I was reading the May issue of Running Times on my bus up to Boston last weekend, and even though there were a TON of great articles, one particularly jumped out at me. It was called “Why Are These Teens So Fast?” (not online yet, or I’d post the link), and talked about super speedy high schoolers like Mary Cain, Sarah Baxter, Alexa Efraimson and Elise Cranny who already have amazing running careers. In addition to talking about killer workouts and being involved in multiple sports (well-rounded athletes!), part of the article was entitled “skinny is out” and discussed how these girls are being taught the importance of strength and good nutrition when it comes to successful running. This made my little dietitian heart swell with happiness.
fried eggs, sweet potato hash with kale and chicken apple sausage – breakfast of champions
Young athletes, especially those in sports in which a thin frame or aesthetic is touted as what will make you [fill in the blank – faster/better/higher scorer/prettier/better flipper/etc.], are so impressionable when it comes to “preferred” body type for their sport and pressure to fit into a certain mold. When body image becomes an issue, nutrition is often the first thing to go down the tubes due to the philosophy that eating less will make you skinnier and therefore, better. This mindset can open the door to disordered eating patterns and sometimes, a full-blown eating disorder. And if it starts in high school, it can last for years (decades, even) and cause a laundry list of other physical, social and mental problems.
Even though it still exists today, I think the likelihood of seeing too-thin runners was a little higher 10 or 15 years ago, and have to think it is due in part to a bigger emphasis on good nutrition. The girls profiled in this piece are proof that a well-nourished, strong body can do great things. That’s why I was so glad that Running Times made a point to mention the outlook these young superstars have on food and body image in general – muscle is in, eating is cool and strong > skinny – and wish other publications would do more of the same instead of the constant articles on how to lose X amount of pounds.
One thing a lot of these girls probably have, though, is access to a registered dietitian to help guide them on what proper nutrition actually looks like. A lot of recreational/semi-competitive/sub-elite runners don’t necessarily have that, and with all of the BS information out there on the internet and from people who have no business calling themselves “nutritionists,” it can be extremely hard to navigate how to eat well. And this is a problem! Both in my professional life as a dietitian, my life as a runner and even throughout the blogosphere, I see disordered eating patterns pretty frequently. Many of which begin from receiving bad advice, and many from that old belief that skinny is still in, and it’s the only thing that will make you faster.
Changing bad habits or some of these old-school beliefs isn’t easy, but it can all start with one very important fact – food is fuel. You need gas in the car in order for it to run well just like you need carbohydrates, protein and fat in your body in order for it to (literally) run well. A well-nourished, strong body will outrun a too-thin, under-nourished one almost every time and well into the future.
excellent pre or post-run fuel: whole wheat pizza, pesto, goat cheese and veggies (wine optional…)
If you look around at any race today, you’ll see runners of all shapes and sizes running various types of speeds. The better runners no longer fit into one category of “skinny,” but rather they all have strength, no matter the body type.
It’s never too late to change your habits or way of thinking about stuff like this, and I challenge you to do so if you’ve fallen down the path of believing these old, “one size fits all” and very un-true philosophies.