If you have ever played a sport or engaged in physical training, then you have likely experienced an injury. To be a lifelong athlete, we must work to find the right balance between working hard and over-working; it is sometimes a thin line. I used to get turned off by any discussion or literature on the subject of injuries, but after suffering through several of them, I decided that I should promote the subject to a position of higher importance. I decided to take my recent foot injury as a test bed for my new approach to injuries during training. With the Kansas City Marathon right around the corner in October, I was not about to let an injury ruin anything.
Before I describe how I turned this into an opportunity, a bit more on the injury. I injured my foot playing soccer. I kicked as hard as I could to clear the ball and instead of striking the ball, the top of my foot struck another player’s heal. It was like kicking a tree, I fell to the ground in excruciating pain, certain that I had shattered all of those small bones in my foot. I eventually limped around and even attempted a jog just to see how bad it was, but it was damaged and I knew I wouldn’t be running for a while. Since I am stubborn about going in to see the doctor, I decided to just use the RICE treatment method (rest, ice, compress, elevate). I figured it would be a week or two before I was running again, but this proved to be a gross underestimation of recovery time (sucks getting old).
Instead of turning to pizza and cheez-its to cope with my frustration, I decided to focus on getting my nutrition and eating habits in check. Because my marathon training program includes a target race weight 150 lbs, I initially thought this goal would now be unreachable, since not running typically means fewer calories burned per day. In the past, when I am not running, I would gain weight and eventually feel like a sloth. Not this time. I had recently completed my Specialist in Fitness Nutrition course through the International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA) and I was ready to put my newfound knowledge to work. I was starting at 172 lbs and my goal weight was 150 for the marathon, which was four months away; plenty of time to lose weight gradually and safely, without sacrificing energy or nutritional needs.
My strategy had to be one that was realistic, sustainable, and not to rigid, or else I probably would have gone of course. I would eat as clean as possible, avoiding simple carbs, sugars, and fried foods as much as possible, and if I wanted to partake in desserts or indulge in something yummy, then it had to fit into my daily calorie requirements, which I will discuss in a moment. No strategy can succeed if you don’t make decisions along the way that are aligned with its intent and desired end state, so I expected the day to day food choices and portion sizes to be keys to success. Hydration was also a key aspect my the strategy, a quart of warm water in the morning, a large glass of water before and during each meal, then a quart of water before bed time (at a minimum). The pre-meal water will help with satiety and help guard against overeating.
The strategy also included a weigh-in each Monday, as soon as I get to work. I began looking forward to these weekly events when I started noticing the pounds coming off. It is important to use the same scale, dressed the same, and at the same time of day each time to hold a few variables constant and get the most reliable measurements here. I chose not to track body fat percentage measured by skinfold calipers, but that would have been a great option to get a more detailed look at how I was progressing.
I decided to use the MyFitnessPal app to help keep track of daily calorie intake and expenditure. This app is a fantastic tool for logging foods and tracking macro and micro nutrients. The free version of the app is sufficient, but if you want more in depth analysis and a more robust set of analytical features, then I recommend paying a few bucks per month. I was fine with the free version. It helped me to determine my daily calorie intake requirements based on wanting to lose 1 pound per week to a goal weight of 150 lbs. I cross checked this with my ISSA course material and it was very close. My daily calorie intake goal became 1,850 – 2,000 kcal.
The daily calorie needs range is an important target, but was not enough to serve as a guideline for what foods to eat, I also need to set my macronutrient distribution, i.e. what percentage of fats, protein, and carbohydrates should I consume within my daily calorie range? To do this, I consulted my Fitness Nutrition text, which includes information on how to set this distribution based on somatotype (mesomorph, endomorph, or ectomorph) and activity level. Being a mesomorph and not wanting to lose much lean muscle, I decided on 30% fat, 30% protein, and 40% carbohydrates. Another metric to consider is micronutrients, how will I ensure I am getting the vitamins and minerals that I need? The app provides a window into these insights as well, but just to be sure I planned to take a men’s one-a-day multivitamin as a supplement. The only other supplements I would use would be omega-3 fish oils on days I don’t eat fish, and plant-based protein powders on days I need to bolster my protein intake. With those targets set, now I just had to execute the plan.
Calorie restriction, while an important aspect of the strategy, only covered the calories that I consume. To maintain a high level of fitness, at least my aerobic base, I would also need to continue working out, even with a bum foot. Luckily I was able to use the Concept 2 indoor rowing machine without any pain. This is a great machine and I find that it closely replicates the energy expenditure and performance in running. My 5k PR running (19:00) is only slightly better than my 5k PR rowing (20:00). I also found that I could ride my bike, so continuing to exercise during my injury recovery period was a bonus, but nothing can replace running, at least in my opinion.
The hardest part about eating well is fighting back the urges to indulge in junk food. Sometimes when you are feeling down, bored, or frustrated, food can serve as a pick-me-up. There is physiological reasoning behind this as well, as blood sugar, insulin levels, and other hormones are affected by the food we eat, and thus directly affect our mood. My mindset to fight these urges was to put a thought-process in place, whenever I am confronted with a tough decision. A tough decision being whether or not to make my favorite Velveeta and Ro-Tel cheese dip with tortilla chips (yum…but not in line with my goals). The though process went something like this in my head: “Would that be delicious? Yes. Would I regret it? Yes. Will eating it help me to get where I want to be in my marathon training program? No. Will I be just fine eating something else that is still yummy but not a million calories? Yes. Ok then, let’s go find a better alternative.” I would still eat good food, in fact for my birthday I ate warm apple pie a la mode with caramel drizzle. But at the end of the day, I was still underneath my daily calorie goal. I even drank a six pack of beer one Saturday and made it fit into my daily calorie needs; it was however, Michelob Ultra which as 90 kcal per bottle, but that is the sacrifice I had to make, because I enjoy beer.
A full month after the injury and I am almost ready to run again. I have lost 12 pounds and I feel great. I feel great not only because I am lighter on my feet, but because I was successful in eating right and not letting my foot injury derail my marathon training. And yes, I could have dialed in my nutrition without getting injured, but the point of this whole post is to show an example of how you can turn injury into opportunity; I saw it as a forcing function. Sure I am not as fit as I would have been sans injury, but at least when I get back to my training runs I will be 12 pounds lighter, and the laws of physics are on my side there!
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