5 dangerous diet myths runners should avoid

Terrible diet mistakes runners make

There are so many reasons why people run, but one of the most popular has to be, to stay in shape and drop a few pounds. Now that works for a lot of people without any extra help required. But for others, or the more impatient, who want to try different things to lose weight faster or boost their performance, there are some diet-related traps they really need to avoid.

High protein diet

It’s tempting to indulge in a high protein diet because after all, they can help you lose weight and increase muscle mass, for that lean, toned look. But if you eat too much animal protein and not enough fresh fruit and vegetables over many years, it can also lead to chronic metabolic acidosis, which is essentially an imbalance in the body’s acid balance. A diet containing too much animal protein is highly acidic. Your kidneys have to work overtime to counter-balance this, which can ultimately aggravate pre-existing kidney conditions. And it can also lead to insulin resistance – which in turn can cause diabetes and high blood pressure.

Chicken breast

Low carb diet

A low carb diet is another great way, on paper at least, of losing weight quickly. But any rapid weight loss tends to be purely glycogen and the water it carries (which is four times its weight). If you are a regular runner, you can plough through your liver and muscle glycogen stores quite quickly too, and once that happens, you could be in trouble. With little or no glycogen you effectively lose your power source for energy as well as water for hydration. Yes you might then start to burn fat, but that is a longer process because it burns much slower than carbohydrate. Your metabolism will start to operate sluggishly and you will have a lot less energy for exercise. And if you’re filling up on low carb products that are pre-packaged, rather than natural plant-based, you could lower your fibre intake too much, which could then lead to bowel, digestive and cardiovascular problems, as well as vitamin deficiencies.

Carb loading

In years gone by the perceived wisdom for elite athletes was that before a marathon, or a long distance race, athletes needed to carb load in the days leading up to the event. But this wasn’t done in the way we now understand carb loading; ie. sustained intake of carb rich foods across the food spectrum throughout the training regime. No, this meant eating insane amounts of pasta, rice, bread, potatoes etc, to try to store energy for the challenge ahead. Now that can and did lead to bloating, indigestion, constipation and in some cases diarrhoea. The trouble is, some runners still think that this type of carb loading is the way to go. It isn’t. And for people with diabetes, it can also have a negative effect on blood sugar levels.

Calorie control/disorderly eating

Running can be another way of trying to control your weight and perception of yourself. But mistaken beliefs about the benefits of running, desired changes to body shape and the calories burnt etc, can encourage people, especially women but not exclusively, to use the sport as a reason to rationalise their calorie intake. This can in turn become a condition whereby people don’t suffer from a specific eating disorder, but can have an unhealthy relationship with food and their own body image. It can range from skipping a carbohydrate drink on a long run because of an anxiety about calorie intake, to more general limiting of carbs and calories in the diet and even substituting an energy bar with a proper meal. This is something a lot of runners may suffer from, but be blissfully unaware of. However, according to a survey from the University of North Carolina, 65 per cent of women in the USA suffer from disordered eating.

Detox diets

For runners, eating very small amounts of food or cutting out entire food groups altogether, however tempting, is definitely not the way to go. Any associated weight loss is almost always temporary and it can seriously hinder your ability to take in all the healthy, immune system boosting nutrients you require. This is especially important for runners who rack up a high weekly mileage. A lot of detox diets talk alluringly of the potential benefits of cutting out dairy and wheat. Well if you cut out dairy, you may become calcium deficient, which could lead to brittle bones and possible injury, a slower metabolism and a loss of efficient fat burning capability. No wheat denies the body foods like pasta, bread and cereals, all of which are rich in carbohydrates, fibre, minerals and vitamins. You will probably also experience low blood sugar, which makes it very difficult to do any kind of exercise. So as with all things connected with diet and fitness, everything in moderation is always best.

Comments (3)

  • bkloss 'I think Tim Noakes disagrees with almost everything you write there http://www.runnersworld.co.za/nutrition/novel-dietary-ideas/'

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  • renton 'I run an average of 5-7K every day and I do track my food: I try to keep 65% carbs, 20% proteins, 15% fats, is it too many proteins? I use to take protein shakes however they are vegan... is it as bad as for the animal proteins?'

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  • TheSealDeal 'So you criticise all these diet types and peoples eating habits, but you don't offer any suggestions in place. Even at times it comes across as contradictory. If you're telling people not to do something, at least offer an alternative of what to do.'

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