As a sports nutritionist, the number-one question I'm asked is how to properly fuel for a run and still lose weight. Many people turn to running when they want to drop a few pounds, but instead of losing weight they end up gaining. What gives? Every runner knows that their favorite sport requires proper fueling. Running without enough food in your body is not only torturous, but it will also seriously decrease your performance, you'll burn fewer calories, and then your weight-loss goals are out the window.
It's quite the conundrum, but don't hang up those running sneaks just yet. Try these tips to fuel your run while still burning enough calories to lose weight.
1. Consider the length of your run. Before you pick up that bagel, consider how long you'll be out on the pavement. If you've eaten within the last two or three hours and you plan on running for 20 to 30 minutes, you actually don't need much extra fuel. But if you're feeling absolutely famished and just need a little extra push to get out the door, grab a piece of fruit. For longer runs, wear a fitness tracker to get a sense of how many calories you actually burn. Sadly, it's not always as many as you think. A 150-pound person would have to run for 50 minutes (at 10 miles/hour) to burn 500 calories—the same amount in your average bagel.
2. Know when you need a sports drink. Sugary drinks are the downfall of every dieter. While sport drinks are often necessary for long-distance runners, since they replace water and electrolytes lost from sweat, they're packed with sugar and calories. So, they key is knowing that sports drinks are unnecessary for any run lasting less than 60 minutes. After an hour, drink one that's diluted with water, or try a lower-calorie option, like G2, to fuel your run without going crazy on sugar.
3. Choose whole grains. While white, starchy grains are low in fiber and won't cause stomach distress, they are also problematic for dieting (even for a runner). White refined starches lack many nutrients aside from carbohydrates, making it easy to overeat. Opt for whole grains as pre-run fuel instead—they're higher in fiber and protein to keep you feeling full and energized during your run. (Find out what to eat before a race.)
4. Plan ahead. A common downfall for dieting is not having a plan, especially for runners. Without thinking about your meals ahead of time, it's very easy to find yourself in a situation where you over- or undereat before a run, meaning a less-than-perfect performance. To lose weight, you must have a plan that includes a great pre-run fueling meal, made up of complex carbs (vegetables, whole grains) and protein. You'll also want a small snack of simple carbs, like a piece of fruit, an hour before a run. Having a plan in place prevents you from getting off track and picking up the first piece of junk food that you see. (Find out what foods to eat before and after a workout.)
5. Recover properly. The recovery meal is just as important for your weight-loss goals as the pre-run fuel. After a run, you should eat a meal that is about half carbs and half protein. The carbs replace lost carb stores and the protein helps to repair worn-down muscles. Both of these nutrients will help you recover more quickly, so that you'll have fuel for tomorrow's run. Maintaining an exercise routine is a large part of weight loss, so it's imperative that you eat a good recovery meal to help you feel better for the next day. (Check how to manage your post-workout cravings.)