Marathon Weight Gain

Fuel from the Road

By Pamela Nisevich Bede MS, RD, CSSD, LD, Sports Nutritionist with EAS Sports Nutrition

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A confusing equation: why more miles don’t always equal more weight loss  

If you’ve never trained for a marathon or a half before, this week’s Fuel from the Road question of “why do I gain weight while training for a marathon?” might sound ironic and just a bit ridiculous.  Still many of us arrive at the starting line somewhat dissatisfied in our weight loss efforts while training or, worse still, upset over our weight gain.  Call it ironic, or even unfair, but the reality of marathon training is that often, as mileage goes up, so does the number on the scale.  Here are some of the best ways to fend off hunger and fuel your many miles while keeping your weight in check.

The first and most obvious reason we runners gain weight is because we answer the call of our voracious appetite.  Those many miles do burn calories and the constant stress on the body does call for recovery.  But the svelte runner knows that recovery can come in the form of a convenient and relatively low-calorie protein shake or smoothie or even by way of a filling salad topped with antioxidant-rich berries and protein-packed grilled salmon.  For optimal recovery, eat 15-25grams of protein and 2-4 times as much carb as protein, within 45minutes after a run.  The protein will help stop muscle breakdown and begin repair and the carbohydrate will restock your glycogen stores and prime your muscles for performance the next time out.  Be sure to plan ahead when it comes to post-run refueling.  If you drive to a trailhead to run, be sure to pack a nutrient and protein-rich snack that’s within reach as soon as you jump in your car.  If you’re at home, consider setting up the blender or sandwich station before you head out so that it’s ready for service within the 45minute recovery window. 

Along the lines of a voracious appetite and recovery comes the second obvious culprit when it comes to weight gain- falling into the mindset of “I earned it, I can eat anything”.  Yes, that 15 miles run did burn over 1500 calories.  But you also consumed fuel while out there (right? right?!) and if you overcompensate (i.e. eat beyond what you burned) you can effectively undo the calorie burn and set the stage for weight gain.  So, while the extra mileage does allow for an extra serving and a slice of cake every now and again, do your best to not reward yourself with food.  Reward those miles with extra gear or a relaxing massage or movie night but don’t reward yourself with food.  (Note: this tip applies to much of life, not just marathon training)

Another culprit that often makes us feel like we’re hungry when we’re not is dehydration.  The mind has difficulty distinguishing between thirst signals and hunger signals so after those long, hot summer runs, there’s a good chance that the “hunger” you’re feeling even though you just ate is actually thirst.  Avoid this obstacle by being certain to rehydrate as you recover from your run and throughout the day.  Grab a beverage like Myoplex BCAA + Electrolytes (after, during, and even before a run)  to deliver the electrolytes your system needs for fast rehydration along with branched chain amino acids that your muscles will use for proactive recovery.  Rehydrate until your urine consistently runs a light lemonade color and be sure to fill your plate with water-rich fruits and vegetables throughout the day for filling power and fluids. 

Finally, you might be tempted to go low on calories during heavy training in order to maximize weight loss.  Don’t do it.  Severely restricting energy intake can lead to poor performance, the inability to make it through a run, and even an increased risk for injury.  Be certain to consume enough food to fuel your sport, your mileage, and your recovery.  At the end of the day, the ability to crank out a run and perform is going to enable to you burn more calories than if you’re fatigued and skip the workout or, worse still, are sidelined and on the couch as the result of an injury. 

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