One of the biggest aspects of running that I've struggled with over the years in nutrition. The age old question of "How many calories should I eat each day?" has been one that has given me fits from the get-go. I knew roughly 1600-1700 calories was my magic number to just maintain my weight day-to-day and that doesn't include any form of exercise. I got that number off of basic calculations from sites online and by trial and error over the years. But what happens when you throw in exercise? Let's completely throw off every calculator in the interwebs and see what happens when you throw in marathon training? Running 40-50 miles per week? And strength training? #allthenumbers
Makes your head hurt doesn't it?
Enter The Cooper Clinic and their world renowned fitness and nutrition experts who offer Resting Metabolic Rate Testing. A simple 10 minute test that will determine if you have a slow or fast metabolism and how many calories you burn at rest. Basically if you laid in bed all day it will tell you how many calories you burn. Losing weight is a really simple concept. You must burn more calories than you consume. However, you have to know all the numbers in order to accomplish that and for the cost of $103 for the RMR test, I say it's worth it.
So how does the test work?
For Dallas locals, I made an appointment with Cooper at their Dallas location. If you've never been there before, it's not a building...it's a compound. It's like it's own city. They instructed me no exercise, stimulants, supplements for 12 hours leading up to the appointment. More importantly, you have to fast from food AND water for 12 hours. I'm pretty sure the two most dreaded statements that can be made to a runner are:
1) You have a stress fracture
2) You need to not eat or drink water for 12 hours.
Food is one thing, I can live with that but no water is tough. Especially for me who tends to drink about 120 oz per day.
On the morning of the appointment I arrived hungry, thirsty and tired from a night of no sleep thanks to allergies. (I want to punch every cedar tree in the damn face) They have you wait in a little quiet and calm area so that you allow your heart rate to come down for the most accurate results. The nutritionist (who was very nice) brought me back and explained the process. Turns out she lives out in my area so we chatted and then I answered questions about my activity levels throughout the day, exercise, job types etc. Once all questions were answered she handed me the breathing tube and this lovely clip that I used to pinch my nose shut. That was the worst part, however it's necessary to ensure that all of your breathing is being done from the mouth.
*Fun fact about me: I go into a straight panic attack if I lose the ability to breathe out of my nose. True story. This happens regularly at night because of my allergies and it's the reason I won't have sinus surgery because they pack your nose for like two weeks. Not enough meds in the world to sedate me through that, no sir.*
Back to the test....
While she was doing some calculations I sat and breathed into that lovely little machine. Staring at the wall. Rather boring but you can handle anything for ten minutes. You can watch the machine doing the calculation and it slowly starts to average out your RMR number throughout the ten minute span. After the ten minutes was up she input my info and voila, I had my answers!
At rest (days with no activity) my guess was accurate at 1600 calories, which is why I've been able to maintain my weight when I follow that number >cough cough<. HOWEVER the real ah-ha moment is understanding how many calories I should be eating when I do workout. What happens to our bodies when we don't eat enough? It goes into starvation mode and holds on to everything it can find because it is afraid no more food is coming. So if any of you think that eating less and less is the answer, stop it. If you eat only 1000-1200 calories per day, stop it. Based on my typical workouts (this number will of course vary by type of workout) I need to be eating closer to 2000-2100 calories on those days. Or possibly more, again depending on calorie output during workouts.
If you click on the image, you'll be able to see the section "How does your metabolism compare?" a little better. Mine came it at 16% higher than average so I have a "fast" metabolism. Shocker. Now I have evidence to throw out when people tell me I'm hangry, rungry, cranky...whatever. #science
So, what now?
Step 1: I know my calorie numbers. The first step is to actually wear my HR monitor during workouts to get accurate numbers in that department. Not sure I'll wear it during my runs. (If you've ever had the under side of your boob sliced and diced by a HR monitor, you fully understand where I'm coming from on this.)
Step 2: I downloaded the My Fitness Pal app to start tracking all of this and letting it do the math for me. When I lost the bulk of my weight after college (about 20lbs) I did it through diet, exercise and tracking calories. Since that was almost 10 years ago...oh sweet Jesus...things have changed and this app is pretty nifty.
Whether you are looking to lose weight, maintain weight, or gain weight I'd highly recommend this. Knowing the numbers is the first step, actually making all of the numbers add up is the next and most important part.
...and knowing is half the battle.