The Runners Diet

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This is not a quick fix, easy to follow diet. If losing weight was easy, there would be few overweight people. The reality is that there are no quick, easy ways to Lose 10Lb in Three Days that work. The following diet advice is the amalgamation of the many diet books and research that I've read and tried over the years.

1 General Principles

  • Count the Cost. Losing weight is hard and keeping the weight off can be even harder in the long run. It's important to understand the emotional costs involved in losing weight, as it requires self-deprivation. For most people, losing weight means going hungry and fighting the craving for some foods. It means long term changes in lifestyle, which takes commitment and tenacity.
  • Check your goals. Excess body fat will impair performance, but too little body fat can be worse than too much. Too little body fat will impair performance. The guidelines are a minimum of 5% for men and 16% for women, but accurate measurement reduces the usefulness of these numbers. A rule of thumb is that if you are plenty of energy and are free from infection you probably have enough body fat.
  • Go slow. Trying to lose weight too quickly is likely to result in a loss of muscle mass, as well as impaired training due to low energy levels. Aim to cut your calorie intake so you are losing about a pound a week.
  • Measure and record. Measuring your progress is a valuable motivator, and a way of checking if your approach is working. It is better to Measure Body Fat as well as body weight, as the goal is to lose fat, not muscle. There is advice to only weigh yourself once a week, as the day to day changes are small and they can be disheartening. However, my experience as a runner my weight will vary due to hydration and Glycogen storage, especially when running longer distances or in the summer. I therefore weigh myself each day, but I look at the trend over a longer period of time. Losing or gaining a couple of pounds from one day to the next does not mean anything; what matters is this week’s average compared with last week’s average.
  • Food Diary. Keeping a diary of what you eat is a lot of hassle. There are web sites that make it easier to track your intake, but it's still a significant effort. You still have to read packages and for home cooked food, you have to do a lot of measuring and you have to record it all. However, the benefits of a food diary justify the effort, even if you only do it for a few days. Unless you know where your calories are coming from, it’s incredibly hard to adjust your intake. A food diary can also reveal any hidden 'calorie bombs', like that luxury coffee with 700 Calories.
  • Food as an addiction. The end of overeating shows how some foods are addictive. These are the foods that create cravings and lead to overeating. For instance, I struggle with ice cream particularly, though there is a long list of foods that I will overeat. Approaching these foods as you would an addition seems to work better than other approaches I’ve tried. Using a modified 12 Step Program may help.

2 General Advice

  • Banned Foods. These are the foods that you will overeat, which means they are also the foods you enjoy most. The addictive quality of these foods means you have to ban them totally, which is hard. Here is the list of foods I have to ban – your list may be different. For instance, burgers are no on my list because I don’t like them much. I have to ban Ice Cream, Candy, Cake, Soda (diet and regular – see below), Cookies and Chinese Food.
  • Pre-race eating. Many of the foods I have to bad I will indulge in the night before a race, and occasionally directly afterward. This does not seem to cause me to 'fall of the wagon', probably because my psychological state is so different. Though I indulge in foods I love before a race, the pleasure is reduced by the tension, so they don’t create an ongoing craving.
  • Smaller Servings on Smaller Plates. It has been shown that people eat more when given larger portions. If you want to eat more after finishing a smaller portion, there is a conscious decision, which gives an opportunity for your brain to get involved in your eating habits.
  • Pause between helpings. Food takes time to digest, and if you’re hungry, the hunger will persist even after you’ve eaten something due to this lag. After you’ve eaten, wait for 15 minutes before getting something else. Without this gap, you are more likely to overeat. The lag between eating and feeling satiation is particularly long with high fat foods, as fat takes longer to digest. This slow digestion tends to lead to high fat foods being more satisfying, but easier to overeat if there is not a conscious pause between (small) helpings.
  • Exercise. You’re a runner, so you should be getting plenty of exercise. Reducing your calorie intake will make running a lot harder and can make you feel sluggish and tired. Running long distance is not as critical to Weight Loss as you might think. To burn off a pound of fat, you’d have to run 35 miles and not adjust your calorie intake at all. That last bit is hard, as generally your appetite goes up with the extra exercise. The key role of exercise in losing weight is not so much the calories burned, but the increase in insulin sensitivity. With improved insulin sensitivity, your food is more likely to become Glycogen and muscle than turned to fat.
  • Don’t Starve. Avoiding eating until you are desperately hungry is more likely to cause weight gain than Weight Loss.
    • Eat Breakfast. Studies have consistently shown that eating breakfast helps with weight control. Skipping breakfast leads to overeating later in the day, increasing your overall calorie intake.
  • Drink before eating. There is evidence[1] that drinking 16 oz of water before you eat will help with weight reduction. As long as you don’t overdo it, this seems to be a low effort addition to Weight Loss.

3 Food Types

3.1 Carbohydrates

  • Avoid Sugar (most of the time). Sugar is calorie dense but nutritionally poor, as is High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS). Sugar is okay during or following exercise, as noted in Nutrient Timing. This avoidance does not apply to the sugar in milk (Lactose), as it is slow to digest and does not contain Fructose. There are significant health concerns[2] around the Fructose in sugar and HFCS.
  • Limit Artificial Sweeteners. Given a choice between a regular soda and a diet soda, the diet soda is generally less bad. However, there is evidence[3] that artificial sweeteners can confuse the body’s internal gauge of calories consumed. This can lead to increased hunger and overeating. They can also damage the good bacteria in your gut and may cause cancer.
  • Cut out high GI foods. The Glycemic Index (GI) is a measure of how fast a food raises your blood sugar. Obviously sugar has a high GI, but so do most bread and many other carbohydrate rich foods. Whole grain breads do not have much lower GI than white bread, as the flour is grown so fine that the Fiber does not slow digestion. See Carbohydrates and Glycemic Index for more details. Also check out and
  • Sufficient Carbohydrate. Ultra-low carbohydrate diets (Atkins, etc.) are slipping in popularity, but there is evidence that they work as well, if not slightly better than other diets in the short term. It is possible to exercise at moderate intensity on an ultra-low carbohydrate diet, but the lack of carbohydrate will impair performance and training intensity. The key seems to be in getting the carbohydrate from low Glycemic Index foods. Following Nutrient Timing reduces the issue somewhat, as you will be taking in plenty of carbohydrate during and immediately following exercise. This will lead to improved Glycogen levels.


3.2 Fats

  • Cut out all trans-fats. Trans-fats are bad for your health, so cut them out totally, even if you’re not trying to lose weight. The labels on food will show the level of trans-fats, but levels below 1g per serving will be shown as 0g. To double check that there are no trans-fats, avoid any food with the words 'partially hydrogenated' in the ingredients. (Fully hydrogenated is not toxic - that’s making saturated fat out of unsaturated fat.)
  • Limit saturated fats. Your body has plenty of saturated fat (it’s what you’re trying to lose) so limit your intake, as this is empty calories.
  • Boost Omega-3, limit Omega-6. Omega 3 oil is vital to life, and most people don’t get enough. Omega-6 is also vital to life, but it’s far too easy to get far too much of it. The balance of Omega-3 to Omega-6 is believed to be important to overall health. The best sources of Omega-3 are fish oil or flax seed oil. I take a tablespoon of flax seed oil blended in with my Protein drink, as well as a fish oil supplement. Increased Omega-3 intake has been linked to a vast array of health benefits. Most oils and foods are high in Omega-6 and low in Omega-3, which makes this advice tough to follow.

3.3 Protein

  • Boost Protein. Extra Protein is good for a runner, but meat is generally high in saturated fat, which you want to avoid. Chicken is okay occasionally, and skimmed milk works well. Oily fish is great, especially sardines. However, my main source of Protein is in powder form. I use three two types of Protein powder:
    • Optimum Nutrition 100% Whey. This is a high quality Protein that I mix with Gatorade to drink when running. It mixes easily (just shake) and stays mixed quite well over time. I use Vanilla flavor, which goes well with Gatorade and gives it a creamy taste and texture that I like. It’s one of the cheaper 'quality' whey Protein powders, but still pricey.
    • Optimum Nutrition 100% Casein. Casein Protein is slower to digest than whey, so it keeps you feeling full longer than whey and it ideal just before bed time to help with recovery. It’s also the most expensive of the powders I buy, but worth it if you can afford it.
    • Cheap Whey. I buy EAS Protein powder from Sam’s club as the cheapest source I can find. It requires a blender to mix and the taste is not great, but it’s cheap. I use this for after my runs and mixed with some Casein during the day. UPDATE: Due to Protein Powder Contamination I no longer use EAS protein and only consume the Optimum Nutrition products.

3.4 Fiber

Main article: Fiber

  • Fiber is good. Fiber is important for digestive health, and for weight control. Fiber helps keep you feeling full for longer and few people get sufficient Fiber. Raising your Fiber intake too quickly can cause digestive distress and gas, so build up over time.

4 Specific Foods

  • Salads Salad is the classic weight lose food for a good reason. Like apples, a salad is filling, low GI, high Fiber and slow to eat. You have to find a low calorie dressing that you like; I go for a fat free 1000 island or ranch, though vinaigrette made with flax would be better. You also have to find salad items you like; a big bowl of lettuce is not much fun. For instance, the salad I’m eating as I write this contains lettuce, cucumber (lots), tomatoes, spring onions (scallions), celery, cauliflower, olives, beets, sweet corn, finely chopped dill, a little grilled chicken, a few walnuts, a chopped hard-boiled egg with dressing and extra salt.
    • Salad for Breakfast. Consider a salad for breakfast. It seems strange (or it did to me), but it works remarkably well.
  • Cut out Soda. This is implied by the ‘cut out sugar’, but it’s worth restating for emphasis. Most fruit juices are not much better than soda – sugar + water + flavor.
  • Add some yogurt. A little yogurt can help keep your digestive system happy and there is some evidence it will boost the immune system. I mix a little plain yogurt in my protein drink.
  • Lots of Apples. Apples have consistently helped me lose weight. They are filling, low GI, high Fiber and slow to eat. You need to eat apples, not apple juice or apple sauce.

5 Micronutrients and Supplements

Most of these items will not help with Weight Loss, but may help with overall health and performance.

  • Multivitamin. I'd like to be able to get all of my vitamins and minerals from my food, which is the best source. However, modern food production methods mean that food is not as nutritious as it could be. Issues such as the Selenium depletion in the soil leading to Selenium deficiency which is linked to higher cancer rates are disturbing. I therefore take a good multivitamin & mineral. The quality of a supplement is important in two ways. Firstly, there are concerns that some supplements do not contain the stated amounts, so go for a supplement that has external verification such as USP[4] or similar[5]. The second issue is that cheaper supplements contain minerals in forms that are not easily absorbed by the body, making them useless. Supplements with minerals in the Oxide form (e.g. Magnesium Oxide) should be avoided. An amino acid chelate is a good option for minerals. I take Nature’s Plus Source Of Life[6].
  • Vitamin C. There is a lot of controversy over vitamin C supplementation. My reading[7]. leads me to believe that humans benefit from large quantities of vitamin C. The rationale is that Vitamin C is produced by virtually all mammals at quantities far higher than our typical intake. I normally take 1,000mg of vitamin C divided into two doses. Vitamin C can produce digestive upsets, so if you decide to take extra Vitamin C, build up your intake over time.
  • Magnesium. I think that runners should increase their Magnesium[8] intake through supplementation. We sweat out more Magnesium than sedentary individuals, and Magnesium is critical for performance. Magnesium has also dramatically improved my migraines, and I've been told of similar success by others migraine suffers that have tried it. It is critical that you take the right form of Magnesium. As noted above, different types of minerals like Magnesium are hard to absorb in some forms. Magnesium Oxide is so hard to absorb, it is used to flush out the digestive system. The best form of Magnesium is Magnesium Orotate. See Magnesium.
  • Organic Food. I'd like to eat more organic food than I do, but it is often cost prohibitive or unavailable. Trying to buy organic alternatives to foods that contain the highest levels of pesticides and herbicides offers the best value for money. The dirty dozen[9] shows the foods that are best to avoid and where you should look to get organic. The list includes Apples, Celery, Spinach and Lettuce, all of which are important foods when losing weight.

6 Recommended Books

7 References

  1. Adding science to years of anecdotal claims, scientists find that dieters who drink two cups of water before meals lose more weight.
  2. The bitter truth about fructose alarmism
  3. Artificial Sweetener May Disrupt Body's Ability To Count Calories, According To New Study
  4. The USP Dietary Supplement Verification Program
  5. The Art and Science of Quality
  6. Source of Life® Adult's Chewable
  7. Vitamin C
  8. Magnesium
  9. The dirty dozen