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Fuel For Life

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I am a runner. Daily, I daydream of my feet gliding along the paved switchbacks that decorated the hills surrounding the valley I grew up in.

I am a dietitian. Daily, I discuss the foundational sciences and philosophies surrounding food.

More times than not, these two identities overlap themselves in my personal life. Why? No food equals no fuel, which equals no running. I always remind my clients food is meant to be simple. But throw activity and fueling into the food equation, and I could recount all the moments of “bonking” I have experienced.

(Bonking: inadequate supply of food sourced to your body for fuel during movement)

Best example: sitting on a random, downtown curb post-race-too dehydrated and depleted to walk- from the worst stomachache because I thought running 13.1 miles with minimal preparation was easy. Oh, how humbled I was.

You may think, well, if you didn’t actually train properly...then yeah, it makes sense that you crashed and burned. But what does that mean exactly- training? Because after many “trials by fire,” I believe training is not just building your aerobic threshold, but, perhaps, in order to build strength, one must first fuel adequately.

Again, no food equals no fuel, which equals no running. Or any kind of activity you may enjoy for that matter.

Let’s break this down even more simply. We all have a metabolism; your metabolism is your assembly line of breaking down food into fuel (aka glucose, amino acids, fat) and sending the supply throughout your body. So, what is the operating schedule of your metabolism? 24/7/365. How might that be? Well that fuel being sent throughout your body is for all the ongoing functions occurring internally (being able to focus clearly/ heart pumping/ tissue repairs/ etc.). Hence: no food equals no fuel. Not just for activity but for your body every day. This daily assembly line of food into fuel is called your resting metabolism. Therefore, your metabolism is working around the clock to utilize the food you eat throughout the day in order to ensure you are properly fueled.

Now, let’s add movement into the mix. (i.e., movement being exercise/ physical activity). If our body is naturally designed to already use the standard amount of food we consume to energize our required functions of living...what happens if we increase our activities of daily living but not our intake?

In brief summary: energy deficit/ bonking/ increased fatigue/ delayed recovery/ increased risk for injury.

The above scenarios are examples of how our body begins to compensate functions, as well as certain nutrient stores, due to an overall energy deficit. Meaning, elevated metabolic rate with inadequate fuel.

Most importantly, no food equals no fuel, so feed your body to fuel your days.

Fortunately, this is preventable. And here’s how:

  • Build a strong foundation with food: learn which foods fall into which food groups. Be sure to incorporate a balanced combination of your favorite foods from all five food groups to optimize your overall nutritional adequacy of macronutrients, vitamins, and minerals.
  • Be consistent with when you eat: alternate between meals and snacks every three to four hours to maintain energy stores, properly fuel your metabolic tank, and keep blood glucose levels managed.
  • Properly pair macronutrients with micronutrients(vitamins/minerals): at every meal, aim to fill 50% of your plate with colorful fruits and vegetables; meanwhile, the rest of your plate can consist of grains, proteins, or fat. For snacks, remember, two food groups are always better than one because it will promote satiety between meals.
  • With increased movement, comes increased intake: the best rule of thumb is- for any engagement in activity greater than or equal to 30 minutes- increase intake by an additional serving of one macronutrient paired with an additional serving of one micronutrient.

These recommendations will not only ensure a more promising journey towards activity but a sustainable routine with food that can lead to a positive relationship for your health.

Most importantly, no food equals no fuel, so feed your body to fuel your days.

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