If you're exercising less you should eat less, too

Eating Well

March 25, 1997|By Colleen Pierre | Colleen Pierre,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

What could be more frustrating? You trained hard even when you didn't feel like it. You ate for peak performance. You were at the top of your physical game. Then, wham! Immobilized by injury. There isn't an athlete or fitness buff alive who can't relate to President Clinton's no-golf, no-jogging, fear-of-weight-gain agony.

For a fitness-oriented adult like the president, sudden consignment to a sedentary lifestyle means he should cut 700 calories a day from his diet because of the inactivity. That's equal to cutting out a Quarter Pounder with Cheese and a serving of fries daily.

But extremely active athletes training for competitive events, like marathons and triathlons, are at greater risk. They eat twice as much as their sedentary friends to fuel all that training. And that's good. But a sudden sentence to a sit-still lifestyle should mean a decrease of 2,000 calories a day.

If they continue to eat at their usual rate, they'll gain four pounds of fat every week!

The good news is that most people's appetite control mechanism ratchets down accordingly. Without the demands of heavy training, they're not as hungry, so they eat less.

Now for the bad news:

Boredom and frustration may trigger eating that's totally unrelated to hunger.

Unused muscles will shrink.

Unexercised hearts and lungs will lose aerobic conditioning.

When training resumes, it will be back to square one.

I can hear the screams of frustration rising across the land. And I remember my own. In my triathlon era, I was training morning and night on weekdays, followed by back-to-back run, bike and swim workouts on weekends. That culminated in my longest event when I ran 20 miles, swam 2 miles and biked 50 miles to the top of a mountain and back.

Unfortunately, all that training also culminated in severe tendinitis, requiring months of physical therapy. The first rule was to stop exercising and let it all heal. Arrrggghhh! When I finally began rebuilding my program, I was allowed one half-mile run every other day. I was a beginner again!

When an injury occurs, we can give up and get totally out of shape, or we can take the practical approach to maintaining the maximum fitness and good health possible. To minimize the damage of forced inactivity:

Eat healthfully for better healing. Include small portions of lean meat, chicken, fish or beans to provide protein needed to repair damaged tissue like muscles and ligaments. Include milk for calcium and vitamin D to repair broken or stress-fractured bones.

Focus on fruits and vegetables to provide vitamin C for wound healing. Cut down on carbohydrates somewhat, and choose mostly whole grain breads and cereals to prevent constipation due to inactivity. Drink plenty of water to stay well hydrated. Continue to eat a little vegetable fat to help absorption of fat-soluble vitamins and for their essential fatty acids. If you must munch to relieve frustration, choose raw vegetables. Limit indulgence foods to occasional treats.

Exercise your options. After the Olympic marathon trials, Joan Benoit Samuelson had knee surgery. She maintained her aerobic fitness by using an upper-body ergometer (a bicycle with hand pedals) and stayed fit enough to win the first women's Olympic marathon. Work with your physical therapist to develop exercise options to maintain fitness without compromising your recovery.

Develop new skills. Travel the World Wide Web, adopt a musical instrument, take up needlepoint, learn a language, read the great books you've never had time for.

You'll be back on your feet before you know it, complaining once again about biking in the wind, swimming in the rain and running in the snow!

Colleen Pierre, a registered dietitian, is the nutrition consultant to the Union Memorial Sports Medicine Center and Vanderhorst & Associates in Baltimore.

Pub Date: 3/25/97

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