February 04, 2009

About Weight, Diets and Nutrition

I just came across some papers dated November 27, 1998. It is a Microfit Fitness Profile, compiled by a gym in Toronto that I was joining then.

That was just over 10 years ago. I'd been running for nearly three years, though was lacking much knowledge or guidance about basic training principles. But - as I mentioned in an earlier comment on this blog - I was running and liked it.

My first running race was the 20km of Brussels in May 1997 and I also finished a 10km and a 16km race that year. And at the end of 1998, I was thinking about training for my first marathon.

There were some promising results from my test. Each aspect was rated according to the following categories: Unfit, Fair, Average, Fit, Athlete. My highest score was on my Rest Heart Rate, which put me well into the Athlete category. My second-highest score was for Flexibility, which also ranked me as an Athlete. My third-best score was for Aerobic Fitness, which put me in the upper range of the Fit category.

My body fat percentage was calculated at 23%. That put me in the lower end of the Fit category. My weight then was 158.5 pounds, or 71 kgs (the test was done at night, wearing clothes of course, and I even believe shoes though I am not sure.)

Reading this now, I went to the scale to check my current weight (done at noon, wearing clothes and Ugg boots): it's now 139 pounds, or 63kgs. (I don't know what my body fat percentage is currently but it would obviously also have to be lower.)

Much of that difference in weight can be attributed to a transition to regular training. After that fitness test was done, I ran my first marathon in May 1999, and tried a triathlon a few months later. In 2001 my approach to training changed from a DIY-one to hiring a coach (triathlon). Since I decided to focus on running, I enlisted my current running coach in June 2005.

Ten years after that fitness test, I am training for my 11th certified marathon (I've run five marathons as part of Ironman triathlons, as well as a couple of off-road just below and above the marathon distance). Consistent training over the years changes your body, and weight.

But my lower weight also has much to do with a change in nutrition.

In many ways I eat anything I want to - the key is that there are many "foods" that I simply do not want to eat.

I do not hunger for typical junk food: no fries, burgers, sodas or pizzas. I do not care for cookies or chips. I will not eat any food that I cannot recognize because it has been deep-fried and/or covered in sauce.

But I do love a big steak with baked potatoes and salad with, say, feta cheese. I will eat a bigger plate of pasta with tomato-based sauce than anyone I know (including my partner Tim who is a hungry triathlete). I love cinnamon bagels with raisins, filled with ham and cheese.

While I do not care for cakes in general, I love a quality mud cake. Dark chocolate is hard to resist, as are certain types of jujubes. I love peanuts, cashews and almonds. Fresh and dried fruits are great snacks too. I love crackers with hummus, especially combined with a glass of bold red wine.

I always have breakfast, always. Most of the time I have cereal, though only if it is one without added sugar. (My favourite is made by Alpen. The dried fruit makes it sweet enough). If not available, I will have a sandwich with ham and cheese (cottage cheese is even better). As many experts have said, breakfast is the most crucial meal of the day. And I certainly know it is for me.

I once read that the closer a food is to its natural state, the better it is. So that's generally what I try to look for. I always read labels on food packaging, to check for fat and sugar content.

Noodles are a good example. Some of those will have close to 20 grams of (unhealthy) fat per 100 grams - I stay away from these. But others have about 2 grams of fat per 100 grams - that's OK.

Fat and sugar are not bad per se, quite the opposite. For example, the fat found in cashews and almonds are good for you (I eat them in moderation, a couple of handfuls - not the whole bag in one go). And the natural sugars found in fresh and dried fruit are good for you as well. I always pay attention to dried fruit: raisins, dates and figs typically don't have any added sugar, but most of the time things like dried pineapple and mangoes do. I tend to stay away from the latter.)

My weight has come down slowly over the years and I believe I've reached my natural weight. Depending on the time of year (more food in Canadian winters to stay warm) and what race distance I am training for (more calories burnt in those 3-hour marathon training runs), my weight seems to fluctuate between 60 and 62kgs if weighed in the morning before breakfast. (My height is 178cm).

I say, seems, as I rarely reach for the scales. I did check more regularly 10 years ago, when losing weight was still a main motivation for my running. And of course the weight issue is still important, but now it is a result of my regular training and better eating habits rather than the main motivation for them.

Particularly running, but of course any exercise, helps you to get in touch with your body. Fuel it well with the right food choices. It doesn't have to be hard.

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