Not sure why you’re gaining weight while marathon training? A Registered Dietitian explains why this happens and offers tips to avoid it!
Marathon training makes you feel like you can conquer the world. You test your physical and mental strength, willpower and determination on a daily basis, and you have every right to feel like a champion before the race even starts.
Don’t get me wrong– there are downsides, like the tired and sore legs, the constant hunger and the accidental weigh gain. Yup, that’s right. Running 30-40 miles each week may result in GAINING a few pounds. Exercising more = weight gain?!? It happens to many runners, and I’ll tell you why.
You ate too many carbs.
Because they provide energy for running, carbs are the most important aspect of a runner’s diet [Find out how many you need and when to eat them in The No-Brainer Nutrition Guide For Every Runner]. While carbs come from bread and grains, they also come from beans, legumes, fruits and vegetables. The only problem is that it’s difficult to eat fiber-rich foods, like brussels sprouts, cauliflower and beans, because they might bother your stomach during a run.
Because of this, the tendency is to load up on bread and grains. Now, there’s nothing wrong with bread and grains, but eating too many of them and not enough of the nutrient dense fruits and vegetables can cause weight gain.
You didn’t recover properly after a run.
“I gained a few pounds during my marathon and half-marathon training. I was never hungry immediately after a long run, so I didn’t have a big recovery meal. But hours later (since I ran in the morning) I would be absolutely famished and would overeat.”–Alissa Rumsey MS, RD, CSCS, Owner of Alissa Rumsey Nutrition and Wellness Consulting
Does that sound like something that has happened to you? It’s totally avoidable with some simple recovery nutrition tactics, while I’ll describe in the next section.
You gained muscle.
“I certainly tend to weigh more during marathon training – not much more, but 2-3 pounds more than usual. Marathon training tends to ramp up my appetite and if I end up ravenous (usually 3 hours after a long run) I may scarf down more than I should. Plus, I believe I put on a little bit of muscle mass when marathon training – my legs look more toned and my pants actually fit better when I’m training for a marathon. Not to mention, for my last two marathons and ultra-marathon, I was weight training with a personal trainer twice a week in addition to putting in the miles, so muscle gain is certainly a possibility.”–Tina Gowin Carlucci, RDN of Gowin Nutrition
Gaining weight but fitting into your pants better is a sign of muscle gain, rather than fat gain. If this happens to you, embrace the change and enjoy your newfound strength!
You feel like you can eat whatever you want because you “earned” it.
“When I trained for my first half marathon, I noticed that I was always justifying food like “I earned it” or “can’t wait to indulge” after a long run. Especially because it was SO out of the norm for me as a non-runner who had a hard time even cranking out a full 1-2 miles without walking. When I started running 7+ in one day I thought I was really killing it.”–Katie Proctor, MBA, RDN of Elevate with Katie.
“I totally gained weight while training for my first marathon. It was a combination of being hungry all the time, and that sense of entitlement you get when you run 3 hours and then see some donuts.”–Abby Langer, RD of Abby Langer Nutrition
Um, YES! I would dream about what I would eat after a run and eat donuts on the regular.
Avoiding The Dreaded Weight Gain
As you can see, gaining a few pounds during marathon training is actually pretty normal for most people. It’s even difficult for Dietitians to regulate how much they eat when they are feeling ravenous. With all of that being said, here are 5 tips to avoid the dreaded marathon training weight gain.
- Eat for recovery
Eating after a run is just as important as fueling up before. Without proper recovery, you will likely feel hungry later in the day or even the next day. Recovery nutrition includes a mix of carbs to replace the glycogen stores you used during running and protein to help rebuild worn down muscles. For longer distances, try to incorporate some post-run healthy fats to fill you up and keep hunger at bay.
“To overcome the post-run hunger, I would have a smoothie immediately after a long run. That way I could get in calories, carbs, and protein, but without feeling that I had to eat a huge recovery meal. This helped to keep my hunger hormones in check later in the day,” says Rumsey.
My favorite post-run recovery meal is a chocolate and banana smoothie, made with milk, yogurt, banana and cocoa powder [grab my simple smoothie formula] . A few hours later, eat something more filling, like Whole Grain Blueberry Pancakes or an Egg Sandwich.
2. Stay hydrated during the run
It’s so important to stay hydrated while running, if not just for performance, but also for fueling and weight maintenance. “Dehydration can mask as hunger when really all you need is some water,” says Rumsey. “If I didn’t drink enough during or after my run, I ended up being really hungry later in the day,” she adds.
Drink enough throughout the day and wear a hydration belt on the run. You urine should be a pale yellow color to signify you’re adequately hydrated. If it’s dark yellow, you need to drink more!
During a long run, it’s necessary to replace lost carbohydrate stores. Our body stores up carbs for fuel, but that store only lasts about one hour. After that, you need to replace lost carbohydrates by drinking sports drinks or using sports products, like gus or gels. “I think the reason for the weight maintenance was that I would take in several hundred calories during running (3-4, 100-calorie GU pouches),” says Natker. Because of this, she probably didn’t end up as hungry at the end of her runs or stop at mile 15 to order Seamless!
3. Fuel during a long run
When running any distance that takes longer than an hour, you need to add in some fuel during you run. [How much? Find out in The No-Brainer Nutrition Guide For Every Runner]. The body needs carbohydrates to maintain energy, and those stores carbs run out after about 60 minutes. If you don’t replace them, your metaphorical gas tank will be running on empty.
That means you will likely be starving after your run and try to make up for the calories you neglected. Many runners use sports drinks, gummies and gus to take in simple calories during a run. If you prefer whole foods, check out this list of foods to eat during a run.
4. Consider the amount of calories you burn
It’s pretty awesome to see that you burn 1,800 calories after an 18 mile run, but that’s just one day. I’m not going to say that you shouldn’t have a donut if you want it, but don’t eat 5 donuts and make them part of your daily breakfast.
You definitely need more food during marathon training, but try to make 80% of those calories healthy foods and don’t adopt a daily french fry and ice cream habit because you feel like you “earned” it. Not only are junky foods going to add to your waistline, but they don’t supply your body with the nutrients it needs for overall health and appetite control.
5. Choose nutrient dense foods
Although your brain may be calling for a cheeseburger after a long run, your body needs nourishing foods. And my motto is that healthy food can be tasty food, so trust me when I say that you can satisfy your tastebuds and appetite with something that includes veggies, whole grains and lean protein.
The bottom line: Weight gain isn’t synonymous with marathon training. There are definitely ways to avoid it, but also keep in mind that gaining an extra 2-3 pounds is somewhat normal. Don’t feel discouraged if your jeans are a little tighter because you are accomplishing a humongous feat!