Few topics are considered off limits in the running community. We discuss our purpled toenails and blistered feet, we elaborate on digestion dilemmas and the saltiness of our sweat. Even so, many female runners are consistently faced with a struggle that is all but hushed in circles of conversation: adequate fueling.
As female runners, our bodies are incredibly active, and they require a lot of fuel in order to meet the demands of the sport. But when it comes to women and food, there seems to be this taboo idea that we shouldn’t eat a lot—certainly not as much as our husbands and brothers. And isn’t it true—in the running world and otherwise—that the expectation is for men to eat meat and women to eat salad?
While this isn’t true for every woman runner (pro Camille Herron recently recalled fueling with beer and Taco Bell takeout while racing toward her 24-hour world record at the Desert Solstice Invitational in early December), it’s a conundrum that many women do face every day. While there’s nothing wrong with eating healthy meals like salads, this stereotype highlights a bigger issue: The food choices we make as women, especially women who run, are highly scrutinized.
Here’s why that’s a problem. Through my years of competitive running, I’ve experienced and witnessed the impact of eating disorders. That doesn’t even account for the many runners who have disordered eating patterns.
That problem cannot be solved by simply liberating women to eat the quantity of food we need, without getting critical glances in return. But it can be helped.
When non-runners offer unhelpful comments when a female runner decides to eat a substantial amount of food, it deters that woman from listening to her body. It sends the message that it’s somehow less acceptable for her to eat.
That couldn’t be further from the truth! Every time you go for a run, your body is fighting hard to make it happen. Your hamstrings and calves, along with a dozen other muscles, are working in sync to get you from point A to point B. That takes energy, and as you expend that energy and replenish it with food, you are enjoying the fast, powerful and feminine body that you call home.
So, here’s my challenge to you: The next time your stomach is rumbling at the sight of a big, beautiful sandwich, listen to it. The next time you want to go back for seconds, choose to confidently fill your plate with the nourishment you feel that your body needs. You’re the only one who has intimate knowledge of your training regimen and your caloric requirements. Paying attention to those needs will help you take a big sidestep around injury and chronic fatigue.
Eat like a girl—like a powerful, strong, speedy girl, that is. Salads aren’t bad, but neither are bagels or steak or second helpings. As my high school cross-country coach used to say, “As a runner, your body is a fuel-efficient race car. You have to feed it enough fuel if you expect it to go.”