Did you know that when training for a distance race it’s extremely common, if not expected, for a runner to gain weight?
If you’re anything like me, the goal of losing pounds in the name of getting down to race weight may often entice you to lace up your sneakers. But now, a few weeks of solid training have come and gone, and those mocking, digitized numbers on the scale aren’t getting smaller. In fact, they’re slowly creeping in the wrong direction!
How could we gain weight during peak marathon training when we’re running longer, farther and harder than ever?!
Let’s take a look at why runners might gain weight during marathon training and what we can do to prevent it from happening.
- Runners are
Running makes us hungry. Personally, like a small child, when I am not fed immediately I get angry. This leads to the condition that you may or may not know of: hangriness. Last night I ate two bratwurst sausages for dinner and a giant bowl of ice cream for dessert. Clearly, I am not a nutritionist so, food choices aside, I notice that what used to satisfy me now leaves me feeling empty. I feel entitled to my big portions. At the moment, each calorie feels so deserved. I can routinely be heard saying, “I ran xx miles today!” God save you if you try to correct my choices or limit my food. We can chalk this phenomenon up to low blood sugar and knowing you burned major calories.
What can be done: Some people might find it helpful to track their calories in and calories out. I’ve had reasonable success with SparkPeople or using an app like MyFitnessPal. If you want a more complete review of these, this LifeHacker article is a pretty good resource. But honestly, I usually do that for about a month before I either get way too obsessive or I forget and get really sloppy about the whole endeavor.
Others might prefer a more intuitive approach. I prefer this. While training this time around, I am going with this. For me that means not letting myself go too long between meals, eat more bulky, low calorie foods, and stop acting like I’m so awesome that I can have sundaes every night. Instead, I will start by having them every other night. Maybe in the fall I’ll cut that to every two nights … although that might be a little ambitious.
2. Runners retain water
Like camels gearing up for an expedition across a desert, our bodies know that we are using calories and water in a different way when we start logging long distances. To adapt, our body hoards glycogen, the quickest form of energy. Thankfully for our running and unfortunately for our weight, “every gram of glycogen carries with it 3 grams of water,” meaning that we are able to hold on to more water and more energy to keep us going, but we also see that weight on the sale.
What can be done: Chill out and remember that a little bit of weight gain is normal and can be a good thing! However, I need to remember that retaining water can be affected by my intake of sodium and my dehydration. For me, I feel like a balloon when I eat salty things like Chinese take-out or when I don’t drink enough water. I figure that when I have all these extra glycogen stores, this normal process for me might be accentuated.
3. Runners are jacked
Running can put on muscle mass. My husband noticed today that I’m looking a little more muscular lately. It makes sense that with our added running, we are building up those quads and glutes, adding poundage on the scale since our less dense fat may be burned away and replaced with solid muscle. This probably means you’ll be smaller in general. However, it will also mean that there will be more to haul. Hopefully those new muscles can power you through that, though.
What can be done: Make the tape measure your friend and focus on the good you’re doing. Personally, I’m going to continue cross-training and lifting weights, even if it means I’m bulking up a bit. This is something very typical for me as my body type tends to pack on muscle quite quickly. The reason that I’m keen to continue is simple: I don’t want to get injured. I don’t care if I get a little heavier (focus on little) because I know that those muscles will protect my knees, back, hips and feet as they endure the stresses of 26.2 and ambitious weekly mileage goals.
4. Runners love GU
Salty wrote a great post about training without gels where she contends that our over-reliance on energy gels, chomps, wafers and drinks during our training could contribute to holding on to excess weight. Our running bodies are never accessing our fat stores because we’re so scared of bonking or maybe because we like the sweet reward of sucking down that jelly goodness.
What can be done: Wean yourself off the sugar. This is so hard for me because I’ve actually contemplated snacking on my chocolate peanut butter gu’s — they’re that good. However, I have been extending the time that I take in gel, moving from the 45 minutes marked on the package to more like 1 hr and 15 minutes. If I continue to stretch this out, the idea is that on race day my body will be used to training with little, but that when I give it just what it needs, it will go even faster. Of course, I have to balance this with not feeling like absolute poop after my training long runs. I do have a life and two kids that need me to be somewhat functioning for the rest of the day.
So, deep breaths as you get used to your new (slightly higher) weight. It’s temporary and hopefully minimal. I say minimal because I did find a nifty site that does some fancy calculations based on running times and weight. See my results below (am I really going to share my weight with the world? Yes, I guess I am.) As you can see, a person might get faster by losing weight. However, after reading more, you would see that losing weight by not feeding yourself adequately after a run would lead to less glycogen and lower muscle mass. Instead, your aim should be to gradually lose fat through the natural process of expending more calories to offset the gain in muscle.
Predicted performance at different weights
Predicted VO2 Max: 37.9 ml/kg/min
|Weight (lbs)||Predicted time||Time difference|
Finally, Cinnamon also suggests that you should keep an eye on what you eat, not just how much of it. Your body is now a well-oiled, running machine and it needs good fuel to make it go. I guess it’s time to upgrade from regular to premium gas because you’re straight-up turning into a Ferrari or, in my case, a pretty tricked out Honda.
Do you find that you gain weight when marathon training? Is it something you try to prevent or do you go with the flow?