It seems this is the time of the season for runners everywhere to incur injury. Some of my fellow bloggers have been injured and some of my running friends here in BC have been injured. Google ‘common running injuries’ and you’ll get the same results each time: Shin Splints, Illiotibial Band Syndrome, Plantar Fasciitis, Achilles Tendonitis, Patellofemoral Syndrome…. and the list goes on. After talking with some of my BC running friends who have suffered some of these common injuries, I realize that I too have recently suffered a common running injury. I’d like to share it with you so that you can avoid this common yet often undiagnosed running injury: the Jelly Bean Injury.
I kid you not! This injury exists. I can even give you a definition of it. Jelly Bean Injury: A common running injury caused by improper planning and preparation of a runner’s diet. This injury is often incurred when a runner increases their mileage but forgets to also increase the required nutrients and calories to fuel their body’s increased activity level. The hungry runner, confused and disoriented from lack of appropriate complex carbs, reaches unknowingly for the deadly simple carb and the roller coaster of high blood sugar level to low blood sugar level begins. This injury can take several different forms including the Potato Chip variety, the Doughnut variety and the ever popular Alcohol variety. The underlying commonality of each being the runner body’s need for carbohydrates. The dangerous cycle of high to low blood sugar levels often leads the runner through related swings in mood and energy which can begin to affect other important parts of the well-rounded runner’s life such as their close relationships, sense of self, satisfaction with work and work effort, perception of fitness and movement toward fitness goals, just to name a few.
My injury began with a serious lack of love for the complex carb. You see, I am not a carb person. Neither are my children. I tend to eat what my kids will eat – an assortment of fruits, cheese, humus, chicken or fish, select veggies and the odd toast or crackers. Most children’s meal planning tips inform parents that children of the toddler variety tend to desire to snack on carbs – so plan your meals with lots of veggies and proteins and save the carbs for snacks. Alas my children prefer to snack on fruits. Worse yet is that my husband does not like potatoes and tends to be mostly carnivorous in nature – so there goes a common starch, add rice and pasta to our list of generally undesired and neglected foods and most complex carbs just don’t get much attention inside our doors. We do love breakfast and so for all of us the majority of our carb intake occurs at about 8am each morning.
While a lack of carbs is often a great thing if you are planning on entering swim suit or body building competitions, a lack of carbs when you have begun to regularly add 30km of running into your already active day can be extremely detrimental to a runner’s health. This makes you vulnerable to the dreaded Jelly Bean Injury and repetitive overuse of the hand-to-mouth movement with 2-3 jelly beans taking the ride each time. This is what happened to me.
I have managed up to this point to be completely unprepared for the need to change my diet as I have increased my mileage, begun focussing on cross-training and including some strength training to each day. Okay, the strength training really consists of push-ups, various forms of the sit-up and lunges with weights – and these I mostly do to make sure that I don’t drop one of my 30lb sons mid-throw into the air and catch – but it counts as increased physical activity no matter its purpose. This increase in activity, without an increase in the carbs and maybe even calories that I needed to keep me smoothly moving along towards my running goals sent me into a quick and deadly craving for my most beloved sweet – jelly beans. I am typically a jelly bean connoisuer but my craving led me straight to the bulk foods aisle and in front of a clear plastic bin with thousands of colourful simple carbs staring me straight in the eyes. Love at first sight. I bought a bag, brought them home and began to snack on them whenever I was feeling like a needed a quick snack or some added energy. Before I knew it, half the bag was gone, my insides felt like they were rotting and I didn’t know where my emotions would bring me from one minute to the next. But as this injury is prone to do, I kept trying to compensate for my floundering mood stability by eating even more, thinking that I was just tired. It got to the point where I didn’t even like what I was eating, but because they were there and I was craving something that I couldn’t quite put my finger on, I kept eating them.
It wasn’t until one particularly sluggish and lethargic day when my husband asked me what was wrong with me that it even began to dawn on me that I was hungry! We had been visiting the playground with our kids and I was a mess. Everyone was having fun except for me. I didn’t want to move, I felt light-headed and almost angry. Finally Andrew looked up at me from the lowered end of a teeter totter and said ‘What’s wrong with you anyway, you’ve been so ….. (obvious contemplation of word-choice before he continued) … moody lately.’ I stopped for a moment and then I realized it – I was hungry. And not just I-think-I-need-a-snack kind of hungry, but I-could-eat-a-whole-roasted-chicken-by-myself kind of hungry! I know this kind of hunger because I have actually eaten a whole roasted chicken by myself before – when I was pregnant with our twin sons. I ate a lot then. You think I’d be able to recognize when I need to eat now, but no, I forgot that when you run you need to have the right diet to match your mileage.
Thankfully this injury has a quick solution that takes minimal time to demonstrate its effectiveness. Change your diet, thank the person who was brave enough to point out your moodiness, embrace your newly stabilized energy level and …
… beware the Jelly Bean.