Okay, I know what you’re thinking. “Marion, you promised us posts on running, and now you’re talking diet and sugar? You’re a filthy liar.”
Remember what we started out to accomplish. We don’t want to learn how to run, we want to learn how to love to run. If you’re eating a poor diet, your body will have poor fuel to burn. The runs will be miserable, and you won’t love running.
So last time we talked diet, this time we need to talk about sugar. Sugar give us energy. Energy is good. But processed sugars (corn syrup, cane sugar, sugar, and a bunch of other names) is just not good. Even when you’re running (most of the time).
The American Heart Association says we’re supposed to have about 35 grams of sugar a day for men, about 25 for women. This is incredibly easy to do. Let’s say you start out your day with some pancakes. You put a little bit of syrup on your pancakes. Bam. 40 grams of sugar. You’re done for the day.
Drink a large soda? You’re done. Candy bar? You’re done. Eat a healthy granola bar? Half way there. Put a little bit of BBQ sauce on your ribs? Half way there.
Sugar is EVERYWHERE. And it’s highly addictive. If you want to completely eliminate sugar, you’ll have to stop eating bread, ketchup, cereals . . . really, a lot of stuff.
But wait, we’re running, right? So sugar is good for us? To give us energy? Well . . . no. In fact, if you eat sugar before a race, you’ll likely do worse. Sugar won’t give you the sustained energy that you need to run. You need your body to be burning fat, not sugar.
I followed the 2-week program suggested by Phil Maffetone. I basically ate an Atkins diet. No sugar (including fruit and milk), no bread, grains, etc. Just eggs and meat. I lost ten pounds, and went through withdrawal because I had no sugar. I learned two things:
1: Yes, you can get tired of bacon and steak.
2: I was severely addicted to sugar.
At the end of the two weeks, I did feel better. And I’d eaten as much as I wanted, and had dropped about ten pounds. However, for me, eating that way was not sustainable. I needed a balance.
So, this is what I now do. I have cut out all sweet things from my diet. No cake, no cookies, no sweet granola bars. Nothing sweet. Every once in a while I’ll have a treat, but usually it’s about once a week.
This way I hit the 30 grams of processed sugar without having to drastically change my diet. I might have a bowl of Corn Chex for breakfast. 3 grams of sugar. I’ll put ketchup on my hamburger. 4 grams. A slice of bread with dinner. 3 grams. By the end of the day, I’ve probably nickled and dimed my way to 30 grams. The benefit, is I don’t have to stick to some strange diet with a lot of restrictions. I eat regularly, just without any dessert.
One thing to remember, and this is a bit of good news . . . the 30 grams of sugar is processed sugar. This doesn’t count the sugars in fruit or milk. A yogurt in the morning is over 35 grams of sugar, but some of that comes from the sugars in the milk, and the sugars in the fruit. Unfortunately, in the US, companies aren’t forced to say how much of the sugars from from non-processed sources. Because of this, I don’t eat things like jams or sweetened yogurt, just because I don’t know how much is processed.
Okay, last bit before we end. I’ve said your body doesn’t need the sugar when you go running. It’s very efficient and can pull energy from your muscle and fat. However, there is a point when it runs out of energy there, and you’ll “bonk,” also called hitting the wall. To prevent this, you can and should take sugar. This is what the energy gels are for. However, usually your body can go for 60-90 minutes without needing sugar. So, if you’re planning on running longer, take some sugar. Otherwise, skip it.
I’ll admit, I miss eating sweets. But once you get past the withdrawal stage, it’s not very hard. I feel like I have more energy when I go for a run, and I certainly do not miss the sugar-high crash.
Up Next: Variance and Frustration