f you want to get fit and lose weight, it's important to make some changes to your diet. And while deep down you may know that to lose weight you must eat less and move more, it's hard to resist the lure of diets that promise instant, permanent results with little work or restraint.
The truth is that diets are a lot like training plans. There's no one diet that's best for everyone. Only one healthy eating strategy is best for a particular person at a particular time. Each diet has its benefits and drawbacks for new runners.
The most important factor in any diet is how well it helps you meet your goals and fits your needs, and helps you maintain the healthy eating habits for life.
A number of popular diets fall under the umbrella of carbohydrate-restricted diets. The Zone Diet, Carbohydrate Addict's Diet, the South Beach Diet, and probably the most famous, the Atkins Diet, advocate low-carb eating with generous portions of protein and fat.
Any low-carbohydrate diet—technically—is defined as an eating plan consisting of less than 20 percent of a day's calories from carbohydrate, or approximately 20 to 60 grams per day. Each has a slightly different twist.
Atkins calls for perhaps the most drastic reduction—less than 40 grams of carbs per day at first. This forces the body to burn stored body fat and burn an energy source known as ketones. Another popular plan, The Zone Diet, restricts carbs to 40 percent of daily calories and calls for the balance to be split equally between protein and fat.
The upside: Proponents claim that weight loss will naturally follow restriction of sugars and carbohydrates. And indeed, you'll see fast results. Carbs cause your body to retain water. So when you slash carbs, you retain less water, and the water in your system is flushed out. (Plan for lots of extra pit stops.) And you'll see numbers you like on the bathroom scale. Also, because many of these diets allow you unlimited fats and protein, you can indulge in carb-free foods you might have previously written off as off-limits, such as eggs and bacon. And because fat and protein are digested more slowly in the body, you'll feel fuller for longer and avoid feelings of deprivation that can lead to a binge down the road.
Are these diets right for new runners?Short-term, these diets appear to be safe, but there are lingering concerns about long-term safety. Research has yet to determine the impact of such diets on the development of chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease and kidney disease, not to mention nutrient deficiencies. Because you eliminate many food groups when you go low carb, you can develop certain vitamin deficiencies. And you might be wondering what happens when you start adding carbs back into the diet. Alas, some of the weight you lost is sure to return, and you're bound to experience the frustration of "yo-yo dieting." (Learn the truth about how yo-yo dieting affects your body.)
Carbohydrate is the nutrient that your body can most efficiently convert into the energy you need to run strong, without causing you any GI distress. It's generally recommended that runners get 50 to 70 percent of their daily calories from carbs. The body digests fats and protein more slowly. So you won't feel as energized on the run, and to avoid GI distress, you may have to be more careful about what you eat before you run.