Three Reasons Why You’re Gaining Weight While Training for a Marathon
Q: I’m training for my first marathon this season and my goal was to lose weight and I’ve actually gained weight this season! WTF?
Although it seems like it would be an easy way to lose weight while training for a marathon if you’re not mindful about your nutrition, you can actually gain weight along the way. Here are three likely culprits and some simple solutions you can use now.
Culprit #1: The calories in versus out are out of balance.
Many runners can actually out-eat their marathoning expenditure and in doing so, gain weight along the way. One example of how this phenomenon can start: A newbie runner I once coached would celebrate every long run with a grand breakfast at a local cafe/bakery. The meal she described sounded like a rolling buffet rather than a refueling opportunity. It included a post-run chocolate milk, followed by an omelet, fried potatoes with gravy, toast, mocha coffee, and a cinnamon roll the size of Texas. I don’t write in judgment but rather in the observation that it is very easy to get caught up in the fantasy of the accomplishment and over-celebrate calorically.
The Solution: Take a personal inventory of your in versus out calories every day for a week or two using a free fuel log like Fitday.com. Doing so will allow you to see your total exercise and living expenditure (what you burn training, moving around, and just breathing every day) against what you consume fuel-wise. Knowing and seeing the balance of calories in and out is the first step to dialing down the input and halting the weight gain. Many nutritionists recommend athletes don’t dip below a 15% caloric deficit between what is burned and consumed while trying to lose weight while training and racing (ie. Total Calories Burned: 2,500 – 15% of Total = 375 –>your total calories should be no lower than 2,125). Of course, this varies, but keeping tabs will inform you of the balance it takes to lose, maintain, and gain weight while training. Save that special treat for once per week and invest in it. Googling “calories in a cinnamon roll” will also shed some light on whether it is worth it. 🙂
Culprit #2: The quality and type of food can send you flying into a cabinet-raiding ultra-eating expedition.
If you’ve ever felt like you couldn’t get enough food while training for a race, this one applies to you. When you consume fast, overly processed foods, they can set off chemical reactions inside your body—some of which can include never-ending cravings, sleepiness, crabbiness, and the sense that you’re never, ever satisfied. This can also be the case for some runners when they consume too many carbohydrates and not enough protein and fat in meals. And let’s not even get into the lack of nutrients for recovery and performance when you eat quick foods.
The Solution: Making a few small changes in how you eat can quickly solve this problem, stabilize your blood sugar levels, and curb your cravings. As much as you can, eat real foods, ones that are grown or have fewer than five ingredients on the label. If you can’t pronounce the ingredients, it’s not real. You don’t have to go crazy all at once—weave real foods in slowly and tune into how you feel after you eat them versus the other quick foods. Balance your meals with healthy fats, protein, and carbohydrates. Fat is not the enemy, but rather our friend when eaten in moderate amounts. It keeps you satisfied for hours, provides essential nutrients for your body, and will help you lose weight. For instance, eating two real organic eggs with avocado and veggies versus egg whites and toast with no butter will stay with you much longer and prevent hunger cravings later that morning. No hunger cravings mean no snack in the middle of the morning and most likely fewer overall calories. Plus—you enjoy the meal.
Culprit #3: Running too much, eating too little, sleeping even less.
Our bodies are very much like the environment, when things get off balance hormonal shifts occur creating all sorts of issues including weight gain, cravings, fatigue, anxiety, an inability to match your clothes, and more. Some behaviors that contribute to creating these hormonal shifts include running too many miles too soon, increasing the intensity too soon (running too hard all the time), insufficient fueling (eating 1400 calories when you’re burning 2,500 daily), stress, and not getting quality sleep. One of these is enough to offset your balance and create momentum for weight gain but when you combine them all together, it’s the perfect storm.
The Solution: Ease into the marathon distance and allow your body time to adapt to the demands of running overtime. The same goes for increasing intensity and overall mileage. For instance, if you go from running once or twice per week for 2-3 miles to start a typical 20-week marathon training plan, that is an increase of 70% or more and tremendous stress on the body. Take your time, train from where you are, and your body will reward you with progression without negative consequences. On the other hand, if you create a significant caloric deficit as mentioned above, something’s gonna give and it will be your metabolism slowing to protect your vital organs.
This is especially true for women—we’re great fat protectors because we have the power to create life. Our bodies will go down defending that power. 🙂 Try moving away from low fat, drastically calorically restricted menus and ease into creating a menu with real foods, with fat and protein, and watch your body transform before your eyes. You’ll feel stronger, enjoy your foods more, and lose weight because you’re giving the body what it needs to perform at its metabolic best.
Finally, if you ain’t sleeping, you’re likely not recovering—and likely not eating enough and burning the candle at both ends. Your cortisol levels will rise, which can cause weight gain. Set yourself up for a good night’s sleep and invest in it like you do your training. You just may sleep off some of those added pounds.