Marathon training? What is up with the weight gain?
By Ryan Light, Running/Anxiety Coach
You’ve trained long and hard for your first half-marathon, and then even harder for your full marathon, you’ve been eating well and following a sensible carb-loading diet but when you step on the scale you find that there is a weight gain. How is this possible? How can someone who runs and trains at your level experience gain weight?
This weight gain is not uncommon, in fact it has a name, marathon training induced weight gain and occurs most frequently in novice or recreational marathoners and for a variety of reasons.
4 Reasons why you gain weight marathon training?
- Muscle is more dense and as a result weighs more than fat. But wait, doesn’t a pound of fat weigh the same as a pound of muscle? Yes, but a pound of muscle takes up less space than a pound of fat. If you are slimmer and trimmer than before you began marathon training, but weigh more, your new muscle in your new body takes up less space than the fat did but weighs more. If you are gaining weight but losing inches, you are on the right path.
- But if your training is causing weight gain AND adding inches to your waistline, you made need to adjust your diet. Long runs and extended training sessions and your actual races cause you to be hungry. That’s normal, it’s called rebound hunger. But then there is the “I ran x miles today, I deserve a pizza, heck I deserve a beer and a pizza, maybe a pizza and a pitcher…” That’s called a calorie reward and soon leads to celebratory fat. Both of these cases result in extra pounds. This ravenous hunger can also be caused by skipping your post-training recovery nutrition window. You may not feel like feeding your body immediately after your run, but it is the optimal time to feed your depleted muscles and skipping this window will result in that feeling of starvation later.
- In your healthy attempt to stay hydrated throughout the entire day, are you drinking extra sugar and calories? Colas, sodas, concentrated juices, milk, coffee specialty drinks and wine and spirits are loaded with hidden syrups and sugars. If you are thirsty, drink water. Save those sports drinks for immediately before, during and after extended training sessions lasting more than an hour or during extreme heat. The carbs (sugar) in these drinks are designed to replace and replenish glycogen stores during and after training, but if not used for that purpose they are converted and stored as fat.
- Speaking of glycogen, it’s the reason athletes (marathon runners in this case) follow a high-carbohydrate diet and carb-load before intense exercise or prior to extended endurance events. Your body converts carbs to glycogen and stores it in muscle and your liver. As a distance runner, you are now a glycogen converting and storing machine! But, glycogen is said to be hydrophilic and has a strong affinity (attraction) to water molecules. Where glycogen goes, water follows, sometimes as much as 2-3 grams for each single gram of glycogen. This is a temporary water weight gain that diminishes as your body’s glycogen stores are used to fuel your run, but can easily account for 3-5 pounds of your weight gain!
So, if you find that you have gained weight over your training cycle, take heart we all have.
Other great reads on the topic:
- Why Am I Gaining Weight During Marathon Training?
- Marathon Training Weight Gain
- Marathon Training Weight Gain
- Why You Might Gain Weight While Training for the Marathon