>Running 101>Nutrition Questions for Runners......
A Dance with Monkeys
To run, you need calories.
To propel yourself at speed, you need stored glycogen, which is the storage version of carbs. At any given time your body stores a maximum of about 2000 cal of glycogen. Your body does not particularly care how it gets those carbs (i.e., there really is no such thing as junk carbs in terms of glycogen storage, however complex carbs are less likely to be easily absorbed from your GI tract and therefore less likely to replenish glycogen or to make you gain weight). French fries and potato chips help replenish glycogen as well as pasta, but bring with them extra fat. High fructose corn syrup may be more likely than other simple carbs to form abdominal fat when consumed in excess. Whether you run or not, your body uses up about a third to a half of its glycogen just to keep you alive as you sleep at night, so you are constantly using and replenishing your glycogen.
To sustain and increase muscle mass you need proteins. To do this, you need to consume the variety of amino acids that serve as the building blocks for protein. As long as you are able to find and eat the diversity of needed amino acids, including the ones that your body cannot manufacture on its own (the so called, essential amino acids) then the source does not matter. If you like tofu, so be it. Egg whites, great. Steak or fish or chicken, bring it on. As long as you are getting all the needed amino acids in sufficient quantity, you should be fine.
To sustain yourself when not running at maximal pace and to support your running at that pace, you need fats. You are always burning some fat, even when running at maximal pace; the proportion of calories supporting your effort coming from fat simply drop as you increase your effort. One pound of stored fat is enough to propel most runners about 80 miles, provided that there are also enough carbs around to support the fat (or that the runner is running slow enough that the carbs are not the major energy source). There are lots of different fats out there, and some are better than others. The fats that are bad are considered so because they damage your body in ways that the better fats do not, and some of the good fats actually protect your body. Trans fats inflame arteries. Saturated fats do the same, and increase your risk of cancer. Cholesterol fills the walls of the inflamed arteries. As we are learning more about fats, it seems that the more natural fats (e.g., olive oil, butter, grain oils) have fewer troubles than the relatively synthetic ones. The major problem with snacks and fast foods is that they are made using the synthetic oils that contain the trans- or saturated- fats. Eating out at nice restaurants, you often will encounter just as many hidden fats and bad fats as you will at a fast food restaurant, so don't be fooled by ambiance or price.
However you choose to eat, you need to do it in a way that is sustainable. If you feel like you are eating special on a diet, or feel like you do not have energy then you will not sustain that type of intake. If all you eat is fast food, you will balloon up, feel terrible and then get sick and die, also not sustainable. A nice balance of interesting foods, including a healthy and well balanced base with occasional snacks and meals out is generally sustainable and inexpensive. Making your own foods helps you be in control, cut cost, and ensure that you get the needed calories to support your running.
You do not need to eat salads only, and can loose weight eating pasta and bread and rice, so long as you balance those things with proteins and healthy fats, and keep the portions in balance with your energy needs. You can use on line sites like nutritiondata.com to figure out how many calories are in a serving of food, and match your running miles (~100-130 cal/mile) and your living calories (~1500-2000 cal/day) with what you eat. If you weigh, for example, 160 lbs and you run 20 miles per week, you need approximately 1800 cal/day to live and an additional 2600 cal/week for your running. No more.
I'm running somewhere tomorrow. It's going to be beautiful. I can't wait.