Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Pumpkins are healthy, right?

Fall makes me sappy, and the weather we've been having this week in Boston has inspired the following sentence: It's that time of year again, where the summer heat begins to drift to the cooler spectrum, long sleeve shirts and jackets emerge from the bottom drawer, and the leaves are succumbing to the temptation to change colors.

Ok, that's out of my system.  Really, it's all about the pumpkin flavored pastries.  I mean, have you have Dunkin Donut's pumpkin muffin?  It's show-, work-, track-stopping, what have you.

I'd like to think that we're meant to build up a layer of pumpkin pastries for the winter cold, and I've already had a pretty good start to it.  But that brings up another issue, one that I've been thinking about for the past few months, and that is nutrition for long distance runners.

Back in June, when it started getting really warm and the fact of not having air conditioning was just starting to hit me, I lost my appetite at night.  I would get home and be so hot that food just sounded gross.  The problem with this is, not only was I skipping a meal, I was skipping a meal right after working out.  I would go for a run of between 4-6 miles, or go to the gym for a class, and get home and not eat anything.  Now before you start calling hotlines on my behalf, I should tell you that I have been making a concerted effort over the past few months to not skip meals and to replenish my body with nutrients lost while working out.

Finding what I need to eat, nutrient wise and calorie wise, has been a struggle for a few reasons.  One is that I simply don't have time to cook a well-balanced, healthy and nutritious meal for myself.  I'm not sure that frozen dinners really cut it, and my go-to bowl of cereal, for when nothing else sounds good, doesn't do me any good after I've burned 700 calories.  Neither does chocolate cake, which always sounds good, and has plenty of calories.  I've had some problems that I think proper nutrition could have helped: I was getting headaches after I did my long runs, and I strained my left shin muscle.  Nutrition isn't the only culprit for both of these issues, but I'm betting that it would have helped.  I wasn't getting enough carbs, and now that I'm conscious of that, I eat bread like it's my job and my headaches have been getting better.

There's a fine balance in eating right, staying healthy, and also staying lean.  For every pound that you lose, supposedly you can shave 2 seconds off of your pace.  So, exactly how many calories is enough to intake after a 10 mile run?  What types of calories am I supposed to have?  I know I need a ration of 4:1 carbs to protein.  But what about veggies?

I've heard people say that after you've been a serious distance runner for a little bit, your body begins to crave fruits and vegetables so a more natural diet is almost automatic.  That hasn't exactly happened for me, and I go straight for the cookies once I'm home.

I haven't figured all of this out yet.  There are still days where I don't eat enough, and it doesn't occur to me until the next day when I'm trying to figure out why I am tired, grumpy and sore.  One thing I've tried to do is eat a substantial lunch on days I know I have to run.  On my long run days, I get home and immediately make pasta and try to take in some protein.  I also have about 5-6 glasses of water or Gatorade.  After that, there isn't room in my stomach for anything else.

I am buying vegetables and fixing them when I have time, and I eat about two pieces of fruit a day.  I try to make sure at least one of my meals each day is a full one, with protein, carbs and veggies.  It's gotten easier, but it's definitely a problem I did not anticipate having when I signed up for the marathon.

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