Recently, JB and I saw an acquaintance whom we both consider to have a naturally rockin’ bod. But when we saw her this year, she looked terrible. She has lost about 15 pounds, her skin was pale and broken out, and she seemed genuinely unhappy the entire time we were around her. Normally a fitness addict, when we asked what she was into lately, her response shocked us. “Nothing, really. No time.”
We were aghast. As we began to watch a little more closely, we noticed she wasn’t really eating. Like, maybe some veggies and meat here and there but not in any amount that would quantify a full day of healthy eating for someone her size. It was sad. Her weight loss was a direct result of her not eating. I wouldn’t call it “anorexic”, but I would call it disordered eating. She was absolutely obsessing over every morsel she put in her mouth.
Worst part of it all, she thinks she looks great.
When runners ask me what their optimal weight should be to run a PR, I want to cry and scream.
It is not enough to be skinny. You must be strong. And you cannot be strong when you are undernourished. My friend Dorothy (who just PR’d–3:11, and won the B & A Marathon this past weekend, by the by) wrote a great post about her experience finding a comfortable, healthy race weight and, guess what? She ran faster when she gained 6 pounds!
I have routinely gotten faster over the past 5 years and blasted my high school PRs out of the water. I didn’t weight myself a lot in high school, but I think I weigh about 5 pounds more than I did back then.
There is so much anecdotal evidence out there, but let’s talk science.
Force = mass x acceleration. Thank you, Physics I. I had a conversation with my Physics professor about how to find an athlete’s goal weight (mass) given the speed at which they want to run (acceleration). What we decided is this:
1. There are many more factors that play into this: genetics, VO2 max, mental ability, experience, length of the femur, etc. for it to be a simple equation.
2. Runners (heck, ATHLETES) come in all shapes and sizes. Don’t compare yourself to everyone else.
3. There is a balance to be found between being light enough to run fast and strong enough to run fast. You can be light as a feather and have super-low body fat, but if you don’t have the muscle mass to exert the force necessary to propel you forward at a fast rate, you won’t run fast.
What does this boil down to? Skinny isn’t enough. Skinny is not the goal. Healthy. Strong. Fit. These are the goals.
You need food to fuel your body. And make no mistake, food is fuel.
So next time you decided that you want to lose 10 pounds or 20 pounds or succumb to the latest diet trend so that you can “lose 5 pounds in a week”, maybe re-think your plan.
Step back, decide what your goal as an athlete is and talk to a nutritionist or a registered dietician to see what you need to do to achieve the goals you have. Get blood tests done to check all your levels. Get with a trainer or a coach and make a plan on how to get stronger, faster and leaner. Eat closer to the Earth. Get off the scale.
You only get one body in this life. Treat it with respect.
Now go out and run!