Your body composition plays a major role in your running ability. Several studies have found that a runner’s speed is directly correlated to his or her percentage of body fat. Every 5 percent of added body weight reduces performance by 5 percent, according to a recent study. If you’re a runner who’s in it to win it, you must carefully regulate your body to get to your ideal running weight.
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Ideal Body Basics
Runners do best when they are at their lowest healthy body weight. That means cutting pounds whenever possible and working hard to maintain a trim figure. The marathon world record holder is a grown man who weighed 113 pounds when he took the title.
Unfortunately, you cannot control every aspect of your body. And your body weight includes vital systems such as your bones, organs and blood, which cannot be safely reduced. The only part you can control is your body fat, and even that is affected by a variety of factors and is not entirely in your control.
Nevertheless, thin and trim is the goal if you’re looking to boost your running performance. Getting your body weight down to the lowest healthy weight you can sustain is a critical tactic to improving your performance. Just be careful not to dip too low; being malnourished will hurt, not help your performance.
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It is estimated that 64 percent of what determines someone’s lowest healthy body weight is genetic. Every person has a unique point that is their lowest healthy body weight, and the only way to identify it is by trying to find it.
Finding the Right Diet
Longtime runner and nutritionist Kathleen Porter emphasizes the importance of maintaining a healthy diet as a runner, rather than resorting to crash dieting before marathons and races. “[Good] nutrition should be part of your ongoing training, not something you start to do only in the weeks leading up to the race,” she told Fitness Magazine—and she is correct.
Your individual caloric needs depend on a variety of factors such as activity level, body weight and genetics, but there are several online calculators, such as this one, which can help you estimate your needs. (Remember, online calculators only offer an estimate, not an exact number—you may need to tinker with your intake to find the ideal spot.)
Porter recommends that runners stick to a diet that is 60 to 70 percent carbohydrates, 20 to 30 percent fats, and 10 to 15 percent protein. Glycogen is a crucial energy source, and Porter recommends runners refuel with a carb-based snack within half an hour of running to maintain their energy levels.
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Hydration is also critical to your health, both to avoid dehydration and to keep your joints working, your body cool and your body running smoothly. Drink water regularly, including during runs. Sports drinks can restore electrolytes, but plain old-fashioned water will do for daily running.
Training Toward a Runner’s Body
Training toward a runner’s body is critical to improving your performance, but it’s important to do so safely and gently to avoid causing any damage.
While training, runners should follow certain guidelines. Don’t try to increase your performance levels too quickly. Develop your performance by 10 percent each week. If you’re able to run two miles, go for 2.2 miles the next time you want to lengthen your running. If you’re able to run 10 miles, because you’re a marathon runner, add one mile to your run next week. The point is to work in increments that reflect your current capabilities. This avoids exhausting your muscles and running out of energy too soon.
Track your daily calorie intake with a food diary, and make sure your diet reflects your activity levels. This way, you will know what you are consuming, and you can see the direct impact of your caloric intake on your activity levels and capabilities, which will help you find your ideal running weight. Remember, you should eat to run, not run to eat.
Maintaining a marathon-ready body is exhausting and unnecessary. You don’t have to be at your peak physical performance every day of the year. Be gentle with your body, and allow yourself to maintain an activity level that you can realistically stick to, rather than constantly pushing yourself toward perfection. Runners usually engage in some dietary changes in the weeks leading up to a marathon, which works well for them.
But keeping your body in generally good shape will help you during training and allow you to make physical strides that might otherwise be difficult to achieve. Your ideal running weight will boost your performance, but your dedication will help you follow through.