Here’s how to tailor your training and diet so you meet your overall goals.
What’s more, nutrition guidance for runners often contradicts even the most conventional dieting advice.
To get you started on a path to weight-loss success through running, ask yourself these key questions about your running and diet goals before you dive in head first.
1. Does this training programme fit my lifestyle?
Some people try to follow off-the-shelf training approaches, or follow a coach’s training advice to the letter of the law. Most of the time, generic training advice will only work if it is adapted to fit the rhythms of your everyday life – and your unique needs, goals and time constraints.
If you’re following a training programme that requires three or four uninterrupted hours for a long run or demands two workouts on a single day, you need to know if you can reasonably do that.
If not, be willing to adapt that programme to fit your schedule so you don’t get discouraged and go off track.
2. What are my unique eating challenges?
Some people can only shed weight if they keep sugary foods out of sight, while others can only drop unwanted weight by making small, incremental changes. Do some critical thinking about where your trouble spots are – like eating before bed or indulging on the weekend – so you can map out your own personal plan for improvement.
3. Do I hold myself hostage to high standards?
Whether it’s logging 160-kilometre months or glimpsing that dream pace, it is powerful and confidence boosting to see what we can do with intense focus. But if you hold your training hostage to the fastest or farthest you’ve ever run – or what your younger body could do – you’re setting yourself up for chronic disappointment.
4. Can I sustain this particular diet?
If an approach to eating feels like a sacrifice, ultimately it’s going to backfire. If your daily diet is too expensive, inconvenient, lacks a balance of the right nutrients, leaves you feeling depleted or feels like you’re punishing yourself, it’s not going to last.
When trying different eating approaches ask, “Can I maintain this for the rest of my life if I had to?” That answer can change as your schedule, body, metabolism and training changes.
5. What are the main ‘priorities’ with my running?
In your running life, the one thing that should not change over time is the enjoyment and good health you get from running.
Keep “happiness” as the one non-negotiable of your running and be flexible enough to let all other factors – PB goals, weekly mileage, terrain and racing schedule – evolve.
If you handcuff your running “identity” to a single type of training, race distance or a specific number of kilometres logged, burnout and injury are all but guaranteed.
6. Can I adapt my diet as my running changes?
As a runner, you will always want to make sure you’re getting a balance of wholesome carbs, protein and healthy fats that your nutrition needs. But your cravings are going to change as your training changes, and so will your appetite, schedule, time and interest in cooking.
Many runners get tripped up because they continue to eat marathon-sized daily kilojoule loads long after they cross the finish line, or they reward themselves for workouts with sweet and savoury treats.
Adjust the kilojoules you consume to the training that you’re doing and pay close attention to why you are eating, customising your meals and snacks to fuel your workouts and recover from them.
7. How will I brush off setbacks?
Progress typically involves one step forward, two steps back. Decide what you will focus on when the chips seem down.
8. Can I learn from my small mistakes?
Success is not about 24-hour perfection. It’s about progression. And weight loss is a process of learning what works for you and what doesn’t.
Think of each diet slip up as a lesson. Say you’ve gone cold-turkey on sweets, but then find yourself with a voracious craving for chocolate. Then you’ve learnt that cold-turkey approach isn’t for you.
If you find that you’re rifling through the refrigerator after your good-old dinner standby, you’re learning that it may be time to mix up your menu options.