Type "marathon weight gain" into Google and you will be rewarded with a plethora of hits and personal stories. Gaining weight while training for a long distance race is such a common phenomenon that there are probably many of you out there who can relate with stories of your own. Many other bloggers have written about this anomaly as well (ie. Susie and Erica). And, although I've never trained for a full marathon, I have experienced weight gain while training for some of my halves.
I know generally around what my weight is, but it's not something I focus on or use as a yardstick to measure my level of health, fitness or self image. I don't own a scale so don't weigh myself regularly. Every once in awhile I'll step on the scale at the gym, or I'll get weighed if I go to the doctor, which is never! I think obsession with the scale does more harm than good, and the accuracy and implication of the number you see can be very skewed. As women especially, our weight fluctuates due to so many factors: hormones/time of the month, hydration level, time of year, sleep, work schedules, food, vacations, etc. I honestly don't see how it's possible to be the EXACT same weight every day unless you are a robot and your eating/drinking/activity level/sleep are exactly the same every single day!
So, with all of that being said, how do I know that I've gained weight during half-marathon training cycles and how do I feel about it? I can tell because I honestly feel a bit heavier and notice my pants are just a little snugger in the BOOTY area! That is where I tend to put on weight. Why I didn't inherit the gene that directs weight gain to my BOOBS like most of the women in my family, I will never know. I also did weigh myself at the gym after my half marathon at the end of April, and the number was a few pounds more than what I think of as my 'usual'.
So why does this happen? Well for me, it's definitely a case of overeating. I hate to use this term, but "runger" is a real thing. A couple hours after I complete a long run, and even the day following said long run, I feel like I am STARVING! This feeling tends to continue throughout the training cycle. But, I definitely overcompensate and eat far more than my body actually needs. I think a lot of long distance runners get into the mindset of "I'm running x___miles so I can eat anything I want!", myself included. But there's absolute truth behind the advice that you can't outrun a bad diet.
I also think many people in general overestimate the calories burned during physical activity. The very general rule of thumb is that running burns roughly 100 calories per mile, but this number varies WIDELY according to your weight, fitness level, body composition, speed, running conditions, terrain, etc. Since I'm a small, fit runner, I know I burn less (closer to 80 calories/mile). [Try a running calorie calculator to get a more accurate number based on your weight/height/speed.] Also, something to keep in mind is that as you continue to run, and become more fit, your body becomes more efficient and uses less calories than it did initially to do the same activities. (Thus the need to consistently challenge yourself and switch up your workouts to avoid plateaus.)
When I'm training for a race, I tend to crave/overeat carbs, and not always the healthy kind! Suddenly, I want all the bagels, cookies, candy, vegan treats I can get my hands on, and I feast with wild abandon. However, on a more regular basis, and especially after a goal race is complete, my hunger naturally decreases and I crave more green foods, fruits, and cleaner options. Honestly, I actually look forward to being less hungry! When I decrease my mileage, I definitely tend to eat more 'normally', or what is normal for me.
Personally, I don't worry about the few pounds I gain for half marathons because I know it always levels off naturally when I'm no longer training. Since I don't have any goal races planned for the summer (waaaaaaaaay too hot for that!), I'm looking forward to not have to constantly think about fueling, running on a schedule, etc. I'm looking forward to focusing more on strength training, HIIT, biking, hiking and other types of workouts that I don't have time for when there's a goal race ahead of me. I also tend to naturally eat lighter, more fresh foods in the summer because they're plentiful and in season and it's too hot to eat giant bowls of pasta!
So, I know what I need to do to stave off the 'inevitable' half-marathon weight gain, but I will I do it next time. Ehhhhhhhhhh, probably not! I'm not that worried about it. But I think it's important to keep in mind that running doesn't automatically lead to weight loss or come with a free "All You Can Eat" pass! I still think it's one of the best ways to maintain fitness and even after 20 or so years of running, it still makes me happy, so that's why I keep at it. Why do you?
Have you experience weight gain while training for a long distance race?
What do you think led to it?
Have you altered any of your behaviors to prevent it?