I know I obviously didn’t gain 3 pounds of fat!!! If the overall trend is 147 +/- 1 pound then that’s what I”m looking for. If the next month the overall trend is 146 +/- a pound, that’s fantastic.
This is another super interesting topic that I discussed here on Reddit.
Many people prefer to avoid some of the super processed “food” options both during daily life but also during training, and I think this can be a wise idea.
Below is a short list of “real food supplementation” that I’ve used instead of some of the more unnatural supplements.
Low-carbing for endurance: the oxygen problem | Examine.com | “This is the first study to compare the effects of a ketogenic diet (LCHF) with both a traditional high-carbohydrate diet as well as a periodized high carbohydrate diet in elite endurance athletes.”
The New Rules of Carbs for Runners | Matt Fitzgerald | “A carefully planned low-carb diet can induce weight loss and support good health, but it’s not the best approach for runners because it throws out the baby (high-quality carbs) with the bathwater (low-quality carbs).”
Real Food Supplementation | Coach Kyle Kranz | “In my mind, there are three “levels” of processing of sports fuel.”
For some of these, especially the multi-vitamin, I only take a partial serving. Due to the certifications and high standards that Thorne subscribes to they are not cheap. Taking a partial serving helps them be a bit more economically viable for me. I also figure that a partial serving of one of the best supplements is better than a full serving of some low grade and low standard Walmart supplement!
I do 2-3 hard or long runs each week and have a fairly consistent routine that takes place after each one.
First I hit the fridge and drink some water or milk. I’m a fan of post workout milk since it’s just easier than a protein powder. Fairlife milk is my favorite due to their farming and environmental practices. I’ll often blend some VEGA protein powder into chocolate soy milk, too.
Next, I’ll do a general strength & mobility routine, duration based on time availability and how hard the run was.
Then, I will usually take a shower. Once in a while, I’ll do a hot water immersion after a long run. I do try to keep these hot baths to after easy / shorter runs to limit hydration loss, but sometimes a warm bath after a hard run feels good!
“See what a running coach does as a post hard run routine” – Click to Tweet
There have been some impressive studies coming out lately in regards to consuming protein before bed.
When you think about it, this makes sense. During sleep our body releases human growth hormone, it’s a key time for regeneration from the day’s training load.
Giving the body some protein to work with overnight makes sense.
Below are three studies that have looked at pre-bed protein:
This was a study on 23 men with an average age of 71, so older than we typically hear about. Participants engaged in evening physical activity then consumed 40g of casein a half hour before bed. This resulted in increased overnight myofibrillar protein synthesis.
Here we have younger men in their 20’s on a 12-week progressive strength training program. One group received a pre-bed protein+carb supplement while the other consumed a non-nutritive supplement.
This study may be more interesting than the above since the control group from above did not exercise or take the supplement while this control group did still exercise.
Of course, both groups experienced muscle strength increases and muscle size increases. The men taking the pre-bed protein supplement did experience greater gains in both cases. I would have preferred the control group to have still taken the same supplement, but perhaps gradually throughout the day. This study suggests that the extra protein+carbs assisted with greater adaptations, but did the pre-bed timing of it matter? Probably, but I’m not sure.
Here again, we have some young men performing resistance training in the PM. Both groups received a casein pr0+carb supplement immediately after exercise, however, only one group received further supplementation immediately before bed. Mixed muscle protein synthesis was 22% higher in the protein group.
Casein works well in these studies because it is a slow release protein. Whey protein results in a rapid increase in plasma amino acids and a quick increase in protein synthesis. The influence of whey is short lived. While both whey and casein protein are in milk, casein is more abundant. Casein results in prolonged and more gradual increases in blood amino acids and the net protein balance remained more positive with casein over a 7 hour period. This characteristic of casein is attributed to its slower gastric (stomach) emptying and slower absorption rate from the intestine to the blood. Obviously, casein is the better choice to consume before a 6-8 hour overnight fast! If you want a protein supplement to consume during the day immediately post-workout, a mixture of whey and casein is optimal.
So, How Do YOU Use This Information?
Cow milk is 82% casein and 18% whey protein. I’m much more inclined to simply recommend milk after a strenuous workout and before bed. It’s more simple to take since you only need to pour a glass, no scooping and mixing necessary. Depending on the quality of protein supplements you purchase the milk may higher grade. I’m usually one to select local milk and egg choices.
Plant-Based Protein Options?
I’m going on a decade as a plant-based athlete. Most of this time has been as a vegetarian with stints as vegan, raw vegan, and pescatarian. Currently, I eat local or free-range eggs a few times weekly.
I grew up on a dairy farm and choose to not support that type of industry. However, recently I did come across a milk brand that may be a superb choice for those looking for a more ethically sourced milk, and that choice is Fairlife.com. The extra-interesting thing about their milk is that it’s filtered to remove some of the sugar+liquid, which means it has more protein and less sugar in each cup than typical milk. You can read about their more humane and environmentally conscious farming practices here. I’ll drink their chocolate milk after hard workout or drink a few cups of it before going to bed.
For a fully plant-based option that is a slow release protein (the whole point of taking it before bed) you are best to look at a pea+rice protein supplement, I take Vega Sport, which does not contain rice protein. The pea protein is still slow release so can still do the trick or you can simply find some rice protein to mix into some pea protein.
Marathon fueling is tricky.
During training you can get away with minimal fueling during even your longest runs, since it is not best effort or for as long of a distance.
It is easy to make the mistake of thinking you can/should get away with that fueling strategy during your marathon and that if you are going to fuel more during the event you can get away with not practicing.
Let’s take a look at what I suggest for marathon fueling.
There are a number of case studies of sorts that looked at what works for non elite and elite athletes during the marathon.
In 2013 researchers worked with a number of non-elites participating in the Copenhagen Marathon. Half of the runners used a freely chosen fueling strategy and the other half used a specific fueling plan of 60g carbs, 24ml water, a bit of caffeine and salt each hour.
The groups were matched by 10k time trial when sorted so they would have expected to have similar marathon times. However not surprising the freely chosen fuelers had an average time of 3:49 and the fuel scheduled runners had an average time of 3:38. It’s also important to note that gastrointestinal issues were not different for the two groups.
Even the elites follow this same basic strategy. Another fun case study looked at three elite Canadian marathoners and noted what their nutrition strategies were during the events.
They each consumed on average about 60g/240cal of carbohydrates and about 20oz of water hourly.
It’s important to note that all of the athletes in both events were using a carbohydrate mixture of glucose and maltodextrin. Doing this allows you to much more rapidly absorb the calories vs a pure glucose source.
Also while elites and non-elites do typically differ in their weights and race times the fueling strategies are similar. Elites typically can run the marathon at a higher percentage of their VO2 max so use more carbs vs fat during the event.
So, how do you do this during your marathon?
You may think this is a lot to take in, and if you’ve been habitually under fueling then it may feel like it at first.
The half marathon I recently ran had aid stations every 2-3 miles for the marathon, which is fairly frequent. 3-4 is a safe bet for just about every marathon you’ll run.
Elites have their own aid stations where they have their personal bottles at. They typically grab them on the go and down it over the next half mile before ditching the bottle. That’s why you rarely see elites holding bottles.
For us regular folk it is slightly more difficult. If you have an aid station every 3 miles and you’re running a 4 hour marathon that is 2 aid stations hourly. While you don’t want to slow down too much at every aid station, coming to a jog to grab 8-12oz of water and a gel will improve your time and decrease your chances of hitting the wall. Another option would be to carry a throwaway bottle with you for the first hour so you can skip the early aid stations.
I cannot stress enough the importance of practicing this during your long runs. Gels are the most often used in studies because they’re easy to track and use, but many runners also experience GI issues with gels. Taking them slower, such as half right way and then half a few minutes later and always with water can help. If you prefer fluid only calories or using something like gummies, use what works best for you!
Carb loading is often an excuse used by runners to eat sloppy and consume junk food the week before the race…but that’s not really how it works.
Don’t get me wrong, I fall into this trap as well! Even coaches are not immune to donuts.
Overnight oats is a term I’ve heard for a while now, probably first on Pinterest. Yet, I’ve never actually tried it since I was so over eating oatmeal, probably because I’ve had so much of it in my life I was just burnt out.
But recently we house-sat for a couple and they left us some overnight oats in the fridge to have for breakfast.
I can’t believe I’ve been missing out!!!
Benefits of overnight oats:
Bonus: More recipes!
Recently I was chatting with a runner who was frustrated because her weight gain since starting running.
While this is often unexpected for new runners, there is a reason behind the madness:
All of this also means you’ll lose weight if you take a period of rest from consistent running!
It is also so important to remember that the scale is not a reliable measure of health. Getting a body composition test done at a local gym can tell you your actual lean mass and body fat amounts, and when you start running you’ll likely see positive changes in these metrics!