It’s becoming more widely known that diets fail because the advice many of them tout is bad for us.
Runners are particularly at risk of trying to train while restricting calories or avoiding entire macronutrients (like carbs), which can lead to a host of other problems and, ultimately, “falling off the wagon”.
Here are five reasons you can’t stick to your training diet – and why you’re not the one to blame:
You’re restricting your calorie intake
Many runners try to eat a calorie-restricted diet while they train in the hopes that excess weight will fall off of them.
However, instead of losing weight quickly, the body is left without the means to repair muscles and you’re left feeling sore as well as groggy, increasing your risk of fainting thanks to electrolyte imbalances and resulting in you grabbing for low-fat, high-sugar snacks.
If you have a desire to lose weight, make sure you’re only running for cardio in the beginning and that you’re eating lots of wholefoods that you’ve prepared yourself – the less processed, the better.
In fact, by eating nutrient-dense wholefoods that are high in protein and fibre and cutting out processed, refined foods, you’ll find you’ll start losing weight without having to count calories at all.
Once you’ve shifted most of the weight you want to lose, continue eating enough for your body type and training regime before starting to build on your performance.
You’re not planning ahead
We’ve all been there: we head out for a run knowing full well we haven’t got any food prepared at home.
We tell ourselves we’ll knock something together when we get back, only to return ravenous and heading straight for the biscuit tin.
But all those processed convenience foods we tend to reach for are high in sugar and low in protein which your hungry, tired body will be in need of.
Instead of reassuring yourself that you just “worked off” that cookie, do your training regime and your diet a favour and make some post-run snacks to keep you going until your next meal.
Nutrient-dense foods keep you feeling fuller longer; while veggies, legumes and grains should make up the majority of your pre-season running diet, healthy fats are also ideal for satiety.
One of the easiest ways to have high-quality snacks ready at a moment’s notice is pre-make enough “energy balls” to see you through the week.
There are tons of recipes online to inspire you, featuring healthy fats like coconut oil, proteins like peanut butter, quinoa or hemp seeds, and complex carbs like oats, amaranth and buckwheat.
The best part is that you don’t even need to cook the mixture, and to save even more time you can simply press it into a tin and cut into bars once it’s firmed up in the fridge or freezer.
You’re avoiding water
I know, I know; water has the most boring taste on earth.
Or at least that’s what most people think until they kick the sugary drinks and realise just how much their taste buds have been altered.
Many studies have linked beverages containing calories with obesity, even finding that people who consumed their calories by liquid didn’t feel as full as those who got them from food, ultimately causing them to eat more.
For a runner trying to lose weight, the humble glass of water contains zero calories and, even more importantly and unlike sports drinks, zero sugar.
Not only that, but by eating a diet high in fruit and vegetables and low in drying, processed foods that contain flour and sugar, you’ll be able to get a good percentage of your daily fluid intake from your food.
The bigger and more active you are, the more fluid you’ll need, but rather than aiming for X-amount of water every day the best way to tell if you need a drink is to recognise whether or not you feel thirsty.
If you’re struggling to listen to what your body needs, go by your urine; it should be a light, straw colour – not too dark and not too clear.
Your gut flora is imbalanced
Scientists are only just starting to realise the role of gut bacteria in our overall health – although many “clean” eaters and proponents of natural health will tell you it should be common sense.
Carbs, for example, are the brain’s main source of fuel, but our diets in the Western world tend to be high in the refined kind, and many runners are no exception to this.
Seemingly harmless foods like bread and pasta cause insulin spikes that can quickly drop blood sugar and leave you feeling hungry and tired, with cravings, mood swings and digestive issues such as bloating or constipation being just some of the associated symptoms.
With sugar found in almost every kind of processed food, kicking it can be as tough as overcoming a drug habit, with strong withdrawal symptoms and cravings calling you back.
Add protein to every meal and snack which you’ll digest more slowly to keep you fuller longer, ditch refined carbs in favour of more complex ones, and take good quality supplements and probiotics to support your gut health.
One of the most effective ways to kick the habit is to stock up on better alternatives; for example, find a local baker who makes wholegrain or sourdough loaves so you don’t have to give up on sandwiches and keep a small stash of raw organic dark chocolate hidden away for those desperate moments.
You jumped in too fast
So you’ve upped your fibre intake and are suffering with some embarrassing wind and bloating, or you’ve made a vigilant effort to increase your water intake and now you’re peeing all the time.
Abandoning your training diet isn’t because you have a lack of willpower or discipline – it all just comes down to habits and training your body to accept your new regime.
Your bowel is a sensitive organ; it’s a creature of habit, so any sudden overhauls to your diet are naturally going to upset it and, in turn, put you off.
Whether you’re increasing a macronutrient in your diet or switching to healthier options, it may be long and boring but you need to make changes slowly.
Not only will this help your body adjust more easily and keep unpleasant withdrawals or reactions to a minimum, but you’ll find the changes in your shopping and eating habits less overwhelming so you’ll be more likely to stick with them in the long run.