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How I Became a Faster Runner 8 Months Postpartum and 5 Pounds Heavier

*Trigger warning: I discuss some vague eating disorder/disordered eating behaviors in this post. Please use discretion when viewing.

**I also want to caveat that every woman's return to running postpartum is different. I am grateful I was able to get back into running pretty quickly postpartum, but that does not mean that is how everyone "should" be. Be sure to listen to your body, talk with your OBGYN and any other specialists about what a proper timeframe for return back to movement again should look like for you!.


I have been running faster than I ever have before, and I am currently 8 months postpartum and 5 pounds heavier. I got a 4 minute PR in the half marathon; taking it down from 1:43:13 to 1:39:06. How was this was possible? I started looking at food as fuel instead of something to restrict. I trusted that if I fueled myself properly, that my body weight would end up where it needed to be.


running a half marathon

I started looking at food as fuel instead of something to restrict.

I ran my first half marathon in college, the Bill Snyder Half Marathon, and instantly fell in love with endurance running. I have been an athlete my whole life, and loved the aspect of training for the race and getting the chance to be "competitive" again. However, my mentality around food was significantly holding me back from being the best I could be. I developed an eating disorder in college, and due to this I was drastically under-fueled. I wasn't having a menstrual cycle, and I battled a couple stress reactions throughout that time.


I wasn't fueling myself well before running. I am a morning runner, and would try to get away with as minimal fuel as possible before running. I wouldn't make much adjustments in my day to day eating. My mentality was that I didn't want to gain weight or eat "too much sugar". I didn't really carb load prior to my races (if anything, I would "allow" myself to have a somewhat high carb dinner the night before) and I only used 1-2 Gu Gels during the half marathon. Additionally, I wasn't incorporating strength training because I was so focused on running and getting that "cardio burn".


Does any of this sound familiar to you?


I have many runner clients that also struggle with this same mentality.


I took a couple years off from racing to focus on my recovering from my eating disorder and reflecting on and re-examining my relationship with movement. During that time my perspective was able to shift, and I started getting back into running again after having my first baby. And instead of engaging in my previous behaviors, I really focused on the new perspective change that I had when it came to fueling my body right for my activity. The 3 main things that I learned during that time off was;

  1. I embraced for myself that weight does not directly correlate to better performance.

  2. I saw my performance improve by taking the time to strength train and take adequate recovery days.

  3. I felt sooooooooo much better when I was appropriately fueled and rested. I saw my paces and workouts get better and better throughout my training cycle.


So let's start at the beginning - how I fueled my day to day training.


I nursed my baby for the first couple of months after giving birth, and transitioned to exclusively pumping until she was 6 months old. I was regularly fitting my runs in at either 5am or 8pm. My body prompted me to pump around 4am, so it ended up being the perfect time frame for me to get up, fuel and hydrate before my morning workout. I got hooked on having a Poptart, a cup of coffee and water. I had forgotten how much I love Poptarts, particularly brown sugar!


After weaning, I started implementing creatine monohydrate into my daily routine. Creatine has been shown to enhance recovery, reduce the risk of injury, increase muscle mass and strength adaptations, and more. I love pairing it with my cup of coffee about an hour before my workout to get both the benefits of the creatine and the boost of energy and other ergogenic effects from the caffeine.


creatine for fitness

I was very intentional to fuel and hydrate during my training. Anytime a workout/run was going to be 60 minutes or longer - I would make sure to grab carbs and water. Most of my training was done on a treadmill so that I could watch my daughter on the monitor in case she woke up, which made using a variety of fuel sources easier (not my ideal, but I definitely gained a lot of mental toughness from this!).


I found that a mixture of fig newton cookies, Maurten gels and Maurten powder/UCAN powder worked the best for me. I had a goal of consuming ~60 grams carbohydrate per hour, which typically meant grabbing something about every 20 minutes (depending on the amount of carbs in the product). I would start with the fig cookies, and then move to the gels/liquids as the workout progressed.


I also was intentional to refuel ASAP after my training. This meant that I would grab a protein shake - either Orgain or Premiere Protein, because many mornings I had just enough time to shower, get (somewhat) ready before my daughter would wake up. I would then have to get her up, change her, feed her, etc. and this typically meant that by the time I would finally get to my breakfast, about an hour or more would pass. While that time frame is still within general nutrition recovery guidelines, I wanted to get that recovery process started and give my muscles that dose of protein immediately!


I found that a quick and one-handed breakfast was a must with a little baby around. I chose a cinnamon raisin bagel topped with crunchy peanut butter and sliced banana - and it's been my go to ever since. Before I healed my relationship with food, bagels had to be earned or were only allowed on the occasion, and not as a daily thing. Now I see them as a tasty, easy, and carb-rich breakfast to fuel my running.


bagel with peanut butter and banana

I didn't track any macronutrients. I simply made sure that at most meals I had a carb, protein, fat and color. I was more intentional this time around about not loading up too much on veggies/fruit and making the carb more of the star of the show. For example, if I was having a sandwich, I would add a handful of chips/crackers/a granola bar on the side.


Race Day Recap - The Carb Load


I was much more intentional with a full 24 hour carb load before this race. We drove to Springdale, Arkansas the day before the race - so pre-planning this carb load was a must. I had a goal to eat about 8 grams carb per kg of my body weight, and a general idea on how to achieve it. Since I am an RD I already have a good idea of about how much grams of carbs are in different food items, so I planned it out by having a carb goal per 3 meals and per 3 snacks.


half marathon carb loading

I started the day with my OG - cinnamon raisin bagel with peanut butter and banana.


My first snack was a Poptart.


At lunch, we stopped by one of our favorite bar & grill spots in Bentonville, Arkansas - the Pedlar's Pub. I got a delicious turkey sandwich with chips (carbs! carbs! carbs!).


My second snack was multiple handfuls of tortilla chips and salsa.


Dinner was another OG - pasta with chicken. We stayed at an airbnb so that we could make a super simple and easy dinner meal. I heaped a large portion of pasta to fill up my plate.


At this point I was pretty full, so didn't end up eating my 3rd snack like I had planned. I felt I had done a good job of eating during the day and prioritizing carbs at each meal and snack, and I was planning on getting up early before the race to eat a sizeable breakfast. Getting in fluids was a bit challenging that day due to the travel, but I made sure to at least be sipping a bit on the drive and really tried to catch up as much as I could once we got into town.


Race Day Recap - Race Day


The race started at 7am, so I got up around 4am to have my bagel with peanut butter, banana and coffee with creatine. I knew my body could tolerate this breakfast about 2.5-3 hours before. After I finished breakfast, I got my fuel, water bottle, and ear buds packed and ready.


half marathon nutrition and hydration

We drove to the start line about 30 minutes early. We had to walk a bit to get to the starting line, and it was a bit chilly at 50 degrees, but I knew it would be perfect once we started running. I decided to jog around a bit to get warmed up, and as I was jogging I realized I had left my headphones in the car. I jogged back to the car to get them, and noticed that there were two people in the parking lot asking other cars to turn around and park somewhere else. Of course, they noticed me as a runner, and asked me to re-park my car. AND OF COURSE - I also had to pee. Thankfully, I found a new parking spot quickly AND found a restroom close by that didn't have a huge line.


I got to the starting line with about 3 minutes to go and was back further than I wanted to be from the start line, but I was just grateful that I wasn't stuck still trying to find a parking spot and wasn't having to hold my pee the whole race!


I felt good from the gun. Thankfully the start of the race was on mostly wide street, so I didn't have to weave through too many groups of people to get settled into my pace.


I had my caffeinated Maurten gel about 20 minutes into the race. I wanted it to kick in toward the end of my race when I knew I would probably need an extra boost. Caffeine typically takes about an hour to peak in the bloodstream. I took the 160 Maurten Gel at about 45/50 minutes in, and took my last 160 Maurten Gel at about 75 minutes.

runner finishing a half marathon

It was one of those days where all the stars aligned. It was the best I have ever felt in a race! I felt really good most of the race until the last 2 miles. That's when I entered the pain cave. I had to focus on just pushing one foot in front of the other. As you can see I was pretty tired - but I gave it my all, and the outcome was SO exciting! (and of course, I had to stop my watch as the first thing I did. IYKYK).


Major Takeaways


"Sandwiching" workouts with fuel is so important to get the most out of that workout and to recover optimally. Fueling up before, during (as needed) and as soon as possible afterward, instead of trying to restrict this to avoid eating too many calories or "sugar".


Periodizing carbohydrate intake to match my workouts - increasing those portions on hard, long workout days. Avoiding trying to "fill up" on too many fruits/vegetables that could put me in too much of a calorie deficit, which ultimately affected how well I recovered and being able to have my menstrual cycle.


The more carbs and fluid you can take in during a long distance running event, the better. Instead of trying to get away with even less than the minimum recommendation of 30 grams of carb per hour, I challenged myself to shoot for at least 60 grams per hour.


Lastly, I did make sure to take the time and incorporate strength in this training cycle. My perspective on this changed since I was not so hyper-focused on managing my weight. The more I did it, the more I grew to like strength training. I felt very accomplished after doing it, and it wasn't too long into my training cycle that I could see the benefits that strength training provided for me. I was running better up and downhill, and speed workouts improved.


I have some big goals for myself in the future, and I am looking forward to being able to continue to take with me this new perspective on fueling and my performance. But for right now, I am going to be taking a break from formal training and getting back to running and moving my body for fun!


Sincerely,

Maddi Osburn RDN LD

 




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