Are runners thin by nature or from exercise?


October 09, 1990|By Colleen Pierre, R.D.

I dropped in on a low-key Baltimore Road Runners Club 10K race recently and ended up answering some weight control questions that have application to anyone interested in fitness.

Q** Are women who are good runners thin because they run, or do they run well because they're thin?

A** Both.

In general, the less weight you have to carry, the faster you can run, given your genetic background and level of training. Elite runners, both male and female, tend to be thin by nature. Many people find, however, that when they begin to exercise regularly, they either lose more body fat, or are able to eat more food without gaining weight.

One of my recent luncheon companions, for instance, pointed out that during his four years at the Air Force Academy he normally ate 6,000 calories a day. He had to eat that much to keep up with all the enforced physical activity that lifestyle demanded. But he gained 15 pounds during his first summer after graduation. Why? He had continued to eat the same, but his activity had decreased significantly.

Conversely, people who tend to carry excess body fat probably won't be "skinny" no matter how much they exercise. A genetic predisposition toward storing fat is hard to wipe out entirely.

Then why bother? Regular exercise will help to moderate weight, improve cardiovascular fitness, put a smile on your face and a spring in your step that no amount of dieting or overindulging can ever duplicate.

If you have a tendency to be a little fatter than your ideal, the best approach is to exercise regularly (and for most people that means building up to a 30-minute walk daily) and to eat a healthful, well-balanced diet composed of lots of close-to-natural foods high in fiber and low in fat and refined sugar.

Q**Lately, I've been binge eating. I know if I just stop eating, I can lose 10 pounds in the next four weeks, right?

A**Probably not.

Binge eating is the natural consequence of starvation dieting, according to studies done over the past eight years. If you're binge eating now, you probably just came off a round of starving. And if you starve again, you'll binge again, with a net weight loss of zero.

Athletes and moderately active people will be most successful at losing weight if they can see it as a long-term project.

The typical sedentary 30-year-old woman requires about 1,800 calories a day to maintain her weight. If she brisk-walks 30 minutes each day, she'll require an additional 240 calories for maintenance. If instead of increasing food intake she holds at the normal 1,800 calories a day, she'll lose about 1/2 pound of fat per week. Men require about 2,800 calories a day for maintenance, and would also lose about 1/2 pound per week with moderate exercise and normal eating.

While 1/2 pound per week isn't headline material, it does add up to 2 pounds in a month, or 24 pounds in a year . . . without bingeing, without starving, without feeling deprived, without feeling exhausted. Slowly the excess fat melts away, and you'll never feel as if you went on a diet.Colleen Pierre, a registered dietitian, is the nutrition consultant to the Union Memorial Sports Medicine Center in Baltimore and national spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.

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