Category: Nutrition

Do I have a “bad” diet

By Matt Fitzgerald|

If you ate better, would you run better? Nutrition and diet can make a significant impact on athletic performance. However, there are exceptions–there are plenty of examples of runners who perform well, despite a poor diet.

Consider the case of Anthony “Fam” Famiglietti, who is currently one of the better middle-distance runners in America. Fam is a 2004 Olympian and three-time national champion who had his best year in 2006, improving his personal best times in three events. His diet is also very unhealthy. In an interview on the New York Road Runners website, Famiglietti described his diet as “all junk”. A segment about his eating habits entitled “Worst Diet Ever” is included in Fam’s self-produced DVD Run Like Hell .

The notion that Famiglietti might run even better if he changed his diet is not plausible. Thus, he is living proof that at least some runners can reach the highest level of the sport without eating by the book, or anything close to by the book.

However, every runner can’t get away with every bad nutrition habit. For most runners, a large variety of common nutrition errors result in consequences ranging from weight gain to injuries to poor performance. In other words, forgetting about Anthony Famiglietti, you might very well run better if you eat better.

In consideration of exceptional cases like that of Anthony Famiglietti and the more common cases of runners whose poor diets hold them back, my dietary advice to runners is this: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. And if it is broke, fix it.

That is to say, if you are happy with your performance in workouts and races, your body weight, composition and your overall health, then continue to eat the way you’re eating (unless you feel like improving your diet just for kicks). But if you are experiencing any kind of problem with your running that may have a dietary cause, then do your best to identify and address the cause.

Applying my dietary advice for runners is a two-step process. Step one is monitoring. Step two is fixing.

There are three types of monitoring you can do to help determine whether something “broke” needs fixing. The first is maintaining a detailed training log. Recording the details of your workouts will enable you to objectively assess your fitness level and your body’s response to training. If your workout performances stagnate or decline without any apparent training-related cause (such as increasing your workload too quickly), then there could be a dietary issue at the root of it.

A second type of monitoring you should do is regular body composition assessment. Buy a body-fat scale that uses bioelectrical impedance to estimate body-fat percentage. These devices work just like bathroom scales (you step on them and get an instant readout), and they also measure body-weight. They don’t cost any more than regular body-weight scales, and they are widely available at department stores, pharmacies and sporting goods stores.

Use one of these devices to measure your body-weight and body-fat percentage once a week. Look out for any increase in body-fat percentage, whether it’s coupled with body-weight gain, steady body-weight or even body-fat loss.

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Running and Rusting

By Peter Pfitzinger |

You head out the door for an eight-mile run. Right from the start, your energy level is down, and your legs feel heavy. After 2 miles of uncharacteristic drudgery, you stop-then jog and walk home.

What’s the problem? Could be low iron. Iron is vital to running performance. Despite this importance, many runners do not monitor their body’s iron levels. Even many physicians do not understand the complete role of iron for endurance athletes.

To find out the latest on iron and running, the Pfitzinger lab report talked with two experts in the field, Dr. E. Randy Eichner, Chief of Hematology at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, and David Martin, Ph.D., of the Department of Cardiopulmonary Science at Georgia State University. Dr. Eichner has worked with distance runners and other athletes for over 15 years, and Dr. Martin has been Physiology Chair in charge of testing elite distance runners for USA Track and Field since 1981.

Why do runners need iron?

Iron is necessary for production of hemoglobin in your red blood cells. Hemoglobin carries oxygen from the lungs to the muscles. If your hemoglobin level is low, less oxygen reaches your muscles, and your VO2 max and racing performances suffer. In addition, iron is a component of many other substances in the body, such as enzymes in your muscle cells for aerobic energy production.

With iron deficiency anemia, your iron stores are gone, and your hemoglobin level is reduced. With iron depletion, on the other hand, your iron stores are low but not gone, and your hemoglobin is still normal.

Why do runners tend to have lower iron levels?

Runners tend to have lower iron levels than sedentary folks due to the following factors: increased blood volume, low iron intake, foot strike hemolysis, iron loss through sweat and urine, and iron loss through the gastrointestinal (GI) system. Let’s look at each of these factors.

#1: Endurance athletes have more blood than normal people-which allows the stroke volume of the heart to increase-which allows VO2 max to increase. This is a good thing. The iron in a runner’s red blood cells, therefore, is diluted in a greater volume of blood. If the runner’s red blood cell mass does not increase as much as the blood volume, then hemoglobin concentration will decrease, and may incorrectly indicate an iron deficiency.

#2: Many endurance athletes have low iron intakes. Low iron intake is a problem for vegetarians, and for those runners who eat red meat less than once per week. The typical high carbohydrate, low fat, low cholesterol runner’s diet often includes little or no red meat. Red meat contains heme iron, which is more easily absorbed than plant sources of iron.

#3: Foot strike hemolysis is the breakdown of red blood cells when the foot hits the ground. While foot strike hemolysis is not a big problem for most runners, if you are larger than average or run high mileage on asphalt, it could be a factor for you.

#4: A relatively small amount of iron is lost through sweat and urine, but for high mileage runners training in hot, humid conditions, this iron loss may add up. More research is needed to determine the magnitude of this problem.

#5: Loss of iron through the GI tract (primarily the stomach or large intestine) is a problem for some athletes. In a recent study following 11 runners over a competitive season, GI bleeding was evident in 17 of 129 stool samples after training, and in 16 of 61 stool samples after racing. The bleeding is fairly minor each time, but there may be a cumulative effect over years of running.

So, the cards are stacked against runners in terms of iron. We tend to take in less, and lose more, than our sedentary peers. The highest risk occurs in pre-menopausal women runners, whose iron intake often does not meet their needs.

How do you know if you have low iron?

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Fat Facts

Image: m_bartosch / FreeDigitalPhotos.netBy Peter Pfitzinger |

Burn fat. Lose fat. Fat free. Fat-related messages bombard us constantly. Yet, much of what is written about fat metabolism is hogwash. There is a lot of misinformation circulating about how our bodies store and lose fat, and when our muscles use fat to produce energy. Two concepts that are often confused are: 1) the role of fat as a fuel during exercise; and 2) how to reduce body fat. Most RT readers shouldn’t be concerned with reducing their already low body fat levels, but distance running performance will benefit from training your muscles to use more fat, thereby sparing your carbohydrate stores. Let’s try to clarify these issues.

Fat’s Role as a Fuel During Running

How much fat your muscles use for fuel during a run depends on the following factors: your training history, the proportion of slow twitch fibers in your muscles, how hard and how far you are running, and how long it has been since you ate a carbohydrate-rich meal. When you run, your muscles use carbohydrates, fats, and a small amount of protein as fuel. Endurance training allows your muscles to use more fat at a given pace. Aerobic training stimulates the following adaptations in the muscles to use more fat: 1) more capillaries to bring oxygen to the individual muscle fibers; 2) more myoglobin to carry oxygen through the muscle fibers to the mitochondria; and 3) more and bigger mitochondria to produce energy aerobically.

Endurance training also increases your muscles’ enzymes for fat metabolism and reduces the enzymes that break down carbohydrates. As a result, you use your glycogen (carbohydrate) stores more slowly, so you can run farther at a given pace before having to slow down due to glycogen depletion. That is a major reason why “the wall” moves closer to the finish line and eventually crumbles if you put in the correct marathon training. Genetics also affects your ability to use fat for energy when you run. The more slow twitch muscle fibers you have, the more fat you can use. That’s because slow twitch muscle fibers have more capillaries, myoglobin, mitochondria, and fat burning enzymes than do fast twitch fibers.

Fat Use vs. Running Speed and Distance

The faster you run, the more carbs you use relative to fat. As your effort increases from sitting to walking to jogging to fast running, you use proportionately less fat and more carbohydrate. During a long run, however, your muscles gradually use fewer carbs and more fat. This is a protective mechanism that helps to prevent glycogen depletion. Your maximal oxygen consumption (VO2 max) is a limiting factor in your running performance. Fats yield 15% less energy than carbs for each liter of oxygen used. Because fats use oxygen less efficiently than carbs, you cannot run as fast burning just fats. That is one of the reasons why it is important to prevent glycogen depletion. If our ancestors ran out of glycogen, they were eaten by sabre-toothed tigers-we just end up jogging to the finish line.

How much fat you burn during running can also be affected by how long it has been since you ate carbohydrates. If you eat carbs during the 90 minutes before you run (particularly foods with a high glycemic index), your body will tend to use less fat and more carbs during the run. This occurs because insulin is released in response to eating carbohydrates, which reduces the mobilization of fatty acids, which reduces your muscles’ ability to use fat for fuel.

The Fat Burning Zone Myth

So far, we have seen how the body uses fat for fuel. Now let’s take a look at the myth of the “fat burning zone.” During the 1980’s, the notion spread that in order to lose fat you must exercise at low intensity. Unfortunately, this misunderstanding of the scientific literature is still widely preached in health clubs. Many aerobic instructors have their clients exercise gently to stay in their “fat burning zone.” Some runners even run slowly in the belief that low intensity exercise is the most effective way to reduce their body fat levels.

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If you want to win more races, lose some weight!

By: Frank Horwill | Peak Performance

The late Dr George Sheehan, a prolific and highly regarded writer on distance running, considered that weight relative to height was THE key factor in distance running success. He was also on record as saying: ‘I’ve long since learned never to discuss a man’s politics, religion or diet with him’.

The subject of adjusting weight to improve performance is a touchy one. When an article on this appeared in a sports journal it brought an indignant reply from a nutritionist: ‘It is dangerous to be signifcantly underweight for one’s height’. It is also extremely dangerous to be overweight for one’s height, a point that seemed irrelevant to her.

No man six feet tall and weighing 176lbs (79.8kg) will ever win the London Marathon, and it is unlikely that a woman five feet six inches in height and weighing 130lbs (58.9kg) will ever do so either. Why? To answer this we must consult Dr Stillman’s height/weight ratio table. He fixes the non-active man’s average weight for height with a simple formula. He allocates 110lbs (56.2kg) for the first five feet (1.524m) in height and 5 1/2lbs (2.296kg) for every inch (0.025m) thereafter. He is harsher with women, giving them 100lbs (45.3kg) for the first five feet and 5lbs (2.268kg) for every inch above this.

The subject of adjusting weight to improve performance is a touchy one. When an article on this appeared in a sports journal it brought an indignant reply from a nutritionist: ‘It is dangerous to be signifcantly underweight for one’s height’. It is also extremely dangerous to be overweight for one’s height, a point that seemed irrelevant to her.

Read more…

Runners Nutrition Part 7: Protein

What constitutes good nutrition for runners? Not what to avoid, but what should you focus on eating. We’re wrapping up our runners nutrition series as we’ve covered water, vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, fats and now proteins.

To learn what an endurance athlete needs to eat in order to maximize performance we will focus on two primary objectives:

  • What am I consuming?
  • Why should I consume it?

1. What am I consuming? Protein
Protein contains 9 essential amino acids, without which the body cannot synthesize all the proteins needed for tissues, enzymes and hormones. The quality of protein in a diet is based on how well these essential amino acids are represented. In terms of quality, the best sources of protein are eggs, milk and fish, with good sources being meat, poultry, cheese and soybeans. Fair sources include grains, vegetables, seeds, and nuts and other legumes.

2. Why should I consume it?  Protein
Depending on the timing in an athletes training program, more protein may be needed. For endurance athletes during adaptation to new or increasingly strenuous exercise (e.g. after a hard workout) protein requirements will be higher.

There is a small concern about consuming too much protein in large doses of individual amino acid supplements but not from consuming animal foods.

Runner’s Nutrition Conclusion:
Strive to get what you need for your body to operate optimally, not on what to avoid. Use this guide and remember:

  • a loss of 3%-4% of WATER adversely effects aerobic performance so you must replenish it
  • VITAMINS are necessary for cell activity, iron must be present for adaptation
  • CARBOHYDRATES help energize your body in prep for performance
  • FATS are essential for energy production and iron absorption
  • PROTEIN allows your body to reap the benefits of exercise by rebuilding your muscle tissue



Thanks David Martin for your insight on endurance athlete nutrition and letting us use your research. He told us we could glean and share his information, as we’re working to help you guys run faster.

Better Training for Distance Runners by David Martin

 Exercise Physiology by Powers and Howley 331

Runners Nutrition Part 6: Fats

Image: m_bartosch / FreeDigitalPhotos.netThe first step to “Good” Nutrition is focusing on what foods you need for optimal performance, instead of focusing on what foods to avoid. Getting the proper nutrients isn’t that easy.

To learn what an endurance athlete needs to eat in order to maximize performance we will focus on two primary objectives:

  • What am I consuming?
  • Why should I consume it?

There are six classes of nutrients. We’ve covered the first four :

water, vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Today we’re covering fats.

1. What am I consuming? Fats
Fats are essential for energy production, absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, cell membrane structure, hormone synthesis, insulation and the protection of vital organs.

We will discuss the two categories of fats in terms of their cholesterol concentration. Low-density lipoproteins (LDL) carry more cholesterol than high-density lipoproteins (HDL). High levels of LDL cholesterol are directly related to cardiovascular risk while high levels of HDL cholesterol offer protection from heart disease. The concentration of HDL cholesterol is influenced by heredity, gender, exercise and diet.

Diets high in saturated fats increase LDL cholesterol.  A reduction in the sources of saturated fats including meats, animal fat, palm oil, coconut oil, hydrogenated shortenings, whole milk, cream, butter, ice cream and cheese will reduce LDL cholesterol.

2. Why should I consume it?  Fats
Current dietary practices for elite runners in many parts of the world, as well as for much of American society, emphasize low saturated fats and cholesterol, which imply a minimum of red meat intake, and a greater emphasis on vegetable protein and complex carbohydrates.

For athletes scheduling two training sessions per day and who require a high-energy intake that can be assimilated easily and quickly, such emphasis is useful. However, this diet is likely to have a lowered iron content among other essential vitamins and minerals. Including a reduction of the muscle repairing nutrient, protein.

For endurance athletes animal foods are essential. It is easy to find several sources of animal foods without high fat content. Lean red meat, poultry, pork, liver, milk, ostrich, turkey and fish are excellent sources of the nutrients needed for endurance athletes.


Thanks David Martin for your insight on endurance athlete nutrition and letting us use your research. He told us we could glean and share his information, as we’re working to help you guys run faster.

Better Training for Distance Runners by David Martin

 Exercise Physiology by Powers and Howley 331

Runners Nutrition Part 5: Carbohydrates

We are continuing on our nutrition series and here is a recap: The first step to “Good” Nutrition is focusing on what foods you need for optimal performance, instead of focusing on what foods to avoid.

To learn what an endurance athlete needs to eat in order to maximize performance we will focus on two primary objectives:

  • What am I consuming?
  • Why should I consume it?

What am I consuming?  NUTRIENTS

There are six classes of nutrients: water, vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, fats and proteins. We’re covering carbs in this one.

1. What am I consuming? Carbohydrates
Carbohydrates can be divided into two classes:
1. Sugars and Starches

  • Digested and metabolized for energy (sugars and starches)
  • Sugars found in jellies, jams, fruits, soft drinks, honey, syrups and milk
  • Starches found in cereals, flour, potatoes and other vegetables

2. Fiber

  • Indigestible
  • Found in vegetables, various fruits, breads, cereals, pasta and rice

Carbohydrate is a major energy source for all tissues and crucial source for two: red blood cells and neurons.  The red blood cells depend exclusively on anaerobic gylcolysis for energy, and the nervous system functions well only on carbohydrate.

Carbohydrates exist in three forms: mononsaccharides, disaccharides and polysaccharides. Monosaccharides are simple sugars and are found in fruits, honey, sports drinks, etc. Disaccharides are formed by combining two monosaccharide.

For example, table sugar is called sucrose and is composed of glucose and fructose. Sucrose is the most common disaccharide and is found in cane sugar, beets, honey, sports drinks and maple syrup. Polysaccharides are complex carbohydrates that contain three or more monosaccharides. Polysaccharides can contain anywhere from three monosaccharides to several hundred. The most usable form of polysaccharide is found in starch from corn, grains, beans, potatoes and peas.

After ingestion starch is broken down to form monosaccharides and may be used as energy immediately by cells or stored in another form within cells for future energy needs. Glycogen is the term used for the polysaccharide stored in animal tissue. It is synthesized within cells by linking glucose molecules together. Glycogen molecules are generally large and can consist of hundreds to thousands of glucose molecules. Cells store glycogen as a means of supplying carbohydrates as an energy source.

2. Why should I consume it?  Carbohydrates
During exercise individual muscle cells break down glycogen into glucose (glycogenolysis) and use it as a source of energy for contraction. This also occurs in the liver as glucose is released into the blood stream.

Glycogen is stored in the muscle fibers and in the liver. Total glycogen stores are relatively small and can be depleted in a few hours of prolonged running.  Therefore, glycogen synthesis is an ongoing process within cells.

Diets low in carbohydrates tend to hamper glycogen synthesis, while high-carbohydrate diets enhance glycogen synthesis. Insufficient glycogen stores will result in a decrease in energy efficiency and eventually energy depletion and a loss of willingness of the athlete to continue exercise. Replenishing carbohydrates within a 30 min window after to depletion will allow for super-carbohydrate-absorption. After this 30 min window absorption ability begins to decrease.



Thanks David Martin for your insight on endurance athlete nutrition and letting us use your research. He told us we could glean and share his information, as we’re working to help you guys run faster.

Better Training for Distance Runners by David Martin

 Exercise Physiology by Powers and Howley 331

Can I Run with a Cold?

running with a coldRunning while you are sick might be a bad idea.  It is difficult to know if you should go for your daily jog when you come down with a cold. One thing is for sure, you should not do a long run or a workout.  If you don’t know what a long run or a workout is then check out the definition of terms blog post.

If you come down with a cold and wonder if you should continue with your daily exercise or jog the first thing to do is to consult your doctor.  Recent research seems to say that the answer is maybe, according to the article “Does Exercise Boost Immunity?” in the New York Times.

According to Murphy et al “Exercise stress increases susceptibility to influenza infection” you should not consider exercising to fatigue if you are sick.  But I really think that everyone should know that, but on second thought there are some of you that might consider doing your Sunday Long Run even though you have been sick all week because that is what you do on Sunday, a Long Run.  There have been many Long Runs that have been squeezed in against better judgment that have resulted in more days of cross training on the bike or in the pool.

Another study (this is by no means an exhaustive list and is mostly an elaboration on the blog above) said that light to moderate exercise increases the immunity response by increasing the activity of the TH2 cells.  These TH2 cells decrease inflammation.  Intense exercise increases the inflammation response by activating TH1 cells.  This is why moderate to light exercise helps recovery.  Easy runs and runs under 1hr at moderate intensities need to be a part of regular training to increase TH2 cells and balance Th1 cells.

Here is my suggestion for exercise if you are felling a little under the weather.  First of all you want to see your doctor to make sure you are clear to exercise.  If you are clear then start with moderate to light exercise until you feel better.  Also, if you are feeling under the weather and you have one more workout before the big race then skip the workout, trust your fitness and jog easy to moderate.  One more workout could be the straw that broke the camel’s back.  Here are some basic guidelines of intense, moderate and light exercise.

How to gauge your intensity level:

  • Light exercise: 20-55mins @65% of HR max or under
-light jogging or walking for most people.
  • Moderate: 20-55mins @70% to 79% of HR max
-jogging or walking where you can carry say a few sentences but not a conversation.
  • Intense: 20mins-2hrs @80% of HR max or over
-this is fast running or intense walking, you may only be able to say a few words (Definately avoid this type of exercise if you are sick).

I broke all of the above rules while sick by doing a fast 12 mile run on a day when it was 40 degrees and raining in Georgia in January.  Payed for that one for several days after.  I really don’t know if I would have been better off resting that day.  Probably so…

Hydration Tips

hydrationBy Coach Jay Stephenson

Recently one of the athletes that I coach asked me how she could stay hydrated during the hot summer months. Here are 4 tips that are out of the box and 4 in the box tips to keep you hydrated.

4 Out of the Box Hydration Tips:

•    Don’t forget to drink first thing in the morning as soon as you wake up…even a few sips of water will help you start your day off on the right foot.
•    Eat more foods that have a lot of water in them. I was recently at a cookout and they had brownies and watermelon.  While the natural response is to eat some of both make sure you focus on the watermelon.
•    Keep your water bottle with you all day. You will be surprised how much you will drink if water is accessible all day. Put some flavoring in it if it motivates you to drink more.
•    Suck on some ice– don’t crunch it because it’s bad for your teeth.

4 In the Box Hydration Tips:

•    Drink during exercise if it is over 1hr in duration.
•    Drink before/after and during exercise.
•    Include carbohydrate drink before and during.
•    After a workout consume a 4:1 carb to protein ratio drink (This ratio has been shown to speed up recovery time after hard workouts).  Great carb/protein drinks are chocolate milk, muscle milk, Hammer nutrition products, or whatever is handy.

Good luck staying hydrated!

Four Race Day Meals to Fuel Your Legs and Calm Your Nerves

Race Day MealBy Coach Jay Stephenson
August 15, 2011

Have you ever wondered what to eat before you race?  Here are 4 race day meals that will jack you up, calm your stomach, prepare you for a marathon and satisfy your bottom line.

Jacked Up Race Day Meal:
2-3 hours before your race consume some caffeine.  Just use the most common form of caffeine that you are used to (coffee, tea, 5-hour energy).   Beware of Redbull, Monster or other drinks that contain lots of ingredients other than caffeine and sugar as these can make you sick before the race even begins.  Some of the advantages of consuming caffeine are heightened mental focus and concentration.  There have been some studies that have suggested that caffeine can also improve your muscles neuromuscular conduction.

Sensitive Stomach Race Day Meal:
If you have a sensitive stomach you may want to avoid acidic, sugary and fiber rich foods.  My suggestion is to have 2-3 oz. of water when you wake up and 2-3 oz. of water right before the race.  Also, if you are going to eat anything then make sure it’s something like a bite of white bread or a bite of a granola bar– not an orange or pastry.

Marathon Race Day Meal:
Chances are if you are running a marathon that you will need to eat the morning before the race.  If you have a sensitive stomach you may want to wake up as much as 4 hours before the race to eat.  Otherwise 2-3 hours before should do.

Here is my marathon meal-

  • 1 small bowl of oatmeal (plain or with raisins)
  • 1 slice of jelly toast (white or wheat bread)
  • 8-10 oz. of Gatorade

This meal should provide you both with slow digesting carbs and some quick fuel to top off your glycogen stores.

On-the-Go Cheepo Race Day Meal:
Grab a bagel and a Gatorade and head out the door while sipping and munching.  This is both a cheap and effective alternative.  One of my favorites is water and a banana.