Why New Runners Gain Weight When Training For a Marathon?

tiago-Hoisel-running-fatWhen I was training for my first half marathon, I was very focused on getting healthier and was very consistent about training hard and even doing some cross training.

I didn’t weigh myself until about a week or two before and was shocked that I had actually gained almost 5 pounds?!?  16 weeks of working out and getting to where I could easily run more than 10 miles to find I gained weight?

It didn’t make sense… After working with a bunch of new runners, I started to find that this wasn’t that strange after all.

First of all, rest assured that running is still making you much healthier!  There are some things out of your control and some things that you can have a direct impact on…

Five Things That Can Make You Gain Weight and How to Avoid Them

The Complex Math problem: Many factors go into weight loss, but in simple terms calories burned needs to be less than calories consumed.  Most of these come down to things that can make you gain weight:

The Hunger: When I run and especially when I increase mileage – I feel HUNGRY! It’s tough to explain, but your body will continue to burn calories after you finish running and for many (me included), will trigger hunger signals to try to maintain.

Solution: If you must eat, eat something healthy like a fresh apple or some good oatmeal (not the sweetened stuff)!

Hidden Calories: I ran with an athlete that drank Gatorade (or a full calorie sports drink) constantly. A normal (not G2) bottle of Gatorade is 100 calories and has 28 g of sugar… this is ok during a long run, but can quickly add up.

Solution: Try to stick with water as much as possible and avoid drinking calories (even during most runs) “I need to fuel”: probably the most common reason which comes from the reasoning that  you need to eat some extra calories.  So you have an extra snack and get plenty of seconds.  Solution: This is a tough one, but you don’t need to overeat.  Be conscious of your intake and try to eat good, balanced meals.

The CARBO LOAD: There are hundreds of articles about the carbo load – and how it helps on race day.  I can honestly say – it’s great on race day! for many though… it becomes a weekly habit with the rational that there is a long run on Saturday, so extra servings of pasta, potatoes, bread, tortillas every Thursday/Friday!

Solution: Don’t worry, that carb load is on the horizon, but save it for the big race!

“I can eat what I want since I run”:   It’s true that many runners do not have the best eating habits, but it’s easy to put on pounds doing this unless you’re routinely over 50 miles a week.

Solution: Run more?  No, just kidding   Although the occasional post race pig out is ok, in general it should be pretty rare.  This kind of eating is a shortcut to weight gain!

Three Things Are Still Out of Your Control

If you’re doing all of these things and it’s still not working, I’m sorry to say there are some things out of your control.  To be honest, they are not bad things! The scale doesn’t lie, but the scale doesn’t always tell the entire truth!!!

There are several physiological changes taking place in your body as you improve your cardio AND several of them can cause a weight gain:

  • Water Weight – your body will start to store extra water in your muscles (especially when you’re tapering!).  There are many reasons for this, but it comes down to your body adapting to the stress of a long run.
  • Muscle Mass – That’s right, muscle weighs more than fat and there is a good chance that much of your body (calves, quads, abs, shoulders) all are putting on some lean muscle mass.  The scale doesn’t measure this!
  • Glycogen Storage – glycogen is the stored carbohydrate fuel that your muscles use.  Your body will indeed learn to build stores of these in your muscles.

Over time, these will even out and you will get back to weight loss!  Stick with the training and don’t worry because over time these become less of a factor.

General things that will help:

Write down what you eat!

I’m really not great at this! I don’t even like recording my workouts, but when I’m worried or focused on training or weight loss – this is a must! Many sites offer this like www.trainingpeaks.com, www.fitday.com, and www.livestrong.com.

As a general guideline, to lose 1 pound of weight, you should aim for consuming 500 calories less than you’re burning each day. Most people will find that this gives them enough energy to not feel deprived on long runs, but still enough to lose weight.

Healthy snacking

Get rid of the chips and candy! Keep your house stocked with “healthy” and nutritious snacks like fruit (apples are my favorite), Veggies and a serving of hummus, greek yogurt, and good old plain popcorn (large serving size w/ low calories!)

Remember the big picture!

Running is REALLY good for you. The scale is only pointing at a single factor related to health and not taking into account all the other benefits you’re getting from running! Keep in mind that weight loss is more like a marathon than a sprint Training and improving cardio is really good for you physically and mentally.

Originally appeared ontherunningmike.com

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