Why do runners gain weight?

100 calories

This question is kind of tricky and has many answers. One would expect that because runners are getting exercise on their running days that they would lose weight. The main reason runners gain weight is that they are active for the 30 to 90 minutes that they run gaining cardiovascular fitness, but afterwords are not so active. The body needs fuel for the run, but we runners can overcompensate with calories for the rest of the day. There are a few easy ways to combat this problem.

I do think that it is important to keep a daily food diary. The calories that we do not burn during the day are stored as fat. There are several web sites and apps to keep a daily calorie count. A couple of good examples are the MyFitnessPal app for smartphones and SuperTracker from the USDA for counting calories. These sites and apps not only track total calories eaten for the day they can also track daily macro (carbs, protein, and fat) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). I think it is essential that athletes of any level know what their daily intake of nutrients is.

Runners also need to lift weights to gain some muscle mass. Muscle is denser than fat so a higher muscle mass will burn more calories throughout the day. This means that having more muscle mass the body is burning more calories even at rest. Age is a factor here. As we age we tend to lose muscle mass. It is important to lift weight two to three days a week to keep muscle mass from declining so fast as we age. Runners always tend to worry about gaining too much muscle mass when they lift weights. My thoughts on this, if you do not eat and lift weight like a bodybuilder you will not look like a bodybuilder. I like to use dumbbells when I life at home. They are easy to use and there are plenty of movements that we can use as a runner to help gain a little muscle mass. Take a look online for dumbbell training posters. With a quick browse online you can find some nice posters that cost anywhere from $15 to $25. These posters show a nice set of movements for every part of the body. If you are not sure if you want to life at home you can always join a fitness center to get your lifting in.

We may also have something physically happening that needs some medical attention. Low thyroid function is one of the medical problems that can cause weight gain. Other reasons to consider are diabetes, aging (again), stress, water retention, or not getting enough rest. Some of these can be address with medical assistance while the others or totally under our control. We may also be taking medications that have weight gain as a side effect. If you are not sure if there are medical reason go to a local wellness check and have your blood work completed. We should be doing this annually anyways just so we know how things are going.

One last thing. All calories are not the equal. 100 calories of candy is equal to 100 calories of veggies as a number, but it affects the body in vastly different ways. A couple of examples are appetite and energy level. I always say that variety is the spice of life and everything in moderation. Eat a variety of colors when it comes to vegetables. Fat is not the enemy. Do not just grab something off of the shelf because the label say “All Natural”. The word natural as it pertains to labels is not regulated and can mean just about anything. Try to stay away from foods that contained added sugar. The maximum recommended allowance of added sugar for men is 150 calories per day (37.5 grams or 9 teaspoons) and 100 calories per day (25 grams or 6 teaspoons) for women. Eat that apple or orange, but be aware that that bowl of cereal could contain more sugar than you actually want or should eat.

“Man imposes his own limitations, don’t set any”

-Anthony Bailey



Electrolyte Replacement


Electrolytes are an important element to successful running. It is not just necessary to replace electrolytes after a run, but they need to be consumed prior to a run as well. For this post I just want to talk about replacement, during and after a run.

In the graphic above there are five key electrolytes that we need. All five in some way or another deal with muscles where a lack of them can cause cramping, weakness, spasms, paralysis, or, in the case of the heart, an irregular heartbeat. Missing just one of these during long run can cause problems that are just plain avoidable. Just for information purposes there are 2 other electrolytes to be aware of, hydrogen phosphate and hydrogen carbonate. Hydrogen phosphate is an important ingredient in cell energy production. Hydrogen carbonate deals with the acid/base (pH) balance in the body.

There are plenty of replacement drinks, powders, gels, and drink additives on the market. They take some trial and error to figure out what works best for each of us. Personally, I like the fizzy tablets such as Nuun or Tailwind. When using Gatorade, or other sports drinks, make sure that a little extra water is added so that the sugars in them do not cause digestive distress. Some people can tolerate the added sugar, but make sure to test them during training to make sure they can be tolerated. The same goes when using gels and make sure to drink some water with them so they do not upset the stomach.

They key to using an electrolyte replacement during a long run of 90 minutes or more is to take them before the body needs them. It is suggested to start the first replacement about an hour into the run at the latest. If you tend to sweat more than the average person it might be wise to start around 30 to 45 minutes. There is no need to chug your drink. An ounce or two will do the trick. Some people will sip during the whole run or take a couple of swigs every few miles. This is another case of testing what works during training so that during a race you already have a strategy planned out. While consuming the electrolyte replacement think about adding some carbohydrates in with the drink. It might be a good idea to have what you need by bringing some sports bottles with you for the race. The carbs can be added to the drink, honey or sugar, or can be something as simple as raisins to snack on. Figure out what works for you in your training and use it during the race.

Looking at the list of food sources in the above graphic I would say that a nice smoothie or salad would make a good electrolyte replacement after a run. Add some protein powder or dairy into the drink just to make sure you are starting on the protein replacement as well. It is a good idea to get this done one to two hours after the run.

There you have it. Not having a good electrolyte balance can cause our training to suffer or getting muscle cramps or weakness during a race. Make sure to stay hydrated with electrolytes and you should be able to get those long runs in and have your race come off without a hitch.

“I often hear someone say I’m not a real runner. We are all runners, some just run faster than others. I never met a fake runner.”
-Bart Yasso

Heart Healthy Eating

Heart of fruits and vegetablesHeat Meat

Last week I had a little health scare. On Wednesday morning I went to the emergency room with chest pain. The pain was on the right side of my chest. That is a little different, but not unheard of. The hospital admitted me and kept me overnight for observation. This morning I had a Cardiolite Exercise Stress Test performed at the hospital which uses a radioactive tagged isotope dye. The stress test went well. I will see my doctor tomorrow or Wednesday for the rest of the story.

This event got me thinking about how we are eating to stay healthy. The Heart Healthy diet uses a lot of low and non-fat foods (something I am not a fan of). I am really staying on the diet just for doctor’s orders. Low and non-fat dairy are just another processed food that we should not be eating. I do not think that the intake of whole fat dairy has anything to do with coronary heart disease. Studies are showing that saturated fat in whole fat dairy and other foods are not as bad for our health as was once thought.

Eating healthy is not hard nor is it expensive. Canned or frozen fruit and vegetables are just as good for a healthy body as fresh is. Just make sure to check the labels for added ingredients in canned food. Some canned food makers like to add preservatives and other additives. The list of ingredients should be small. Frozen food seems to be better in this area since it is flash frozen with no need to add any preservatives or additives. Organic fruits and vegetables are much better for you. The only drawback is the cost. I think when stores start to carry a better variety of organic food the prices should come down.

Variety is the spice of life. Change what we eat so that the body does not become comfortable. Just like anything we do if we continue to run the same 3 miles every run the body will become accustomed to that effort. We need to change things up so the body says, Hey, what’s the deal! Beef, pork, poultry, and fish are all great. Eat fish a couple times a week. It does not need to be expensive. Frozen tilapia is just as good as fresh right out of the meat counter. Try meatless Monday once in a while just to shake things up. Breakfast does not need to be bland. Put some berries or other fruit in your cereal. Make a smoothie. The are many ways to make a delicious smoothie for breakfast. Make sure to eat vegetables of all colors. They all have different vitamins and minerals needed for a healthy body. Eat a good variety of grains such as brown rice, quinoa, oats, whole wheat, or rye.

I guess all I am trying to say is eat healthy. It takes a little planning, but it can be done. My little health scare was kind of a kick in the pants to make me think about how I eat. How does this pertain to running or other sports? A healthy diet is going to give the proper fuel to energize the body for that run or session in the gym.

One thought about the coming holidays. Eating that extra serving of turkey or stuffing just during the occasion will not do any harm to good heating habits. Enjoy this time with family and friends.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

Nutrition for weight loss or competition?


Personally, I have struggled with my weight my whole adult life. I do get that a lot of us exercise to help lose and control our weight. Do I think that we can exercise to lose weight and be competitive in a competition while eating nutritiously for both? The simple answer is, No. The body cannot do both weight loss and strength/endurance building at the same time. I am not saying that you cannot set a goal to lose weight and run the local 5k, but if you are training to win the 5k then feed your body for competition.

There are very few of us who are good at multitasking. I know I am not a good multitasker. My mind is just not made to do a variety of things at one time. It is the same way for the body of most of us. Our bodies are good at doing one task at a time. A good example is eating and exercise. The suggested time for a meal before running is 2 to 4 hours prior to hitting the pavement. It takes the stomach roughly 4 hours to empty after eating a full meal. For snacks and fluids it can take 1 to 2 hours less. When we go out for a run our bodies have to switch from the task of digestion to exercise. This means that all of the effort the body was putting forth for digestion now has to change course and support exercise. Our heart has to work to pump blood to our working muscles and lungs to support running. While this is happening blood has moved from the task of wholly supporting digestion to support energy production. There are other body processes that have to pause or slow down to support the activity of running.

Now, back to why I think eating for weight loss and being competitive is not feasible for most of us. The body is getting two separate signals if we try both at the same time. When we eat to lose weight we are taking in fewer calories per day so we can support weight loss. At the same time we need to eat to maintain our performance goals for competition. The body is getting mixed signals here. What will most likely happen if we try to maintain both tasks? The body will have to start cannibalizing muscle to support the energy needs we are demanding that it make for competitive training. At some point we will start seeing our training efforts start to decline because we are not supporting the demands of training with the needed nutrition.

So go ahead and eat to lose weight. Run that 5k next weekend and have a good time. When you think you want to run a race and get a new PR it is time to change nutrition goals to feed the body for competition.

The basics of carbohydrate loading.

Carb-loading Garfield

Carbohydrate (carb) loading is one of the big food topics in endurance sports. I see it a lot in groups that I am part of. I always see people posting pictures of what they ate the night before a race or ask questions about what is the best food for carb loading. There is a correct way to carb load that most people do not know about.

First, what is carb loading? It is used to fill the glycogen stores of the body of an endurance athlete for an event. It usually is performed 2-3 days before the event. The catch is that there needs to be a carb depletion phase 3-4 days before the loading phase takes place. This allows the body to work on limited carbs during the last week before a race so that when the loading phase takes place the body will, hopefully, store a little more glycogen than what the body normally stores. The body will only store enough glycogen for about 90 minutes of activity. The athlete needs to have started feeding the body carbohydrates in the event before the stores are empty. If not, this is what is called hitting the wall.

Why do we hit the wall? The energy source for the brain is carbohydrates in the form of glucose. If an endurance athlete is running for any time longer than 90 minutes the glycogen stores are empty. The body will try to maintain homeostasis (balance) so that the brain can have energy to continue working, but this will only last so long. About 20 to 30 minutes before the magic 90 minutes the athlete needs to intake some form of carbohydrates to keep the muscles and brain working correctly and then every 20 minutes or so until the athlete completes the event.

Back to carb loading. The athlete needs to start the depletion phase approximately 6 to 7 days before the event. This involves cutting back on carbohydrate intake to 50 to 55 percent of calorie intake. Remember to increase protein and fat intake to maintain the calories needed for energy. The body will use fat for energy since that last week before the event the athlete usually is into taper madness. Taper is cutting back on intensity and major long runs before an event. There is still running involved during he taper, but it is just to maintain the gains of training.

After the depletion phase the athlete should increase the amount of carbohydrates back up to 60 to 70 percent of the calorie intake. This happens the 3 days before the event so that the glycogen stores can be filled to capacity. A lot of athletes do not eat any big meals past lunch the day before the event. I suggest play with the timing of your carbohydrate intake to see how your body reacts. Again, remember to decrease the calorie intake of protein and fat to compensate for the increased carbohydrates.

And there you have it. Carb loading 101.

Calories or Energy?


There is a misconception when it comes to losing and maintaining weight. The saying goes “calories in, calories, out.” I think that is the wrong way to look at it. I think we should look at “energy in, energy out.” Sometimes the body requires certain nutrients at different levels. We can look at the macronutrients for examples.

There are times when the body has a greater need of protein. Strength athletes are one group that require a larger intake of protein. Why does this need exist? A strength athlete is lifting weights that will be heavier than the average person who is just lifting to maintain tone. The average strength athlete should intake 1.4-2.0 grams of protein for every kilogram of body weight. Compare this to the RDA for the general public of 0.8 grams of protein for a kilogram of body weight. The strength athlete will have muscles that are continually being repaired and strengthened so that the muscles can get larger and stronger.

Energy in, energy out is also necessary when we look at someone who has been injured. A burn victim is someone who requires a higher intake of protein. Protein intake depends on what the percentage of the body is burned. A higher percentage of burn requires a larger amount of protein intake that is needed to let the body heal and repair.

When we eat carbohydrates in the correct amounts it can be used in the body as energy. An endurance athlete will require a higher intake of carbohydrates to use as energy compared to the general public. Simple sugars can be used for immediate energy  Glucose, fructose, and sucrose (simple sugar) are found in fruit, yogurt, and milk. Complex carbohydrates (starch and fiber) are found in grains and vegetables. The average daily intake of carbohydrates for the general public is 45-65%. This is 3-6 grams per kilogram of body weight of carbohydrates for the general public and 6-10 grams per kilogram of body weight for a competitive athlete. Carbohydrate intake can be even higher for those athletes who are ultra-high competitive. Meb Keflezighi, the 2014 Boston Marathon champion, is one ultra-high competitive athlete that comes to mind..

Fat is the primary energy source when the body is at rest and during light to moderate activity. Beyond moderate activity the body will begin to use carbohydrates for energy. The average daily intake of fat in an athlete’s diet varies by sport. Endurance athletes tend to have a lower intake of fat in their diet than sprinters or strength athletes do. The daily intake of fat for the general public is 20-35 percent of the total calorie intake.

Looking at a 25 year old male who is sedentary, with a height of 70 inches, and a body weight of 170 pounds will need 2313 calories per day for energy to maintain his current body weight. If this 25 year old decided to start becoming active his energy needs would have to be increased to 3084 calories per day. If he was beginning an endurance sport his calorie intake of carbohydrates and protein would need to be increased. He would need a higher level of carbohydrates to increase his energy needs for running at higher intensities. If he was beginning a strength routine his carbohydrate and protein intake would need to increase, but the levels of protein would need to be higher to help with increased muscle mass and strength.

Daily energy needs depend on our daily energy expenditures. Counting calories is not necessary. If the energy we intake is measured in the correct daily amounts we can lose weight, maintain our current weight, or meet the needs for activities we pursue in a daily lives.


Fink, H., & Mikesky, A. (2015). Practical applications in sports nutrition (4th ed.). Burlington, MA: Jones and Bartlett.

Sugar – Friend or Foe?

I do not think the body gets any beneficial nutrients from sugar. Too much or when the body does not need to store glycogen just gets converted into fat and stored in places that we do not like. I do prefer using honey over sugar since honey does contain other benefits that sugar does not. Sugar is a useless ingredient that can be replaced.

The only plus side of using sugar I see is before exercise. Other than for exercise there is not any use for sugar. Sugar is broken down into glucose and fructose. Glucose is found in every cell in the body. If we are not taking in enough glucose the body will manufacture it for use. Fructose is not used in the body for any physiological reason and it is not produced by the body to any great degree. Fructose is only metabolized by the liver and is not a problem when eaten in small amounts in fruit that we eat. Once the liver is at capacity for glycogen storage the fructose we eat is converted into fat.

One problem I see with fructose is the use of High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) in food and beverages. I will use a 12 ounce Classic Coca Cola as an example from the nutrition information from the Classic Cola web site. The calories for this 12 ounces of Classic Coca Cola are 140 calories. The sweet beverage has no fat or protein. It contains 39 grams of carbohydrates with all 39 grams being sugar in the form of HFCS. The body is either going to use the HFCS immediately as energy or convert it to fat. Sugar would at least be able to be broken down and used in other cells in the body. Not that 39 grams of sugar would be that beneficial to our bodies either.

There is really no nutritional value to sugar in the food we eat. I prefer honey since it does contain other beneficial nutrients that the body can use. Yes, honey is sugar and about 40 percent is in the form of fructose. Some studies have shown that honey can be beneficial (1). The other benefits are the trace amount of vitamins and minerals as well as antioxidants. I think it is best to get unrefined honey over the store brands. Store brands are honey, but the bees need to produce so much honey in their hives they are fed a sugary mix for food. My wife has a friend, Michael Jordan, who owns A “Bee Friendly” Company with a wealth of information on bees and honey on his Facebook site. It is best if you can find a good company that produces honey with bee that forage off of the land. Depending on what the bees use for food, clover, buckwheat, lavender, hollyhocks, and a huge list of other plants, honey will have different flavors.

So, is sugar really beneficial? Not really. I think it best to pass on foods and beverages that contain sugar. Use honey if you want the sweet taste and make it unrefined honey.