Most Americans eat too much. We know this because most Americans—more than 63 percent of us—are overweight. It's not surprising, then, that the top dietary concern of the average American is to avoid excessive eating.
Although runners are less likely than non-runners to be overweight, many of us share the average American's chief dietary concern. After all, we know that body weight has a significant effect on running performance. Our goal is not merely to maintain a medically defined "healthy weight" but to attain our optimal racing weight, which for most of us falls at the lower end of our healthy weight range.
Running itself aids in performance weight management, but you won't be able to attain your optimal racing weight by training hard and following an "anything goes" diet. An active effort to avoid overeating is also required.
But, for runners, eating too little is just as bad as eating too much. Training for running events places great energy demands on the body. If you eat too little in an effort to get leaner you will leave your muscles underfueled for workouts and you will perform poorly. Over time this pattern will cause your fitness to stagnate and, ironically, will also prevent you from attaining your racing weight because fitness gains and body-fat loss go hand-in-hand.
As a runner you need to walk a dietary tightrope that non-runners do not, consuming enough calories to fuel strong workouts but not so many that you fail to shed excess body fat. Sounds tricky, doesn't it? Surely a calculator is required to determine this balance. With a little knowledge, you can avoid both underfueling and overeating completely by feel, no calculator required. Here's how.
Trust Your Appetite
Today's health-conscious eaters are accustomed to thinking of their appetite as untrustworthy. We assume that if we allow ourselves to eat as much as our appetite requests, we will surely eat too much. But the human body's appetite-control mechanism is the product of millions of years of evolutionary refinement. It works extremely well under the right conditions.
What are the right conditions? The two most important ones are regular exercise and a diet of natural foods. The human appetite-control mechanism was developed during a period when our ancestors were highly active and ate only natural foods. To this day our appetites depend on these two conditions to ensure that we take in enough calories to meet our energy needs but not so many that we accumulate excess body fat.
More: How to Fuel Your Workout