Do You Need an App to Tell You When to Eat and Drink?

fuel myrunOn the theme of fancy gizmos that tell you when you should (or in the case of the “smart bra” shouldn’t) eat or drink, there’s an app called “Fuel My Run.”

Again, the very idea of needing to be told when to eat and drink runs counter to the whole Intuitive Eating mindset. Are we really so disconnected from what our body needs that we can’t tell when to eat or drink?

When we are in the middle of a long run, bike ride, or some other endurance activity, the answer turns out to be “yes.”  This article about How to Eat and Drink During a Marathon says:

Developing and executing a strategy for ingesting fluids and energy during the marathon is a crucial step towards success on race day. You can’t expect to just wing it and drink and eat when feel like it if you want to run your best. Developing a race fueling strategy takes practice and intelligent planning.

Start drinking fluids early. Don’t wait until you are thirsty or you’re getting hot or dehydrated. If you wait until you’re thirsty, dehydration or glycogen depletion may already be starting. Furthermore, as I discussed in my article on preparing your body for the marathon, the more distressed your body becomes, the more difficult it is for your digestive system to process all the fluids and energy you take in. By taking in fluids early in the race – when you’re not yet fatigued or stressed – you give your digestive system optimal conditions to get the electrolytes and sugars distributed to the muscles that need them.

If that’s true, then a running app that doesn’t just track, but also alerts us about when to eat or drink, could be useful in optimizing our running performance.

Question: Does this go against the principles of Intuitive Eating that say we should eat when we’re hungry, stop when we’re satisfied?

I don’t think so. We’re not constantly engaged in endurance sports.  It makes sense that when we subject the body to conditions that are not the norm for it, different strategies might be required.

Someone who is regularly committed to listening to their body and responding to its signals for food or drink is dealing with it appropriately under typical conditions.

But endurance sports tax the body differently, and waiting to feel thirsty or hungry is like waiting until your car sputters to a halt at the side of the road before re-fueling.  Not the best strategy for maintaining a consistent pace and staying strong.

Personally, I never get hungry when I’m out running (not that I’m ever out long enough for it to matter much).

I encountered “the wall” on that windy bike ride back in early November and needed to be told by one of the other riders that I should be drinking something to replace electrolytes and eating something to give me more fuel for the rest of the trip.  I didn’t realize that I needed to eat or even drink that day because I was dealing with so many other adverse conditions that the only thing on my mind was keeping the wheels on my bike turning.

It makes sense, then, that people who usually eat and drink in response to their body’s cues might need some prompting on longer runs or rides or even swims.

So in that sense, the app strikes me as useful and consistent with a more general commitment to intuitive eating.  If someone marketed an app for every day use that always told us when to eat and drink, that would be a different story.

I’m imagining now an app for dieters that only allowed us to eat or drink at certain times, and forbade us from taking anything in outside of those times.  That kind of app trains people to deny themselves and ignore their body’s natural signals not for any performance reasons, but simply as a dieting/weight loss tool.

“Fuel My Run” is not like that. Instead of forbidding us to do what we would like to do, it reminds us to do what we need to do to stay adequately fueled for the activities we’re engaged in.  Given that the body doesn’t always send signals fast enough, reminders during activity aren’t a bad idea.