Friday, 1 March 2013

Eating to run.

Lots of people have asked me why I chose to call this blog Running2XS. I did it for two reasons. Firstly, running is great. But like anything, if you do it to excess it can lead to exhaustion. Secondly, when I was running too much and not eating enough, my body obviously needed more energy than I was providing it with and so it began metabolising itself. I lost weight. At first it was hard to notice, but I got a pretty massive wake-up call recently when Mum and I went clothes shopping and the only size that fitted me was 2XS.

Now it is time to reverse the Female Athlete Triad and get healthy.

As promised, today I’m writing about the first aspect of the Female Athlete Triad.

Energy availability.

What do I mean by that? Well, it’s pretty much a comparison of how much energy you eat, and how much energy you burn. If you eat more than you burn, you put on weight. If you eat less than you burn, you lose weight. It’s a simple equation really.

Obviously athletes want to achieve a balance of the two. Very active people burn a lot so they need to eat a lot too. I lost touch with just how much energy a person like me requires to keep ticking over.

So how much food do athletes need anyway?

Every sportsperson should ask themselves this question at least once in a while. If you are medically underweight or experiencing any of the symptoms listed here, you might not be taking in adequate amounts of fuel to sustain your level of activity. You might not even realise you’re doing it.

I’ve always been calorifically ignorant. Some people like to know how many calories are in certain foods, but I don’t ever check. I guess this lack of knowledge is to blame for my deficient diet. 

And it’s not even like I’m against the notion of educating myself. I do like reading about health and fitness, but only in the context of improving my running. I cannot stand it when the media pushes dietary rules and restrictions onto people. For example, I dislike Michelle Bridges’ weekly column in the Sunday Life magazine because it often reads like a lecture on empty calories and avoiding bad foods. Oh and you’d better be monitoring your intake, otherwise SHE WILL FIND YOU. Michelle Bridges is also a spokesperson for, which is a website you can use to calculate your daily energy needs and to see how much energy is in the foods you typically eat. As long as you don't obsess over it, that kind of information is good to know. Especially if you're doing a lot of exercise. I never bothered to look into this when I started running more. But I probably should have. 

My “healthy diet” was ridiculously inadequate - vegetables and salads don’t make the cut when you’re a keen running bean.

For my age, height and weight, a typical forty minute jog has me burning the same amount of energy found in one large can of baked beans.

If I run 14.1 km (the length of the City2Surf) at a reasonable pace, then I’ll need more than just one can.

 What about if I were to run a marathon? For 42.2 km I’d need more energy again:

I don’t know about you, but this really surprises me. Nutritionally, my idea of a healthy diet was actually the equivalent of a starvation diet, given how much of the energy I was burning off. Given that I’ve studied human biochemistry at uni, I should have known not to do this. Starving in a developed country with stacks of food available doesn’t make any sense. Frankly, I feel like royal idiot. But what’s done is done, and at least it isn’t too late to act.


  1. Hey Sarah, loving the blog!
    It surprises me and disappoints me that coaches you have had in your running or fellow runners haven't been passing on this important nutritional information to up and coming runners like yourself. I don't know whether it is because running is a more individual sport than soccer but, being a pretty active person myself with soccer, we are constantly reminded to monitor a healthy energy intake/output by our coaches and senior team mates. I have often (probably too often) worried about how much I am eating, but the truth is, because of how much I train, I am always hungry and I have never been someone to have the discipline to ignore temptation when its everywhere! But it is hard to mentally grasp that while most of my friends who are not exercising nearly as much as I am are "counting calories" it is okay for me to be eating loads of carbs. This is why I totally agree with you when it comes to my annoyance at all these "healthy eating" tips of taking carbs out of your diet and minimising meal sizes, because everyone is different and everyone needs different amounts of energy to keep them going through whatever they need to be doing.
    Look forward to more posts!
    Lizzie xox

    1. Hi Lizzie,
      You are so right about the large quantities of fuel that sportspeople need!! I have been looking into sports dietetics quite a lot recently, and like soccer players such as yourself, all runners should be eating LOTS of carbohydrate. The intensity and length of typical training sessions requires it.

      Whilst there is plenty of information on the web about how to fuel up properly, it generally comes as wishy-washy words of warning, and not implementable recommendations. Understanding the training vs. fuel formula would be much more helpful that the advice I've been getting so far...

      "Eat more rice." (How much more?)
      "Don't eat too many vegetables." (How many is too many?)
      "Avoid overtraining." (Yes, ok. But how exactly do you DO that?)

      I want to write some posts about other sports soon too, so keep an eye out for a soccer special :)

  2. Really awesome blog! I think the things you're talking about are incredibly important, and definitely need to be spoken about in an open and candid way... something you've really succeeded in doing here :)
    I came across an article from Runners World that i found really relevant to this post actually... not sure if you've seen it, but just in case you might be interested:
    Keep writing... i look forward to reading more :)

    1. Hello!
      Thank you for your lovely feedback, and for posting the link from Runners World. I came across this particular article a few months ago, and it makes some excellent points about how the media shapes our perceptions of what is 'healthy':

      "... It's the sound bites, the headlines, that grab attention. Then people add it to their list of rules. It's totally out of context for what they need to do to support their level of training."

      Being out of touch with eating appropriately is dangerous. Runners cannot support an intense training regime without proper nutrition. That should be the focus!

  3. I am a 62 year old runner. I have been running for over 30 years. When I was in my 20's and 30's, I stopped having my period from over-training and under-eating. I got way too skinny, but thought Yippy. The thinner I am, the faster I run. And I was dang fast! Welp, the bottom line is I now have SEVERE osteoporosis. The regular osteoporosis drugs have done nothing to help me. I now take a daily injection (not fun!) of an experimental drug. I still run, but I now fuel my runs with lots of carbohydrates. But it's too late. So let this be a cautionary tale.

    1. Hello,
      I'm so sorry to hear that running so much has caused you all of these health problems :(
      It really is a double-edged sword when you run to excess like we have.
      I hope that you are able to run in a capacity that keeps you happy without compromising your health from now on!
      Keep me updated with how you are going; and thank you for sharing your story with us - often it is hard to talk about these things, so it means a lot!

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