Calories In, Calories Out

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As runners we are often told, “I am sure you can eat whatever you want, you run so much.”

To some extent, especially for younger runners with their high-burning engines, this is true.  Any calories into the body will not spend a second hiding abs or piling onto hips or butts.  However, this is not necessarily the case for adult runners, and it really underscores a problem of obesity in our country, even amongst runners.

Personally, I know I do not eat the best. Part of the nature of my present existence is travel and lots of it. For example, I have not spent a weekend at home since 2009. I am usually gone for at least three, sometimes four, days a week. It is extremely hard to eat healthy when you are eating food on the road (or at race expos, etc.). Throw in the cravings after a marathon or an ultra, and it becomes even more difficult to eat properly. Even when you try to at least eat decent, you may not be doing even close to the best you could.

I have been touting to many people that while running long distance is a wonderful way for many people who are overweight to lose unwanted pounds initially, it is not necessarily the best way to keep losing weight, unless you pay attention to calories in and calories out. Studies have shown that we greatly overestimate how many calories we burn in exercise and grossly underestimate how many calories we eat.

Perfect example: in a marathon race this past weekend, I burned approximately 3,500 calories (I am a 175 lb male who did a 3:21 training run—for those wishing to check my math.). Afterward, I had a foot long sub of the variety I eat almost exclusively while I am on the road.

However, just a few days before, my friend, Jennifer, sent me a link to the Worst Lunch Sandwiches in America. Lo and behold, my standard sub was on the list. I knew it wasn’t the healthiest choice in America, but I never thought it contained—get ready—1160 calories, 43 grams of fat and 3320mg of sodium! A little under 1/3 of all the calories I burned in a marathon were consumed by this one sandwich.  Let’s not even add the chips or drink I had, or the other three meals and snacks I consumed while flying home.

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