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Why You Shouldn’t Diet While Training

I hope you all had a wonderful weekend! We finished up some projects and almost finished the last of the shopping for baby things. Our Sunday started with some cinnamon buns (after sleeping in), which was a wonderful way to adjust to the time change. While I look forward to some extra daylight, I’m just not a fan of time changes. Are you?

It’s weird for me on weekends to not have a long run to do, or anything training related. Don’t get me wrong – it’s been nice to enjoy slow mornings, and head to the gym whenever I crave some movement. But, it’s also weird to not be focusing on pre- and post-long run fueling.

We live in a pretty active neighborhood and community. It’s very common to see early morning runners and cyclists out and about. Especially as we head into the spring marathon season. And while parts of me have enjoyed time off from long distance running, there’s a greater part of me that misses training and all it has to offer.


Today’s post is actually in response to a reader email I received. The reader asked how to balance nutrition and training when she knows deep down she still desires weight loss. While she is practicing some of the principles of intuitive eating, she’s struggling about managing joyful movement.

So today, we’re talking about throwing the diet mentality away during training.

Balancing Training and Nutrition

Those training for Boston, or even other races, are doing their peak long runs right now. In fact, I have a few clients in the midst of training. What I see most often with training is 90% focus on the training plan, and only a 10% focus on nutrition. In reality, the focus on nutrition needs to be wayyy higher, especially if someone is looking for optimal performance and recovery.

And, I get it. I’ve followed training plans and run many races. You want/need a good training plan to feel confident and excited. But, you should also have a powerful nutrition plan. Since my office is in a gym, I see a lot of athletes. And I do a lot of talks just spreading awareness about the importance of changing nutrition as you increase your exercise.

Even if you don’t need a dietitian’s services for a long time period, I think it’s extremely useful to work with someone in the beginning as you lay out your training plan and test the waters. You want to make sure you’re getting the right balance of macronutrients, as well as sufficient vitamins and minerals as well.

Dieting and Training Don't Mix

To state the obvious, training is a huge stressor on the body. Heck, even if you’re not “training,” but you are just an intense exerciser. Spending 3 hours at the gym, or doing multiple workouts a day isn’t necessarily “healthy,” and can be borderline dangerous if you don’t have your nutrition plan in tune.

Intense exercise releases excessive cortisol, our stress hormone. You’re logging longer hours on your feet, and often times, more intense training sessions. You’re using more oxygen, requiring more calories, and burning through more micronutrients (like iron, magnesium, zinc, etc). Your body may need more time to recover, which it may or may not get, depending on your training schedule.

I have some people approach me saying they only want to run a race or engage in training to lose weight. And that tells me that they don’t quite understand their body’s needs. When we start using exercise as the end all be all for weight loss, rather than for enjoyment and well-being, we enter into dangerous territory. When we pride ourselves on being “motivated” or “healthy,” yet those motivated and healthy behaviors revolve around doing more and eating less, we are making things much worse off for ourselves.

Training and Dieting Don’t Mix

Bottom line —> Training for something is not the time to diet.

While I don’t recommend dieting in general, doing so while training is absolutely not recommended. Your body is already in a vulnerable state. Remember how I said that exercise is stressful? Dieting is stressful too. Also, remember that dieting plays a physical and psychological role on us.

Dieting causes harm to the individual, distorts body image and self-esteem, and is a major contributor to eating disorders. Furthermore, nearly 95% of diets fail. Would you follow a training plan if 95% of people failed using that same plan? Probably not.

You’re already expending more calories than you probably realize when training, except dieting will slow your metabolism. In essence, despite training more, eating less will slow your metabolism further.

Food is not something to restrict or cut out, but instead, something that normally needs to be increased and optimized. When I’m working with my athletes, we often talk in terms of eating attempts each day – we usually have a goal for the number of times we want to eat and fuel throughout the day, depending on when and what the training schedule looks like.

We don’t talk in terms of calories or numbers – and there’s a lot of flexibility based on foods the athlete likes and desires, as well as what they actually need.

Dieting and Training Don't Mix

What Else Food Offers

To state it simply, food is more than just calories – it’s how you can recover. It’s going to help strengthen immunity and help prevent muscle injuries. Sufficient food and nutrients are how you replenish stores so you can continue your training. The antioxidants that help stave off free radicals are found in food.

The necessary carbohydrates that replenish your liver and muscle glycogen stores are found in foods. Amino acids needed to build proteins and muscle mass are found in food. Food also has many other synergistic properties that supplements can’t offer.

Limiting foods will prohibit your body from getting all it needs. Trying to stay under a certain amount of calories could be ruining your sense of intuitive eating, but also, depriving your body of fuel it needs to perform and recover. Those in training often need higher amounts of macro and micronutrients.

Strenuous exercise increases sweat and urinary magnesium losses, meaning the need for it can increase by as much as 10 to 20 percent as physical activity levels increase.

Dieting and Training Don't Mix

Dieting while training could also put you at risk of electrolyte disturbances, increased risk of stress fractures and injury, or prolonged soreness and fatigue.

Are you experiencing signs of not eating enough for your training? Some of those symptoms may look like irregular or lost periods, trouble sleeping or trouble recovering from workouts. Furthermore, constant fatigue, feeling cold and even feeling more susceptible to sickness more often can also indicate overtraining.

These are signs that your nutrition and training aren’t matching up.

Other Running Posts You May Enjoy

How Nutrition Helps with Running Performance and Recovery


If you guys have any specific questions about nutrition and training, or want me to do a specific post, let me know!

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  1. This past week I had a few days of “ugh” about my body. I am in training, and still have those feelings! It was a big slice of humble pie because it reminds me that 1.) Just because I train does’t mean I will even have a Shalane Flanagan body and 2.) I can still get down on myself for how it looks even when it can do some incredible things.
    I talked to my mom about it, and having a past with food issues, I was happy that she heard me and simply said “Honey, it’s the end of the winter, everyone feels that way.”
    WHOA. I think as athletes we somehow think we’re “different” than people who don’t workout, like our body doesn’t have yearly cycles and go up and down with weight based on seasons. I’m so glad she reminded me of that, because sometimes, I can tell myself I appreciate my body but it’s hard to believe it when I feel just punchy.