Have you ever fallen into the trap of thinking that eating less could somehow make you run faster? I certainly have. It was a combo of wanting to look “more fit” and “like a runner” and also just thinking that the only fast runners were the leanest—so I needed to get leaner. I actually had a lot of success prior to this, running a personal best and having such a fun and fulfilling training cycle. Then I wanted more. So I upped the ante in every way. More miles. More intensity. More strength … and less fuel.
Obviously I can look back at this now and see how horrible of an equation that is. How did I expect to be adding more to my energy demands without balancing it with sufficient fuel to thrive? I somehow expected that I could do double runs everyday plus one- to two-hour strength sessions everyday with less fuel because I needed to cut weight to be faster.
Surprise: It completely backfired. Instead of running my fastest time after that dumpster fire of a training cycle, I ran a full 19 minutes slower than my previous PR, when I had a more balanced training cycle and was eating to satiation.
It honestly took me forever to even realize what was wrong (which was basically everything I was doing). Instead of looking objectively at it, I was just so hurt and sad after my regression marathon. I wasn’t able to take an honest audit of training and fueling and see all the steps I took to get to that point.
And truthfully—I just wasn’t hearing the messaging that fast times take good fuel. Instead coaches would talk about how much faster you would go “if you would just lose five pounds,” and people would talk about racing weight as if depriving yourself of food before a race was really the way to see breakthrough performances.
Running culture’s focus on weight completely blinded me from seeing the very common sense equation of energy + fuel = performance.
When you’re well-fueled, you’re able to actually run to your potential. Your runs feel better. You can hit the paces that you’ve trained for. You recover faster. All things we need as athletes, whether you’re chasing PR’s or running for the joy of it. It makes the process more enjoyable for our runs to actually feel good.
Now I know that my best running happens when I take care of my body and work with it for training.
My fastest days happen when I’m well fueled—both in my everyday life and for my runs. They happen when I’m having balanced training with a focus on recovery and my overall health. The best performances can only happen when you put your body first.
I’ve tried it all before: Not fueling before runs. Not eating carbs. Undereating. None of that served my running well, even though my intention was to be faster.
Now I focus on eating well all the time. For me, I feel best when I’m eating whole foods and cooking for myself. I’ll do a grilled protein and a carb and vegetable at every meal because that’s how I feel best and run to my potential.
And in workouts, I always eat before my runs. That’s no longer something I drop the ball on. When you run fasted, especially for us women, it’s a lot harder on our bodies. Our bodies have to work harder to convert fat to fuel instead of using the carbs readily available as fuel.
Kim’s Favorite Fuel
Before workouts, especially if they are early in the morning, I’ll eat a protein bar and take a scoop of UCAN carbs before the workout. I always make sure to eat before workouts now, and I need the carbs to be able to feel ready to run my paces.
After a workout, it’s key to get that recovery protein in 30 minutes after a run, so I’ll drink a protein shake—no matter if I feel like eating or not. And usually right after a hard workout, I don’t feel like eating, so I make myself get that protein in because I know it’s what is going to help me to recover much quicker. I’ll blend UCAN’s Energy + Protein in my Vitamix with a frozen banana, coconut milk, and coconut water for the electrolytes, plus some greens.
Within two hours of a hard workout, I’ll make sure to get a meal in. Recovery happens when we fuel. Our body needs the energy for recovery and muscle repair. I like eating organic ground beef (for the amino acids and iron and protein) grilled with a sweet potato (for the complex carbs that are so satiating) and Brussels sprouts for a dinner after a hard workout.
Another thing: Work day or rest day, we have to fuel. I’ve seen too many times that people think that on a rest day they need to eat less. I eat everyday to satiation. If I have a workout the next day, it requires me to fuel in advance, not undereat because I didn’t run.
If you’re having a hard time figuring out fueling, or if you have been missing your period and you suspect it’s because of not eating enough, it may be time to get the help of a registered dietitian who can work with you to help your body thrive. And when your body thrives, it’s a lot easier to reach your goals!
I’ve learned the hard way you can’t cheat the system. You can’t deprive yourself of food and expect to be your fastest, or healthiest. We are athletes. Food is fuel. And once I embraced that thinking, I stopped falling for diet culture’s lies.