Running Shoes: Meet Heather Larson, RD – @dietitiangoesrunning

I know I said that this post would go up on Wednesday, but with so many posts about weight loss and changes in 2019, I felt like the sooner the better! What you will not find in this post: quick fixes. What you will find in this post: Guidance from a confident, educated woman named Heather Larson. I’ve been wanting to interview a registered dietitian for some time, but I’m not all about that “lose ten lbs or your money back” life – I wanted real, solid insight on food and what to do with it. After searching, I am so glad I reached out to Heather for this interview!

Heather is a registered dietitian who got her start in athletics as a volleyball player. In fact, running was a side effect: Heather started running three miles multiple times per week in hopes that it would benefit her in volleyball. When she was trying to come to terms that she may not play volleyball during the upcoming season, a friend convinced Heather to try out for the cross country team. And that, my friends, is when she caught the running bug!

Obviously, cross country is a different than a marathon, which Heather quickly realized: ” I enjoyed running 5ks road races in college, and for some reason thought the jump to the marathon wouldn’t be that much different.” We all know that isn’t the case, but after Heather recovered from her first 26.2, she was determined to get better and she kept on going (literally).

Sometime during the transition from volleyball player to cross counter runner to marathoner, enter nutrition and dietetic studies. Of course, I was curious how this all came to fruition. It’s clear that Heather is truly passionate not about helping others simply “lose weight,” but learn about food and develop solid habits that last a lifetime. Turns out it was her cross country coach who “flipped the switch.”

Before she understood nutrition, Heather said, “I would snack on things like Cheetos and Diet Coke before [cross country practice, and then feel awful during the workouts.” Her coach discussed nutrition with the team, and not long after, Heather learned she could have a career as a registered dietitian.

Speaking of knowledge, please tell me I am not the only one who wishes they had such expert knowledge in food to inform my own running! Sometimes, I really wish I understood it better. Heather has used her knowledge to better understand her running process and nutrition: “The science of nutrition can be overwhelming. All of my studies helped me learn the details of things like which carbohydrates will be the best sources during races, how hydration will impact overall performance, why some people can eat higher fat meals prior to races, etc.”

And of course, she has also used it to help others. Personally, I’ve gone through hell-and-back with yo-yo dieting and weird “solutions” to losing baby weight or to tone up. Heather says that the start to a positive relationship with food is trusting yourself and your body: “Learn to trust yourself. This takes time, but the more time you spend getting in tune with your body, you will be amazed by how it craves what you need.”

Now, if you take nothing else from this blog post, PLEASE hear this one: “If your ultimate goal is to be the fastest runner you can be, separate yourself from the scale. I am a firm believer that our best self is not dictated by a number on the scale, and if you focus on eating to fuel your activity, your weight will hover right where it needs to.” Do I need to say that louder for the people in the back…? Of course, Heather says, runners can still lose weight and set personal bests concurrently. Ultimately, though, restricting calories will restrict performance at some point.

Speaking of calories and fats and food, I was curious to know the scientific perspective behind “running on keto.” The keto diet is a low carb, high fat diet that ultimately aims to send your body into ketosis – a metabolic state where you are burning fat rather than carbohydrates (hence why others lose weight on this diet).

Side-note: you couldn’t pay me enough not to eat bread, but I guess that’s not the point here, so moving on.

Heather explained keto a bit more in-depth: “No matter what you eat, your body uses glucose as its energy source. When carbohydrates are digested in our body, they are broken down to monosaccharides (single sugars), of which most are glucose. That glucose can be absorbed and head directly to your cells to be used for energy. When you don’t have carbohydrates, your body has to add a step to this process and turn the lipids you are eating to glucose through glucogenesis. Our bodies can do this, but in the process also produces a by product called ketones when you are in a state of using fat for energy, called Ketosis (hence the name Keto Diet). This extra step for your body requires more energy to fuel your cells, and used fat in the diet or in your fat stores. ”

So, is there a problem for distance runners hoping to start the keto diet? Heather says there’s one key point to consider: “For every 1 gram glycogen (the storage form of glucose) stored in your muscles, there are 3-4 grams of water stored along with it. The fast reduction of these glycogen stores can lead to quick (water) weight loss on the Keto Diet, but that reduced water storage capacity can also have hydration implications for endurance athletes.” In the end, though, she says that every athlete is a different and that some actually function quite well on keto!

In addition to keto, I have seen several athletes discussing “macros.” Macronutrients fuel our body and are labeled as groups such as carbs, protein, fat, etc. Call me crazy, but I don’t typically count mine. I asked Heather if macros truly matter, and the answer was, of course, “yes.” Heather says that if you’re eating a balanced diet, your macros are probably already in check and are balanced. However, if you’re in peak training weeks and are running a lot of miles, eating a higher percentage of carbs could be beneficial.

The issue, of course, is becoming obsessive over trying to meet certain percentages: “As for counting the number of grams of each macronutrient meticulously each day; I struggle to get behind that. Could I write you a ‘perfectly balanced’ plan? Sure. But I get concerned with you trying to get exactly ‘x’ grams of carb, protein and fat each day and begin to eat foods just because you only have x grams of fat left on your plan today so you’re going to eat this food that doesn’t sound great to you because it ‘fits.’ I prefer to keep things more intuitive, as I never, never, never want to encourage behaviors that may disrupt someone’s relationship with food. I want my athletes to be able to eat food they enjoy, with the people they enjoy, and not feel anxiety around it.”

Heather has some amazing meal plans available on her website (I got a hold of one and I cannot wait to make some of the delicious recipes!). In addition, she also offers 1:1 nutrition and run coaching. For Heather, healthy recipes are a great place to start – but if you’re looking for something specific and that is tailored to your goals and athletic ability, it helps to have a nutritional coach. Hint: Heather is taking new clients and knows her stuff!

Heather works with athletes 1:1 (including virtually!) and plans to release a group coaching option in 2019. The awesome part about being a runner and working with Heather is that she gets it – she’s a marathoner. You can find out more about Heather’s plans, recipes, and coaching at dietitiangoesrunning.com, and you can follow Heather on Instagram: @dietitiangoesrunning.

Heather’s final words of advice: “Invest in good food. I don’t think you need fancy, expensive supplements. But, I do think you need to invest your time in learning what and why our body needs what it does and invest energy in learning how to prepare those foods in ways that you enjoy them. If you do those things, you’ll understand what, why, when and how to eat no matter what goal your chasing after.”

Thanks, Heather, for interviewing for Running Shoes!

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