Can Runners Eat Whatever They Want?

Last week, I read an article in the WSJ called Why Runners Can’t Eat Whatever They Want.

Total clickbait, and I fell for it hook, line and sinker and clicked right through. I’ve been thinking about the relationship between running, food and weight loss/maintenance lately, so it was a timely read for me.

I really like to eat (and, let’s be real, drink wine), so long distance running really appealed to me. I started my whole weight-loss adventure on kind of Paleo-lite, and started training for my first marathon shortly thereafter. While I NEVER counted calories, I went from being fairly strict with my diet to “okay, I can eat mostly healthy but can have a lot more carbs.”

I tried to stay away from obviously unhealthy foods like fried food and really rich and creamy food—and mostly white foods—but anything else, so long as it didn’t upset my jerk of a stomach was basically fine by me.

This is also around the time I stopped blogging about all of my meals. (Which, thank god on that.)

Like I said, I’ve never counted calories, so I never thought: I run 6 miles a day, I can eat 600 calories of ___. But I definitely loosely correlated: I’m running a lot, I can eat more. And it basically worked. I mostly maintained my weight. Any weight gain has been during periods of less running.

Dave McGiliivray

But Dave McGillivray, Boston Marathon race director (whom I met in October!), was recently diagnosed with coronary artery disease and a study in Missouri Medicine showed men who ran at least one marathon a year, for 25 years, had higher incidences of coronary disease than those who hadn’t. Amby Burfoot, editor-at-large of RW, also found out he had high coronary calcium, a condition probably similar to McGillivray’s.

My sensitive stomach is usually pretty self-regulating with my diet – I feel awful if I have really rich food, so I usually stay away from it – but I try not to go too crazy post-race.

So while I think we all know deep down that no matter how much you run, you can’t outrun the negative effects of a poor diet, it’s still pretty easy to convince yourself you can, and I think all runners are probably guilty of this sometimes.

What about you? Do you feel running gives you a pass on what you eat sometimes? …and what’s your favorite post-race treat?

16 comments on “Can Runners Eat Whatever They Want?

  1. Becky @ Olives n Wine

    I typically fall into that mentality and end up gaining weight when I’m training for a race! Like you said, a long run won’t counteract a huge donut, a burger and a margarita post-race 😉 My favorite post-race treat is most definitely a huge plate of pasta! I know I’m supposed to carboload the night before but my body craves it afterwards too!

  2. Cheri @ Overactive Blogger

    I try not to think of running in those terms – because I used to weight a bit more than I did more, sometimes the thought of gaining back any weight that I’ve lost sometimes scares me. So typically, I won’t use it as a pass, but sometimes, I’ve found that I don’t eat enough when I’m really racing and stuff, and down around my last marathon, I kinda got a little scary. I definitely need to work to find a balance, that’s for sure!

  3. Shauna

    I always have a hard time controlling my weight during periods of heavier training. The workouts not only help me justify my treat foods (mostly pizza) but they practically demand it! When I want to lose weight, I stick to barre class (The Dailey Method) and cut out all the carbs that endurance cardio requires.

  4. meredith @ The Cookie ChRUNicles

    Here’s what I think – running makes us hungrier. Without any doubt. And, if we feed our hunger for the most part with nutrient-dense foods, we aren’t going to see weight gain. However, if every time we are hungry we overindulge, no amount of miles are going to save us from the battle of the bulge. I love desserts but don’t eat rich cakes and ice creams every day. It’s more like once or twice a week. I live on peanut butter which I think running allows me to enjoy more than most people but even for me, running 40 miles a week, one has to pay some attention to the food they are using for fuel.

  5. Sharon

    So Inspiring! I just started on my ACV journey 3 days ago, my body has never been healthier and it literally cleared my colon, I feel so much lighter! This blog here is helping me lose weight:

  6. elizabeth e

    this is something that i’m pretty conscious of, as i start training for my first “long” race – a half marathon. i’ve heard a lot of stories about people gaining weight while training, and i want to be on top of that. like you, i have stomach issues that preclude me from eating lots of super tasty foods, so maybe that will balance it out?

  7. Valerie

    I think you’re pretty much spot on. I lost 15 lbs when we were training for the marathon, so I was definitely unusual in that most people (I have heard) don’t lose weight when marathon training. But I was burning a lot of extra calories and while I wasn’t really tracking or limiting myself with food, I flat out couldn’t eat anything that messed with my stomach (fried, creamy, rich, etc) because it made training miserable! No one wants to feel like they’re going to puke in the middle of a run. 🙂

  8. Kate

    Loved this post! As a runner I definitely have to balance the “I just ran X number of miles so I can eat the entire kitchen” with wanting to be healthy (and maybe not eating the contents of the fridge in one go). That’s not to say I don’t indulge in more fro-yo than is entirely necessary…it’s my kryptonite!

  9. Ange @ Cowgirl Runs

    I definitely have allowed myself more treats when training for a race. I’ve gained some weight over the past year (especially this winter) so I’m focusing more on eating better foods and fewer treats (including wine. Wah!) so hopefully this will help get rid of some of the extra pounds.
    I also do a paleo-lite diet with focus on more carbs, but I’ve been eating WAY too much sugar lately.

  10. Ashley

    I ALWAYS gain weight when I’m training — never fails. We’re only talking 3-5 lbs, but on a 5′ frame that is enough to make my pants uncomfortable… running PEAKS my hunger, so the more I run, the more I eat, for sure.

  11. Kristina

    A few months ago I read the book “Racing Weight” by Matt Fitzgerald which was a pretty fascinating read. He’s a big proponent of quality of foods rather than focusing on quantity or counting calories. I’ve found that the more food I cook/prep at home, then the better the overall quality is, even if I’m using butter and bacon fat when I cook.

  12. Erin @ Girl Gone Veggie

    What I was wondering from that study is if it’s not so much the food you eat that gives you the heart disease but the long miles over long spans of time. It sounded like they were implying that long distance running for years and years of your life wears on your heart. I really hope they do more research.

  13. Nicole

    When I trained for my first marathon, I felt like I needed to eat huge quantities of carbs. I’d finish a 10+ mile training run and I’d then eat a Tombstone pizza (gross!).
    It amazes me that when I ran marathons, I was 25-30+ lbs. heavier than I am now. I probably would’ve been in amazing shape if I would’ve figured out better nutrition back in the day.

  14. Chris @

    Yep, eating whatever you want is one of the biggest misconceptions about running. I’ve always struggled with training for a long race and weight loss at the same time. Right now, I’m a push to lose some extra weight and just backed out of a half marathon. I had to be honest with myself – balancing two goals at the same time is tough. For me, eventually something would have to give. There’s always that temptation to do more and go beyond just one goal.

    Good post and happy to see others with a similar mindset.


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