You might think that training for a marathon means built-in weight loss. But I’ve learned that if anything, I have to watch what I eat MORE closely on a long-run day. My tendency is to overeat, thinking I’ve earned a splurge. It’s ridiculously easy to eat more calories than you burn on a long run, or at least it is for someone who likes to eat as much as I do.
Here’s what I’ve learned this time around that’s helping me dial down that impulse, or at least channel it in a way that helps me avoid the maddening (yet all too familiar) feeling of weighing MORE the day after a 15-miler:
*Hydrating is huge, especially as humid as the weather’s been here lately. As a reformed Diet Coke addict I try to not keep a stash of soda of any kind around the house, and as a former fat person, I haven’t drunk juice in years. But if I don’t have something appealing to drink besides water in the hours after a 10+ mile run, I’m much more likely to go into binge mode. Being able to indulge in a couple of Powerade Zeros or a sparkling water feels like a treat that gives my body what it’s really hungry for: moisture.
*Laying in a stock of fruit helps immensely. When I was following the Weight Watchers Points Plus diet a few years ago, fruit was considered a “free” food that you didn’t have to count. Sometimes I’ll revert back to that method on long-run day and allow myself as much fruit as I want in the hours after a long run, provided I control my intake otherwise. A big bowl of fresh berries with a couple of fat-free Greek yogurts and a couple of bananas are a hugely satisfying postrun feast that helps me “win the day” at the scale.
*If I really must eat something ridiculous, I’ve found that I can get away with consuming half a carton of Blue Bunny Sweet Freedom ice cream – but ONLY if I follow a specific dietary regimen otherwise. This is a nutritionist’s nightmare, but one menu template that I follow every once in awhile when I’m feeling a junk-food impulse on long run day is to have a pre-run PBJ with banana made with Healthy Goodness bead, one serving of Combos during the run, half a carton of the aforementioned low-cal/low-fat ice cream afterward (Bunny Tracks is my favorite, but even vanilla will do the trick), then two bags of 94 percent fat free microwave popcorn with as much Powerade Zero or sparkling water as I want the rest of the day.
*One of my favorite long run routes is an out-and-back with the turnaround point at Heyerly’s, a local small-town bakery. At 13.6 miles (going the long way), it’s just a tad over half-marathon distance. I’ve found that I can get a Gatorade and one doughnut (almost always the fried cinnamon, aka a caramel roll) without consequence – and even weigh slightly less the next day – provided I hold myself to 1,200 calories otherwise. Because I’m so hungry on long run days, this means filling up on veggies and lean proteins. There is no room for any other junk, or I inevitably pay a penalty at the scale the next day.
*When my long run doesn’t take place until the afternoon or evening, the challenge becomes how to stay fueled without overloading. (I once took off on a 15-miler with the remains of half a dozen bakery-style cookies in my gut, and suffered enormously for it. You’d think I’d know better – and I do – but a delayed run can make me anxious and when I’m anxious I’ve got to battle the impulse to eat.) The best way around this problem for me is to limit myself to 25 carbs every three hours. In the hours leading up to the run, I might have something like 1 T of peanut butter with lettuce on 2 slices of Healthy Goodness 35-calorie bread, a fat-free Greek yogurt with 1 T of dry rolled oats or an egg and 1 oz of cheese on 2 slices of Healthy Goodness toast. After the run, if I have two more 3-hour segments left in the day before bedtime, I load up on a big salad with lots of lean protein in the first segment and then allow myself one 25-carb treat in the second segment (for example, one slice of the garlic toast I really wanted earlier). Another option: 1 McDonald’s vanilla cone (24 carbs) and 1-2 plain hamburgers with no bun or carby toppings.