The Obsessed Fortysomething Runner: Do you “eat to run,” “run to eat,” or neither?

Mmmmmm ... s'mores ... photo by Geli Heidelburger.

I got into running five years ago for the typical reasons: losing weight and getting fit. (It was kind of embarrassing to realize that my then-73 year old dad, who runs 4 miles just about every day, was in much better shape than I was.) It took about six months to get rid of the unwanted pounds, and I've maintained my current weight since then (and look kind of like your stereotypical runner).
Maintaining weight, as opposed to losing it slowly, is basically like being able to eat an extra Big Mac a day. (I wouldn't recommend that as a dietary plan, of course.) It presents an interesting question: run to eat, or eat to run?
Run to eat. Let's face it, eating is a delight. Running miles means calories burned means more calories to take in via food. So one philosophy of running is that it's simply a means to enjoy more food than you'd otherwise be able to.
Eat to run. If you read articles about elite runners, it sounds like they eat a ton, but in a very controlled, healthy way. (See Mo Farah's typical day and meal schedule -- no junk food; or ultramarathoner Scott Jurek's vegan diet.) I once read about an Ironman triathlete who looked at eating merely as fuel for the body; no hedonistic pleasure at all. Eating under this philosophy is only about achieving top athletic performance.

Having thought about this question now, I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t fall into either camp. I have my food weaknesses (soft drinks, fast food) that I’m not ready to give up, so I’m pretty sure I don’t eat to run. In fact, I don’t follow any kind of dietary plan, although my breakfasts and dinners probably would look most like the Mediterranean Diet. Breakfast tends to be unrefined cereal (current favorite is Kashi Go Lean Crunch), oatmeal, or yogurt. Dinner, assuming we’re not pressed for time, always includes vegetables and fruit, with fish and chicken as the most common protein.
As for lunch, well, I did say I have my weaknesses. But hey, Chipotle and Subway aren’t that bad . . . .
On the other hand, I don’t think I’m firmly in the run to eat camp. While I don’t feel that I deprive myself of anything I really want to eat, I do try to avoid mindless snacking, and I don’t have (non-fruit/non-yogurt) dessert all that often. I do track my calorie intake still, which means that I’m still afraid to try one of Burgerville’s undoubtedly delicious but ridiculous 1000+ calorie milkshakes; and I do care about keeping my weight where it is because, according to Runner’s World‘s Amby Burfoot, “there’s no denying that healthy runners will race about two seconds per mile faster for every pound they lose.”
Of course, in the end, whether you eat to run, run to eat, or are somewhere in the middle, it’s a good thing to get out there and pound the pavement.
This post originally posted on our old site in July 2013.
About Tung Yin (278 Articles)
Law prof by day, runner all the time. Got off the couch in January 2011 and have been obsessed with running ever since.

2 Comments on The Obsessed Fortysomething Runner: Do you “eat to run,” “run to eat,” or neither?

  1. I was running to eat but I just started eating to run. The Runner’s World Cookbooks is awesome. Of course, I do sneak in some recipes from the Harry Potter Cookbook too. Who doesn’t like a little custard 🙂

  2. Something you should know — burgerville will also make their milkshakes with non-fat yogurt! Less guilt for the same price. They’re also super conscientious about preparing things gluten-free if that’s your dietary choice. I have been running regularly for the past 24 years and off and on for a dozen years before that, so I am a happy runner AND eat whatever I choose, but I do eat a healthy, organic, whole grain, vegetarian diet plus fish, and I do eat dessert! However, I don’t drive all the way to Beaverton for a 5k on the weekend…

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