Special blog, cowritten by Erin Poirier + Janna MacKay
My dad isn’t too happy about my plans to run across The Gambia. “You’re just a little slip of a thing. It’s too much running!” he says. Somewhat true. I am a “slip of a thing” or to be more technical: skinny. But the running, I know that I’m fit enough to do it.
Last year, during my Boston Marathon training cycle, under Coach Matt Sheffield, my natural body weight seemed to reset. I started in mid 120 lbs and ended less than 120lbs, where I’ve remained. Nutrition and weight are important factors in my training. My weekly mileage is 85+ km per week. I’m hungry all of the time. Except at 3:30pm every Tuesday and Thursday when I absolutely must eat to fuel for my track workouts. Sometimes I lament my hunger & force-eating problems to people in my life and they say “I wish I had that problem.” I smile and nod and think to myself, “Sure, it’s easy. All you have to do is run 85km per week.” I digress. I need to fuel myself properly for my running and I’m concerned about maintaining the best weight.
Runners often wonder if losing weight will make you faster. The answer is almost always yes. But only to a point. Lose too much weight, and you become weaker and slower, not stronger and faster. According to Runner’s World’s Amby Burfoot, healthy runners will race about two seconds per mile faster for every pound they lose. Weight loss boosts maximal aerobic capacity (VO2 max), an essential contributor to distance-running potential, because the less weight you carry around, the more miles per gallon you get from your oxygen. And because losing a few pounds makes running easier, you should be able to increase your workout distance and speed. So losing weight helps you train harder. Read more here
In terms of finding and maintaining my healthiest weight, as well as my fastest weight, I don’t really know what the actual balance is. Last year at Boston, I raced really well at my newly reset weight under 120lbs. But I also know that I’m skinny and that I likely hover close to “becoming weaker and slower.”
This January, with my father’s words on my mind, I thought about how I would stay healthy through this long training cycle and onto my plane to Africa. It became clear that I needed nutrition help.
I thought of a super Sports Nutritionist colleague, Janna MacKay, who I met while working on Public Health’s response to the H1N1 outbreak. I loved working with Janna because we could talk about sports. She seemed like the perfect person to help me with balancing maintaining weight and staying fast. During our first meeting, she asked me about my goal. It was simple: “don’t be too skinny when I leave for Africa.”
I submitted 4 days of food diaries to Janna and we were off and running!
Take it away Janna!
Erin (and her father) are smart to enlist the help of a nutrition professional in this expedition. So often, athletes log hours and hours of training only to come to race day and wonder what they’re going to eat. Nutrition is a key part of training and I’m happy to be a part of this fantastic journey.
My goal for Erin is to ensure that she stays at a competitive weight leading up to Boston and is able to quickly transition to training for The Gambia.
Basically, what I did was get an idea of how many calories Erin was eating (through her food diaries) and how much she was burning through lifestyle & activity. It sounds simple, but this aspect of the job is difficult. It is highly variable and depends on the accuracy of food databases, nutrition facts panels, activity calculators and of course, Erin. From this I was able to compare Erin’s estimated daily caloric intake to her calorie needs for age, height, weight and activity level. This gives me a starting point to make recommendations, which Erin and I will modify together throughout her training.
One of Erin’s concerns was that she feels like she’s always eating. So, my goal was to find ways to incorporate more nutrient & calorie dense foods, without increasing the volume of food, hence the addition of peanut butter to her buttered bagel. Erin also drinks about 2-3L of water per day, so I suggested swapping out a few glasses of water with pure juice or milk. Mixing up a few of her snacks to include a good mix of carbs and protein will also help fuel her workouts. Some examples are: an apple and string cheese, greek yogurt & berries, clementines & trail mix or peanut butter & jam sandwich.
Other goals we are working on are: hydration methods as well as pre-exercise, recovery and training nutrition. Right away, I’d like to see Erin consistently take in 30-60g of carbohydrate per hour during her long runs. This will include fuel from energy gels & sports drinks. I think this will make a difference in allowing her to maintain energy levels & performance during long training sessions. This also gives her a chance to practice different refueling strategies that she will use during competition.
The training diet is something that needs to be practiced and tweaked. I look forward to working with Erin. She is a hard worker and highly motivated, which makes my job that much more rewarding.
This is just the beginning. Stay tuned!