We've all been there: Despite exercising and watching what you eat, the elastic in your running shorts seems to be as tight as your hamstrings. "Ninety-five percent of the runners I work with want to lose some weight," says Cassie Dimmick, M.S., R.D., a sports dietitian and running coach in Springfield, Missouri. "For good reason: The leaner you are, within reason, the faster you go." (Search: How much weight do I need to lose to improve my speed?) Getting lean requires the same trait that makes you get up at 5 a.m. for a five-miler: discipline. You need to be vigilant about your diet and consistent with exercise so that you maximize calorie burn, increase muscle mass, and decrease body fat. Luckily, it's easier than it sounds when you employ these tactics from dietitians and coaches. Get ready to lose!
"Know when you're going to eat and what you're going to eat," says Suzanne Girard Eberle, M.S., R.D., author of Endurance Sports Nutrition. "Plan it out at the beginning of the day and the week so that you're not scrambling when you're hungry." This helps you resist the temptation of fast-food restaurants or pastries in the break room.
Aim for three healthy meals and two small snacks a day, which means you're eating something around every three hours. A 2010 Swedish study involving more than 3,000 people found that those who ate more than three times a day had a lower body mass index and waist circumference; consumed more fiber and less fat; and drank less alcohol than those who limited their eating sessions to three or less. Whip up a healthy meal in minutes) "Eating more often keeps your metabolism humming, and prevents you from getting super hungry," says Lauren Antonucci, M.S., R.D., owner of Nutrition Energy in New York City.
Aim to have fruits and vegetables make up half of each meal. "Your breakfast should be half fruit, and your lunch and dinner, half veggies," says Dimmick, who adds that snacks should have the same 50/50 ratio: think carrots and a yogurt, or string cheese and an apple.
The National Weight Control Registry is a compendium of more than 10,000 people who have maintained a weight loss of at least 30 pounds for at least one year. These successful losers "limit their exposure to temptations," says J. Graham Thomas, Ph.D., a co-investigator on the study, "and have a repertoire of healthy foods they pull from regularly."
Breakfast: Rotate three meals, says Pamela Nisevich Bede, M.S., R.D., sports nutrition expert for the Runner's World Challenge. Ideas: "adult" cereal (high on fiber, grains; low on sugar), oatmeal, Greek yogurt, or eggs. Always include fruit. (Want a detailed healthy meal plan? Sign up for our Flat Belly Diet jumpstart program!)
Lunch: Rotate three to five meals. Ideas: salads (go easy on high-calorie toppings), sandwiches on whole grain (hold the mayo), eggs (if you didn't have them at breakfast), and broth-based soups. Always include fruit or a side of vegetables.
Dinner: Rotate five healthy meals like chicken, fish, and whole grains. Always include vegetables. "Keep your meals interesting by changing the vegetable and fruit sides and mixing up the preparation of the entree," Nisevich Bede says.
Go Off the Sauce
Beware of the hidden calories in sauces. Use tomato sauce instead of alfredo on pasta; substitute hummus or mustard for mayo on a sandwich; and make your own salad dressing: Add a little ranch seasoning to plain Greek yogurt, or a dash of olive oil and balsamic vinegar.