Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Thu, 18 Feb 1999 13:31:04 -0500

Pro-Protein

(from RC 281)

Warning: What you're about to read here could shake your faith in what you've been taught about nutrition. Or it could anger you because I question your fondly held beliefs.

This column swims against the tide of conventional wisdom about what a runner should and shouldn't eat. Which is: Carbohydrates are good, fats are bad, and proteins are limited because they often come in packages with little carbo and loads of fat.

Until the past two years I ate the usual high-carbo, low-fat and therefore little-protein runner's diet. This began to change when spells of dizziness suddenly hit me in 1995 and continued rather dramatically for the next year.

Eating less carbohydrates of the refined type (especially sugar, to which I was addicted) along with more protein helped me more than any other therapy. The fat load has naturally crept up, but this seems a small penalty for remaining level-headed.

My book Best Runs carries a chapter on these diet changes. I won't repeat any of that now, but will update with supporting material gleaned recently from someone else's book.

Michael and Mary Dan Eades, both MDs, promote a high-protein and low-carbohydrate diet in their book Protein Power. They say that many Americans suffer from carbo overload, which leads to everything from excess weight to serious medical conditions.

The Eadeses write that insulin is the culprit. Too much carbohydrate floods the systems with insulin -- which among other effects causes yo-yoing energy, water retention, elevated blood pressure and weight gain.

These authors generally recommend limiting carbo grams while raising protein intake. For active people such as runners they prescribe at least 0.6 grams of protein each day per pound of body weight, and no more than 0.9 gram of carbohydrates daily per pound.

I would weigh 135 on a good day. By the Eades formula I need at least 80 protein grams daily. They'd limit my carbos to 120 grams a day.

I could launch into a personal testimonial of benefits from shifting my protein-carbo balance, but will simply say the results have been pleasant so far. Instead of speaking personally, I'll let Drs. Michael and Mary Dan tell a running story.

They don't speak highly of our favorite activity, dwelling on the story of an ex-runner. In mid-book, four photos appear. They look like as many different people but are all the same one, Stan Kuter from Little Rock.

The Eadeses describe the pictures:

1. "Stan was 43 years old and heavily into running and low-fat dieting. He appears kind of wasted and emaciated because... well, he was. The constant running, 50 miles per week, was breaking down his muscles, and the inadequate protein component of his low-fat diet wasn't rebuilding them." Finally, the authors write sarcastically, Stan "had all the fun he could stand." He stopped running and his weight soared, as shown in the next photo.

2. "When he quit running, the combination of reduced metabolic rate and no exercise opened the floodgates of body-fat accumulation. This situation is one familiar to many who try to maintain their weight by running and other endurance exercises... When they quit or even slow down, they find their weight increasing at a frightening rate." The ex-athlete tired of lugging around this fat, so he entered the next stage of his metamorphosis.

3. "Stan decided to take a different approach to conditioning. He got a copy of Thin So Fast, [Michael Eades's] earlier book on the advantages of a restricted-carbohydrate nutritional program, followed it to the letter and began a regimen of weight training." This yielded a body-builder's physique. But again he couldn't stick with what he'd found in this phase, and he settled into the body seen in the final photo.

4. "Stan doesn't work out regularly anymore and doesn't always follow his restricted-carbohydrate regimen. But he still looks great... When he does gain a little fat, he simply cuts back on his carbohydrates slightly, and in just a few days the excess is gone."

Stan Kuter now shuns running. I wish he had completed the cycle and gone back to his original activity, to see what his new diet would have meant there. Next week we'll meet a runner who did profit from such a change.

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