The Importance Of Eating More

For runners, it’s not just how much you eat that matters; it’s when you eat your calories that also plays a role in the health and performance equation.

A study in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports wanted to shed light on the notion of within-day energy deficiency and its impact on female athletes. After analyzing seven days’ worth of food intake and energy expenditure data in 25 elite female endurance athletes, researchers found that subjects who spent more time each day in a catabolic state (where calorie intake at certain times was not enough to match metabolic demands of the body) were more likely to have a suppressed resting metabolic rate along with higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol and incidents of menstrual dysfunction. This happened despite overall 24-hour calorie intake not being significantly different among the athletes.

The bottom line is that even if you’re eating enough calories during the day to meet your overall energy needs, you might still suffer negative effects like poor recovery if you spend too many hours in a caloric deficit. So be sure to spread your calorie intake throughout the day with an emphasis on refueling adequately after hard workouts and not saving most of your calories for dinner.

Matthew Kadey, M.S., R.D., is an author and journalist who specializes in sports nutrition and is the recipient of the 2013 James Beard Award for Food Journalism.