How do I know if I'm eating enough as a runner?
Hey runner... are you eating enough to support your running, your training, your lifestyle?
We all come to running for different reasons. Some people want to run to help them lose weight. Some people want to increase fitness. Maybe you have a goal race you want to complete or get a new personal record in. Maybe you just need to clear your head.
Whatever your reason, running requires energy above and beyond what you'd need if you didn't run much.
Despite food being plentiful, easily accessible, and (mostly) affordable in today's world, there are LOTS of runners aren't there who actually aren't eating enough.
And those runners are going to have consequences - feeling tired and sluggish, at risk for illness and injury, being moody... not to mention having a much harder time reaching your running goals!
Are you a runner at risk of not eating enough?
Have you increased your training but not your food intake?
Are you trying to lose weight?
Do you have no idea how much you actually need to eat?
Are you someone who is afraid to eat "too much", skips meals and/or snacks, avoids certain foods and/or food groups, or is thinking about food and your body a lot?
If any of these describes you - or even if they don't - you might not be eating enough.
So how do you know if you're not eating enough? Below are 12 signs and symptoms that could be clues your body is giving you to eat a bit more.
You're prone to illness and injury.
Injuries and illnesses require energy and nutrients so that you can heal and get better. If you have a nagging injury that just won't finally heal, or if you seem to get over one injury and immediately come down with another, it could be because you don't have enough nutrition on board. Same thing with illnesses. If you have a cold followed by the flu followed by a sinus infection and another cold, then what you're eating (or not eating!) could be to blame.
You're irritable or moody, or you can't concentrate.
Several studies have linked low energy intake with mood. Ever felt "hangry"? Though the word itself is fun, the feeling you have when you're hungry and angry (or irritable, anxious, annoyed, etc) is NOT fun. Not eating enough could mean low blood sugar. And since your brain REQUIRES blood sugar, it might not be working properly if your blood sugar is low. This will make it harder to focus your attention and regulate your mood.
You can't hit your workout paces, or you're slowing down
Still running all the miles and not seeing an improvement in your paces or maybe even seeing a regression?? It could be because you're not eating enough. Your metabolism will slow and your body isn't going to want to exert energy so that you can run in circles around the track; instead it will conserve that energy so it can use it for things that keep you alive.
You're constantly hungry
Hopefully this goes without saying, but if you're hungry all the time, it is a sign that you need to eat! However, many of us ignore our hunger signals or think that we don't "need" to eat - whether it is because we ate recently or we think we ate "enough". True hunger - think empty and/or growling stomach, light-headed, grumpy... requires FOOD to fix. Not water, not a run, not a nap... FOOD.
You have lots of cravings
If you are constantly in a state of low energy from under-fueling, you might find yourself craving #allthethings... candies, cookies, chips, ice cream, pizza, you name it. This isn't because you're bad or did anything wrong... it is your body's response to not having enough fuel! So many people will come home from work or school and immediately go to the cupboard and pull out chips and cookies and wonder why... and often times it is because they skipped breakfast and/or lunch and really need the fuel!
You think about food all the time
Ever find yourself wondering or planning what you're going to eat for the rest of your meals today or tomorrow or the rest of the week? Or obsessing over what you ate this morning or yesterday or last Friday night? Could be because you're not eating enough. You might also find yourself watching TV shows or videos about food, looking up recipes, looking at photos of food, or talking about food or eating often. Our brains will often fixate on these things when we're not eating enough.
You're always cold
If you can't seem to get warm - even if you're wearing layers or you're sitting in the sun - your diet might be to blame. It takes a fair bit of energy to maintain your body temperature; a lowered body temp could easily be because you're not eating enough. This can also happen if you're not eating enough carbohydrates.
You notice changes to your hair, skin, or nails
Hair loss happens when we're deficient in energy, protein, and micronutrients. You might notice clumps coming out when you brush your hair or you might see more in the shower drain. Your skin might be more pale and you could grow very fine hair across your skin (where it wasn't really present before). Maybe your nails are really brittle and break easily. No amount of "hair skin & nails" vitamins is going to fix this problem if the real issue is lack of calories and protein.
You can't lose weight
If you're trying to lose weight but you can't seem to drop any more despite eating less, then it is probably because you've cut back too drastically! It seems counter-intuitive, but it is true! Chronic under-eating will slow down your metabolism. Your hormone levels (like stress hormones, sex hormones, or thyroid hormones) will be altered, which makes it harder to lose weight. Your body will slow everything down to maintain balance; it wants to protect you!
When food is digested, much of it moves through the GI tract and is eliminated as stool. If you're eating less or not enough, there will be less movement through the GI tract, slowing things down and leaving you constipated. That said, hormonal changes can cause this as well -- and those hormonal changes can be triggered by under-eating.
You lose your period (or it changes, or you can't get pregnant)
Not eating enough can cause hormonal changes that lead to menstrual irregularities or amenorrhea, both of which can lead to infertility. Low body fat percentage can also mess with your cycle. Despite what the popular media may have you believe, it is normal and healthy for females to have a monthly cycle -- and you should check in with a doctor if you don't. Adequate energy and protein intake from food is a great first step towards getting your cycle back on track.
So what can you do if you're someone who isn't eating enough? Well, eating more is obviously going to be helpful. That can be easier said than done, however. I highly recommend working with a registered dietitian who can help you come up with a plan to meet your energy and fueling needs so that you can run the way you want to and live happier and healthier. Not only can we come up with a plan that works for you and your lifestyle, we can do so in a way so that you'll actually be successful and more likely to reach your goals. Ready? Contact me today!