By Bonnie Stein, M.Ed.
Are you a walker or runner who thinks you’ve got the hang of eating healthfully, yet you’re hungry an hour or so after breakfast? Do you wonder why you’re not losing those last few stubborn pounds even though you’re already eating low-fat? Are you exercising at least five times a week and still not reaching your body fat goals?
Assuming that your goals are realistic, maybe it’s time to make sure that you’re getting the correct amount of servings and the correct portion sizes from the different food groups on the Food Guide Pyramid. Too many of us need to be reminded of the necessity for balance in our daily eating plan. Many recreational athletes, who are not the size they want to be, are not eating enough from the different food groups.
Not too long ago I was racewalking with one of my advanced students. Halfway through our eight miles, she started complaining of how hungry she was. (Eight miles takes us about an hour and a half to complete. Water is necessary to carry with us, but food should not be necessary for that amount of time.)
“Did you have breakfast?” I inquired. “Yes, Bonnie, of course I had breakfast. I had two bagels.” Well, bagels are fine, healthful, low-fat food. Bagels provide a good source of carbohydrates for a racewalker or runner. However, two bagels are not breakfast. A better choice would have been one bagel with fat-free cheese and half a grapefruit. Another possibility is cereal with skim milk and a banana. Aim for a grain (hopefully whole grain), a protein (from either the meat or dairy group) and a fruit. That’s a breakfast.
I’ve heard stories from other racewalkers who are trying to cut down on fat intake. They are eating “carbohydrate-only” meals and hence, feeling hungry all morning long. One racewalker ate a bowl of fruit at 7:00 am, a bagel at 8:30 am, a banana at 10:00 am, rice cakes at 11:00 am and was starving again by lunch. Lunch was a salad with fat-free dressing, a fat-free muffin, and an apple. By 2:00 pm, she couldn’t understand why she was still hungry. “I’m eating all day long,” she complained. “I sometimes eat two or three bagels a day; I’m eating low-fat, but I’m still not losing any weight.”
These racewalkers need to balance their eating plan with some protein. We don’t need a lot of protein but we do need some. In fact protein should only comprise 10-15% of our daily calories. We need a little protein with every single meal - breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Good protein sources are skim milk, fat-free cheese, fat-free yogurt, turkey or chicken breast without the skin, tuna packed in water, lean meats, fish and beans.
The protein/carbohydrate mix helps to satisfy hunger so that we’re not hungry every hour and a half. Page Love Johnson, a registered dietitian, sports nutritionist, and the owner of Nutrisport Consulting, says, “meals just containing grain foods are usually digested within a two hour period. They do provide muscle and brain energy, but they only satisfy appetite for short periods of time.”
Carbohydrates are the mainstay of an athlete’s eating plan, (55-75% of daily calories should come from carbohydrates), but pair your carbohydrates with some protein. With protein, more is not better. If you eat more protein than your body can utilize, the excess protein is stored as body fat, not muscle.
I eat six times a day (breakfast, mid-morning snack, lunch, mid-afternoon snack, dinner, and an evening snack. I eat from the Food Guide Pyramid (6-11 servings from the bread & cereal group, 5-9 servings from the fruit and vegetable group, 2-3 servings from the milk and dairy group, and 4-6 oz. per day from the meat group.)
Any personal nutritional recommendations should be made by a registered dietician, ideally a sports nutritionist. You can contact a dietitian in your area by calling the American Dietetic Association at 1-800-366-1655. In the meantime, I recommend you put enough low-fat food into your day, from all the food groups, stick to the correct portion size, don’t skip meals ever and I bet you’ll get the results you’re aiming for.