Pizza, Pizza

Refuelling to Run Life

Of course we eat, whether we run or not. You live, you eat.

Running and eating, however, often seem to run counter to each other, even while these two sides of life could just as well run in tandem and make for better living. [Sorry about the running gags, can’t resist.]

After all, for all too many a person, running is like so many a type of exercise. It is just taken up in order to lose weight or keep the pounds off. Having weight issues or not, the runner’s life is attractive to them just because of the calories it burns and the indulgences that it allows.

Pizza, PizzaCase in point: Suunto allows users to create “apps” for its Ambit watch, and users create apps showing how many beers or bars of chocolate an exercise has been burning off.
Dean Karnazes‘ original claim to fame (for all too many a fan) also seems to have been the story not just of how he can run so far and so much, but how he would sometimes order pizza to be delivered to a street corner he’d pass while on one of his epic ultra-runs.

“Hey, I burn it, surely I can eat what I want, right?!?”

Meanwhile, running, like other physical activities (but rather more so), would make it very obvious how important it is to properly provide for the body’s needs. In particular, it makes two aspects apparent:

For one, if you want to be ready for action and able to feel even remotely comfortable, you  either have to be on a well-thought out and experience-based schedule of times for eating and times for running, or you need to eat meals that are, well, probably better for you anyways – light, becoming, not too heavy or rich or simply too much.

Try running too soon after a meal, having eaten too much, or having eaten foods that are too rich or otherwise not becoming you, and you’ll notice. Then, a run is suffering. Weighed down and with uncomfortable feelings, from the throat to the gut, and into the legs.

Secondly, for long runs – and for the good life – one has to find out how much energy is needed while and to be active. It is not just a matter of calories, though, it is a matter of how much and what can even be dealt with while on the move – but also, how much and what is necessary to prevent a breakdown. At some point, you cannot go on if you don’t refuel. At the same time, there comes a point when you just can’t ingest anything more and have to run on what seems to be empty – or stop.

All the energy bars and gels notwithstanding, it is not all about mere energy, though.

This may easily be the third lesson to learn from running, but it is a hidden one – all the more so when it goes against the comfortable and seemingly obvious “I burn calories, so I can eat whatever I want.”

More calories can be better while burning lots of energy, and quick calories have their use in that. All the calories you could possibly put into you won’t help you go on, though, if you haven’t built the right base of endurance and burning of your ‘fuel’, if the food doesn’t become you.

It’s obvious when trying to run after too heavy a meal, but it’s also an issue if you try to subsist only on fake food that promises energy and helpful electrolytes, if not even more. All those energy foods sound so enticing, seem all the better the more they promise – but what it takes to go on, to recover well after exertion, and to remain and get better, is real food rich in the nutrients a body needs, and truly good for a person.

Here’s the (spice) rub: We’ve been getting so fixated either on macronutrients – Is it carbohydrates or protein you need to stay fit and lean? – or on the single latest miracle substance to give health and fitness, we forget that simple, better cooking can provide better what the body needs and the mind desires.

It takes a certain learning, though. An eating education.

Runner or not – and being physically active can, as mentioned above, make it all the easier to excuse bad eating – as bodies based on a particular evolutionary history, we have a natural tendency to enjoy certain kinds of foods. The sugary, fatty, aromatic entices us quickly and naturally; more seems better than less. Add cultures based on immoderation and convenience, and you create the perfect storm of bad eating – as we have.

For better eating – and indeed, better living – then, it takes a new learning. Learning by eating, and eating to be active, at that.

Feuerflecken

Where the two come together is in many, pleasurable and promising, ways:

Eat with more restraint, and you can be active more. No being weighed down by overeating that may have felt good while doing it, but then has to be paid for.
Eat in abundance – of different foods and flavors – and get more diverse taste sensations, more pleasure (perhaps), and a greater diversity of nutrients (certainly), that will contribute to fitness and health.
Eat real food – check out the suggestions Skratch Labs is making for ‘endurance eating’ and their ‘recovery shake’  – and live better for it, ready to play.
Play to be more physically active, not just during a few short times engaged in exercise, but in the everyday active life, and be able to enjoy food more, digest it better, learn what does you really good; play with the food, in the kitchen, and get more aware of the positive effects pleasurable and activity-oriented eating can have.

Trust me, I still love to indulge my sweet tooth – but even when it comes to chocolate, I’ve found that the real stuff rather than the candy provides more aroma, more pleasure, and does not prevent my getting out more, whenever it fancies me. The fake stuff weighs down and, on a run, just wants to come back up. The latter is not the way to go, even (and especially) if it seems cheap and easy; the former is.

No, it is not just the way to go, it is the way to run – and enjoy it all, all the more.

And what's your take?