Do you run and exercise regularly, feel like you want to shed a bit of weight?
Here is what you need to know before making any New Year changes to your diet.
Weight loss diets are an ongoing conversation, even more so at the start of a New Year. And for runners, the high carb, low carb, no carb debate is constant.
Is one diet better than another for weight loss? As a health-conscious runner wanting to trim down and run strong, what should I be eating?
This article covers some of the latest research. And yes, as you've probably guessed, it is conflicting...
Low carb studies
One recent study in particular found that people following a low carb diet burned more calories than those people following a high carb diet. Which sounds great for weight loss, right?
Not necessarily so, it is a little more complicated than simply burning calories.
This nutrition study took place over 20 weeks (a little under 5 months), assigning participants to high carb (60% of diet from carbs), moderate carb (40%), or low carb (20% of diet from carbs). All the groups kept to 20% of diet from protein.
Results of this nutrition study found that a those people on the low carb diet burned significantly more calories over the 20-week period than participants following the other diets. Which does sound positive for weight loss.
But...consider how sustainable this would be to follow.
A low carb 20% of diet from carbs equates to only 100g of carbs per day. Eating the government recommended minimum of 5 fruit and veg a day will likely take you over the 100g mark. A healthy porridge and banana for breakfast provides almost 50g of carbs, one jacket potato is at least another 50g.
It is really tough to eat such a low carb diet for a long period of time. Especially for runners and people who exercise regularly.
Importantly, how would following such a restricted diet long term impact your training and running goals? Generally, not well.
Studies on runners and athletes following low carb diets report decreases in performance markers along with increases in fatigue levels.
Is a little bit of weight loss really worth slowing down and feeling more tired? Most runners would say a resounding 'no'.
Sustainability is key
A low carb diet is simply not sustainable for most people. Restricting your carbohydrate intake will undoubtedly help you lose some weight but following such a restricted diet long term and maintaining that weight loss is very difficult.
Carbs are energy. And runners need energy.
Research has shown that although low carb diets often aid weight loss, when people start to eat more moderately again weight tends to increase. Which leads to yo yo dieting; an unhappy place to be.
You want to enjoy your food, your running, and your life. Not feel restricted and deprived.
Become friends with your food, regardless of whether you're carrying unwanted weight or not. Ban the word 'diet'.
So what is the answer?
Same question asked right at the start: as a health-conscious runner wanting to trim down and run strong, what should I be eating?
As low carb isn't helpful or healthful, can I eat however many carbs I want?
Not really. It is a very individual thing (genetics, age, hormones all play a part) but a majority of people would not thrive and shed weight on a high carb diet. Some runners do, but they are in the minority.
As boring as it may sound, eating a moderate quantity of carbs and doing a moderate amount of running and strength training is absolutely the best way to lose some weight while continuing to improve fitness and health.
Get the timing of your carbs right - by that I mean remembering that carbs are energy. Before, during and after training sessions are the best times to be consuming carbs.
The rest of the time focus on plenty of fibre-rich colourful vegetables and fruits, filling protein, and hormone balancing healthy fats.
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Helen Morton, registered Nutritional Therapist. sports nutritionist, runner, Level 2 Fitness Instructor and food lover, sharing latest nutrition research and recipes.