"I Don't Know What To Eat!"
Pass on the Extra Carbs
Bread, bagels, pasta, potatoes, and pancakes—you just can't get enough, right? Wrong, says Boston-area sports nutritionist Nancy Clark, R. D., author of the new book Nancy Clark's Food Guide for New Runners. Running two or three miles at an easy pace will burn 200 to 300 calories, an amount so modest that it doesn't demand lumberjack portions of carbs (or anything else) before or after. Clark advocates eating healthy foods throughout the day, and having a small snack an hour or two before you run. "Exercisers shouldn't skip meals early in the day or try to run on fumes," she says. "But you don't require special foods after a workout—just a snack that offers a few carbs and a little protein."
More: Healthy Ways to Handle Food Cravings
Drink Water. But Only When You're Thirsty
Yes, runners sweat a lot. Yes, they need water, sugar, and electrolytes when they run for 90 minutes or more, particularly in warm weather. But unless you're training for a marathon this summer (which you won't be), you don't need sports drinks and an advanced hydration strategy. Sip a little water before your workout and a little more after. And skip the extra calories in sweetened drinks. "Beginning runners don't need a sports drink, because they're not running far enough," notes Clark.
More: Sports Drinks Vs. Water
Eat Real Food
Runners, even beginners, tend to be driven, results-oriented people. When promised shortcuts, miracle cures, and unbelievable benefits from supplement and "superfood" manufacturers, they're easily swayed. However, eating standard, simple, unprocessed natural foods will give you the same end results. "Every time one of those vitamin or supplement studies produces a negative result, I am reassured that focusing on quality calories is the best advice," says Clark. "I've always believed that the healthiest foods are the real foods—the quality vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and lean proteins packed with everything runners need."
If You Want to Lose Weight...
Sorry, but you won't automatically drop five pounds just because you run, says Clark. You also have to reduce your daily food intake. Each mile you run burns roughly 100 calories. Cut out a cookie or two every day, and you can add another 100 calories to your weight-loss effort. "Reducing calorie consumption by just 100 calories a day will theoretically give you a 10-pound weight loss by the end of the year," Clark says. "Hit 200 calories a day, and you'll lose 20 pounds." Clark suggests cutting calories by eating smaller portions and fewer fried foods.
More: 3 Best Core Exercises for Runners
"How Can I Avoid Injury, Or Worse?"
Stretch After You Run, Not Before
Runners have long believed that stretching will give them a longer, smoother stride and reduce their risk of injuries. However, in recent years researchhas failed to prove either point. Budd Coates and Jeff Galloway say they've never advocated stretching for their beginning runners, and the runners haven't developed injuries. Adds Dr. Lewis Maharam: "A preworkout stretching routine doesn't prevent injuries or improve performance, so there's no reason to do it. The time to do your stretching is after your run, or even later in the evening." Stretch (without straining) your calves, quads, and hamstrings for 10 to 15 minutes.
Expect a Little Tenderness
Sure, runners have to deal with occasional aches and pains. Especially beginners. However, these are temporary complaints, and don't lead to long-term damage. Last summer, the Archives of Internal Medicine published a study on a group of runners who were first investigated in the mid-1980s when they were 50 years old or older. Twenty-one years later, these runners, now in their mid-70s, were found to have better function and overall health, and less disabilities than similar individuals who had not been running for two decades. When you experience mild aches and pains, follow the tried-and-true RICE prescription: rest, ice, compression, elevation. Don't overuse pain meds and anti-inflammatories. "The over-the-counter meds are not perfectly safe and aren't meant to mask pain," says Dr. Maharam. "Overuse can lead to liver, stomach, and kidney problems."
More: 10 Quick Fixes to Save Your Knees
You're (Almost Certainly) Not Going to Die
Yes, heart attacks happen, and they make headlines. But these events are extremely rare, averaging about one for every 800,000 half-hour workouts. Meanwhile, it's a well-established medical fact that runners and other highly fit individuals have a 50 percent lower risk of heart attack than nonexercisers. It's more dangerous to sit in front of your TV. The heart is a muscle. If you don't exercise it, it becomes weak and flabby. Still, every runner should know the signs of a heart attack: unusual shortness of breath; chest, arm or neck tightness (especially on the left side); nausea; and a cold sweat. If you experience these, stop immediately, and call your doctor.