Don’t Freak Out: Gaining Weight While Training For a Marathon

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Lean, mean running machines. That’s the stereotype most people have of marathon runners. As any runner knows that isn’t true. Sure we’re mean in terms of focus, dedication and determination but we come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Training for a marathon can put you in some of the best shape of your life but it doesn’t mean you’ll be blown over by a strong breeze. In fact, the strength gained during training will help solidify the fact that your body is gearing up to be more powerful than ever.

As you gain in mileage and subsequently calories burned, this will not always equate to weight loss. Shocking to some people that running for miles upon end will not turn you into a bean pole. A marathon and other long distance races are a race of strength. Your marathon goal should be to finish strong and (maybe) faster than before.  With the amount of focus on training to be a powerhouse, one might notice the scale going up a bit especially after the really high mileage weeks. One needs to evaluate if it’s good training, unintentional sabotage or a combination causing the gain.

Method to the Madness

Remember you are training to run 26.2 miles. In a row. Your body is picking up what you are throwing down in terms of training. The point of the months of training to slowly show your body the amount of stress you going to put it through and what you expect from it. As this happens not only are you gaining muscle mass from the additional miles but your body will start to storing necessary glycogen to run.  Those glycogen levels are being built during long runs.  While the subtle weight gain is not equal to eating a pie in one sitting it can be a bit unwanted.

Keep Eating, Correctly

Do not stop eating and do not go on a diet. Proper fuel is crucial in the training process. Most can make better choices and it might be a good idea to evaluate if your food choices are rewarding you or penalizing you.  If you ran 20 miles on Saturday, a nice juicy cheese burger and fries with a beer that afternoon is not a poor choice. In fact, you need the calories from the protein and carbs and the sodium from the fries isn’t going to hurt but making wise choices the remainder of the week is important.  Don’t follow the burger up with a piece of chocolate cake. An “I deserve it” is not the food mantra for the whole training. Have a fun meal after your most strenuous workout of the week.

There is a large difference between being mindful and healthy and being on a diet. Training is not the time to remove items from your diet or limit calorie intake. Eat when you’re hungry, focus on what your body is telling you.  Training for a marathon will be one of the times in your life you will be the hungriest and making mindful decisions will only prove what you are capable of on the course.

Hydration

While you probably hydrate before, during and immediately after, what about the eight hours after the run? There should be a hydrating beverage within your reach 24 hours a day. Thirst can often be masked as hunger and while being hungry is normal during training ensuring that you are hydrated will help you zero in on true need of calorie. What you’re drinking is equally important. Calorie laden sports drinks should be saved for during the run and any replenishing.  A low calorie flavored beverage or good old water will help avoid any weight gain from empty calories. Giving up coffee and cocktails is not necessary but make sure to be aware of adding water while ingesting them.

Sleep

As always there are non-obvious and underlying factors that affect us among the daily things we do. With the uptick of miles occurring, that alarm clock may be going off earlier and earlier especially for those weekday runs. Make sure that you are turning into bed earlier as well. Not only are you losing sleep in the morning but with the added exertion sleep is only to aid in recovery.  Adding a snack before bed can be a good idea if you are truly hungry.  Just make sure it’s a small cup of Cheerios and low-fat milk and not a tube of cookie dough.

The Rest of Your Day

Every runner is guilty of it: On the weekend, it’s the long run recovery nap. During the week, it might be taking the elevator instead of the stairs.  After a certain mileage, it’s essential to allow some niceties to yourself in order to function past lunch. A short nap after a long run, if you are lucky enough to have time in the day, is bliss but anything more and it can become problematic. Avoiding grogginess is key and no matter when you fall asleep, you’ll wake up starving. Ideally you want sometime between your last meal and the nap and being at a point in your day when you can wake up and grab a healthy snack. No running to Jeni’s Ice Cream or taking your kiddo to a birthday party and noshing on a big piece of cake.

On any day, it is important to go about your day as normal. Being sedentary or skipping things because you’re “too tired” isn’t going to cut it with friends and family and the reduction in day to day life could affect calorie burn. Take an honest look and take note of what you are not doing because of your mileage. Walking those stairs might burn like the Dickens but take them slower than normal, rather than avoiding them altogether.

A week or so after the race, some of the muscle memory and strength will subside (don’t forget you had a taper in there) and you won’t feel like a hungry maniac. Don’t be surprised if the weight gained falls off quite quickly. Our bodies are fascinating machines and if you are truly treating it well during training, honor it by allowing the few extra pounds. It might reward you with a PR.

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