Runners: You Still Need to Watch What You Eat

woman eating cupcake

Many running groups and endurance athletes are notorious for a couple of things: Getting up wicked early on a weekend to get in a long workout, and eating more than any non-runner their size could dream of putting away, especially immediately afterward.

Hell, I’ve finished super long training runs at a decent clip simply because I knew that the sooner I finished, the sooner I could eat sweet potato pancakes. In fact, on a recent group bike ride, my friend Patrick started picking up the pace considerably on the last few miles. I told the girl ahead of me, “Bet you $10 he just got really hungry and is thinking about brunch.” I won $10 that day.

“I’ll just run it off,” is a very typical — even stereotypical, really — reaction runners have regarding not-so-healthful foods. If you look through the Instagram feeds of many long-distance runners, they’re likely to be filled with photos of pasta and ice cream (gotta carb load, right?) and post-run feasts, yet the runners themselves are still long and lean. (Well, sometimes — that’s not always the case, as Jenn and I can attest.)

But just because they’ve got a runner’s body and great vitals now, that doesn’t mean that those eating habits won’t be a problem down the line, according to a recent Wall Street Journal article. According to the British Medical Journal study cited in the article, which compared 42 Boston Marathon qualifiers’ carotid arteries with those of their more sedentary active spouses, at a certain point, exercise might no longer be a key to preventing heart disease.

In fact, it might actually cause it.

Now, it’s just a small body of research saying that there might be a causal link between excessive exercise and coronary disease, and many doctors are quite skeptical of these findings, but there’s one thing they all agree on: A crappy diet (i.e. making “sometimes” foods “all the time” foods) isn’t a great idea, no matter how many miles you run.

Hey, does that sound familiar to anyone else? Everything in moderation? It’s a tough pill for distance-minded folks to swallow because sometimes that froyo or pizza or Coke at the end of the workout is as much an emotional reward as it is a vehicle for replenishing calories. Maybe a really awesome big-ass salad will do the trick instead … at least sometimes, anyway.

Do you tend to eat more foods that offer less nutrition when you’re logging extra miles on your sneakers or hours at the gym? Will this research change that? —Kristen


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  1. I had to learn the hard way that you can’t “outrun” a bad diet. In high school my typical pre-race meal was a 6 pack of tacos and a large Dr. Pepper. I could eat anything and still keep my abs and single digit body fat. But after a knee injury in college kept me from running for a year the pounds packed on. And working out alone couldn’t get my abs back. Today I’m almost 40 and have 6 pack abs thanks to eating clean and training mean.

  2. I find that as I actually gain fitness and trim some #’s that I actually tend to eat less and a little healthier… BUT, my beer imbibery does increase.

  3. This is sooo true! And unfortunate 🙂 It’s easy to forgo self-discipline when you know you’ll be logging miles (or just working out hard in general)…. telling yourself that this is why you exercise anyway! But, like you pointed out, forming those kinds of habits can be a big deal down the line when your metabolism slows down or you can’t put as much into your workouts…. definitely not worth it 🙂

  4. It’s hard to not have a little ice cream when you’ve had a great running day and know you need extra calories to refuel. It’s so true that no matter how many extra calories that you need after exercise, the better quality ones will allow your body to perform better in the long run. It’s scary too to think that running longer distances can be doing more harm then good. I hope there is another study to come out soon that either confirms this or denies it. More evidence is needed.

  5. I’m totally guilty of the “I can eat whatever I want because I’m running this evening” mentality. It’s the most convenient excuse to satisfy that urgent gratification of indulgence. I would use excuses like, “Well this pizza is full of carbs and proteins I need for energy to run which will in return help boost my metabolism to burn those calories.” After one mile around the trail you start to feel sluggish quicker. So what are some of the better Carbs and Proteins to take in before a run?