>> Tuesday, July 20, 2010
Katie writes: "I recently started training for my first marathon . . . and I am finding that my stomach has turned into an insatiable beast. I'm up past half-marathon distances every weekend and usually fit in three training runs a week on top of my long runs and, let me tell ya, I can't stop eating. I've gained 3-5lbs since starting this whole adventure, which seems counterproductive to all the exercising I'm doing. Anyway, it leads me to think that I'm eating the wrong things . . . or not enough of the right things!"
Oh, Katie! If only you knew that I was dealing with this very same issue last year around this time. Once my weekend long run ramped up beyond 15 miles -- so, more than 30 miles weekly -- I started eating everything in sight. And we're not alone, marathon training-related weight gain is an issue many deal with. Take a look at Kaeti's story, Jenn's struggle, or Jennifer's situation.
And those are only a few I could find right away.
Personally, I gained about five pounds in all leading up to the Philly Marathon last November. And I've only recently lost them again. But one of the best tips I can give you (before I launch into the rest) is not to pay too much attention to the number on the scale.
You may even want to stop weighing yourself during your training. There are a number of factors that go into this seemingly mysterious weight gain. All my clothes were still fitting, I was just, well, heavier. You're prepping to run 26.2 freakin' miles -- and that's an awesome feat. So, don't cheat your nutrition trying to achieve a specific number you're familiar with (or if you were expecting to lose weight, now isn't necessarily the best time to try).
With this in mind, here are some other tips and things to think about.
1.) Consider that some of the weight you've put on might be muscle mass, etc. I know, you've heard that one before. But seriously! You're spending hours pounding the pavement each week. So, your body is adjusting and building muscles where muscles weren't as hefty before. In addition, your body is learning how to cope with the demands of distance training in more ways than even I know how to explain.
According to Christine Luff, your body is "learning to store carbohydrates as fuel (glycogen) for your long runs. Those glycogen stores are important to completing your long runs and marathon without 'hitting the wall,' but you may see a couple extra pounds on the scale on certain days. Your body also requires additional water to break down and store the glycogen, so that will also add extra weight. (Source)
2.) Take a look at your liquid consumption. I was drinking a HUGE bottle of Gatorade after my runs. Then a smoothie post-run. Then chocolate milk some days. Basically, I was adding a ton of calories to my day in drinks. Oh, yeah, and I forgot the late afternoon celebratory beer or two (running for three hours is mentally tough and requires celebration, folks!). Basically, you will indeed be thirsty. However, sometimes when you're dehydrated, your body doesn't scream for water . . . so you end up drinking anything in sight.
For example, a couple weeks ago while we were in Maine, I ran a 13-miler in the heat and sun. I didn't drink much and by the end was so incredibly thirsty that I begged Stephen to scrape together a couple quarters and buy me a ginger ale from a nearby vending machine. Not one of my best moments. Think before you drink! A good post-run drink is coconut water -- it's low in calories, high in potassium and electrolytes. If you love your Gatorade, consider buying the powdered mix so you can water it down a bit. I actually prefer the less intense taste to the store-bought variety.
And never underestimate the power of plain water. Sometimes it'll not only quench your thirst, but also make you less hungry. Yeah, dehydration sometimes masks itself as feeling of hunger, too. Oh, how tricky our bodies are!
3.) Examine your caloric intake. Even if only for a couple days. I'm not huge on counting calories, but when my training ramped up and I couldn't stop eating, I decided to do a little counting and was surprised at what I found. A lot of my eating was mindless. But more miles means more need for smart eating. I found that I wasn't eating well (or enough) immediately before and after my runs, which helped explain my late night binge sessions. When I started eating smaller, more balanced meals (all I felt like eating was bread and cheese!), my gain leveled off.
Also, watch out for the "carbo-loading" thing. Yes, it's important to eat a large meal a night or two nights before a long run, but that doesn't mean you need to consume an entire large pizza yourself (though, I've been there and done that -- no joke). Eat until you are full, but pay attention to your body. And all those extra rewards do add up (I'd often spend my entire Sunday eating and sitting on the couch). Concentrate on eating as many whole foods and as little refined carbohydrates as possible. It's difficult with all those yummy energy bars, but it can be done.
You may be too tired to cook some days, but trust me -- a little effort goes a long way. Kale and sweet potatoes can be your best friends.
4.) Think about the quality versus the quantity of your miles. If you were training for shorter races before now, you may have had more variety in your workouts. Intervals. Tempo runs. Speed work. All sessions that torch calories. But most of my miles run in training for my first marathon were the same level of exertion. Adding even a single higher-intensity run to your week might help.
As well, you may be running all those extra miles at the expense of other activities. I was living from bed to running to couch to bed for a while. When I train at shorter distances (everything up to the half marathon), I go swimming. I take walks and hikes. I get more activity, whether or not I'm conscious I'm doing it, in addition to my workouts. If you're running for two or three hours one day, but sitting the rest of that day . . . you may not be getting enough activity. That sounds incredibly odd, I know. But try to go grocery shopping or move around in another way (yoga class, anyone?) instead of vegging out.
Do you have any suggestions for Katie? Any stories to share from your own training-related weight gain? And this situation isn't reserved for marathon runners only. In fact, any time you ramp up your training, you deal with similar issues.
It's hard to find balance, but the reward (finishing that long-awaited race) is oh-so satisfying and empowering. We'd love to hear your thoughts. Just leave a comment or email us at neverhomemaker [at] gmail [dot] com.
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