Overhydration

Can You Run to Lose Weight While Also Training for a Race?

Just keep running. Just keep running. Just keep running (I’m starting to feel like the human version of Dory from Finding Nemo). My heart is racing while my lungs beg for air as I round out the end of this run. I turn the final corner, narrowly avoid a group of three tourists, and sprint out the remaining three blocks. I finally slow to a halt while sweat drips from my head onto the sidewalk. Hands on my knees and breathing heavily, I reflect on this last go. Usually, it’s not that difficult once I get into my groove, but this time was hard, really hard. Maybe it was something I ate? Actually, that could be it.

Last time I ran a marathon I was trying to lose weight and train at the same time and, well, it proved difficult. Although it seems like the two may go hand-in-hand, the fact is they outright contradict each other. While you’re supposed to cut calories when dieting, you’re supposed to be carb-loading when training (I realize carbs and calories are different things, for the record). So when you diet appropriately, your run suffers, which is obviously the exact opposite of what you want when you’re trying to increase your performance.

It essentially boils down to what Anne Mauney said, “If you diet while training, you won’t perform at your best because you won’t be able to adequately repair your muscles after workouts.” Yet, although it seems impossible, and certainly felt like it when I tried, it is apparently plausible to both lose weight and train for a race. Actually, it seems like a fairly obvious solution now that I’ve heard it. You just need to focus on weight loss before you start training. Take 4-8 weeks before beginning intense training and use that time to lose the weight. Then, by the time you start buckling down, you’ll be “be in good shape” to start preparing for the race! For those interested in not making the same mistake I did, here are a few tips:

Stuff Your Body With Protein

There’s are a number of studies extolling the benefits of using protein when dieting. Protein makes you feel full, curbs your appetite, and builds your muscles. Apparently, runners should try to eat about a gram of protein for every pound of bodyweight in order to optimize muscle-building efficiency. Many types of meat and plant-based foods like legumes are rich in protein, so you don’t need to look far to bulk up.

Eat Your Calories. Don’t Drink Them.

There’s no reason to make your life harder by slurping up soft drinks, sweet tea, and juice. Rather, substitute water. While I don’t think it is even necessary to preach the benefits of water, I will merely give you a quick recap. ZERO calories. While that should be more than enough reason to switch over, water also helps you stay full. So often when we’re running, we feel hungry and eat, when in fact, we should be drinking water because we’re dehydrated. For whatever reason, our body will sometimes indicate our thirst as hunger, but now that we know this is not the case, we can react properly, and drink water, not eat fatty food.

Nutrient Density

This fancy phrase really just means eat the food with more nutrients. Basically, nutrient density is just a way of saying you should eat foods that make you feel full. For instance, instead of frosted flakes, munch on a blueberry pancake. Other nutrient-rich foods include bright vegetables, leafy greens, lean meats, quinoa, and wild rice. If you eat these, you don’t even need to calorie count. You’ll be in the clear while the pounds just slip right off before your training regime.

It’s funny how running can completely change depending on your perspective. Usually, people run to lose weight, not run to meet goals. Yet, for a runner, losing weight is often the furthest thing from our minds. We’re focused on the run itself and improving not our appearance, but our performance. Regardless, aside from my former naïveté, I now know that if I’m going to lose weight, it better be before I train. Not during.

Mistakes, Mishaps, and Missteps

It’s as if I am not wearing shoes. My feet feel the concrete as I run up 85th street Transverse in Central Park. With every step, a slight jolt runs up my leg and anchors me in the moment. My lungs fill with fresh air whipping off the water as beads of sweat begin running down my face and dripping into my eyes. I wipe it away with my forearm and focus on my breathing…in, out, in, out, in, out. Then I notice that what was once a slight jolt is now not disappearing, not just fading with the next step. Soon that jolt becomes a fist in my calf, squeezing my muscle fibers into a tight ball and pinching my nerves as my leg cries out in pain. CRRRAAAMMP. I immediately stop and find an open bench. Pointing my toes upward with the help of the bench, I feel the tightness relent and my leg’s scream slowly subsides into a whisper.

I remember when I first began running and I would sprain my ankle, or my legs would cramp up, or my toenail would rip off, and I would think, “Well hey, at least now I know what not to do.” Wrong. Now I just know what not to do until the next time I do it. I’ve been running a while now and I have to say, I have given up on the idea that to be a master means to never make a mistake. Being a master merely means you make fewer mistakes.

Mistake number one: overhydration. I was nervous; it was relatively early on in my running career. I wanted to make sure I was prepared for my first long race, so I pounded bottle after bottle of water before I even arrived. I thought that if I could hydrate enough prior, then I wouldn’t need to stop at any water stands for a pick-me-up and I could make better time. Hah! I began the race with a bloated stomach and ended with a pinched urethra. Not only was I so much slower because I was so uncomfortable, but I had to stop at three separate port-a-potties to relieve myself while everyone else zipped on by me. This is one mistake I will, hopefully, not repeat.

Then there was the time that I didn’t ingest any salt before a race. I started out great, with world class 8-minute miles – , until I got about halfway through. My shirt was soaked, my legs weak, and my vision blurry. I kept going because I thought there was nothing wrong and I was just becoming unusually tired.and slow….a classic slow….30-minute miles! I realized something was wrong when my body started to feel like fire had replaced all the blood in my veins and my knees felt as if they were in the midst of surgery! I could barely walk much less run! It was only after I got to the finish line (long after everyone else had zipped by) that a friend took one look at me and said “Have you lost your mind. You obviously needed salt why didn’t you stop at any of the medical tents!?” Could I confess to not being in the know about such things…I let my silence suggest the race was intended to exhibit my great masculinity ☺

Yet another time I decided these new shoes would give me some extra support. Nope. Absolutely not. Two miles in my feet were crying in anguish and bleeding from the innumerable blisters plastering my skin. I kept on anyway. And kept on. And then I didn’t. Five miles into a 26-mile race, and there I was again, on a bench doing what? Watching everyone else zip on by me.

Experience is the best teacher because it’s the most memorable. It’s an alarm clock of memory, alerting us, if we’re lucky, when we’ve already made this same mistake. But then sometimes it just doesn’t ring, and condemns us to the same error all over again. I will say, though, that while by no means perfect, I do make fewer errors than I used to, and for that, I am certainly grateful.