Approximately two years ago, I was smack dab in the middle of running (on average) 30 miles a week. Half Marathon training was keeping me fit and happy and healthy. Or so I thought.
Imagine my surprise, when stepping on the scale one morning, I saw a 10lb increase from where I had been pre-half marathon training. Wait. How can a girl who’s gone from 10-miles of weekly running to 30-miles start gaining weight?
What’s going on here people?
Surprisingly enough, this is actually pretty common. Runners up their mileage, and their weight simultaneously creeps up as well. Here are some of the common pitfalls and problems that we face when starting a training program…
…and, most importantly, some tips on how we can all outsmart them.
Problem #1: “I’m hungry ALL. OF. THE. TIME.”
You know what I mean. That feeling of being insatiably hungry.
“Give me the food and nobody gets hurt” kind of hungry.
I don’t know about you, but an increase in training always brings me to a whole new level of hunger. One of the best ways to outsmart this is discussed in Problem #3. Feed your body with scheduled snacks, don’t be afraid to eat a little extra, stay hydrated (since dehydration can mask as hunger,) and choose the right foods that will aid in satiety (think healthy fats, protein, fiber.)
I have found that including 3 meals a day (breakfast, lunch, dinner) along with 2 snacks a day (morning, afternoon) is enough to keep me full without feeling the need to graze all day long.
Problem #2: “I’m not hungry after I run, so I’ll just wait and eat later.”
Most females I talk to feel as if they could eat a horse right after they run (figuratively speaking, since many of my friends are actually vegetarian…ha!) On the other hand, some runners feel nauseous afterwards, and the thought of eating directly after a hard, long and/or fast run is just too much.
The idea and the general recommendation is to eat within the hour of finishing a run. Your muscles are repairing themselves and need some carbohydrates and protein to do just that. Choose something with both of those nutrients, such as a glass of milk, some peanut butter on a banana, a bowl of cereal, etc.. I personally like to plan my run around my meals, so that I’ll be sitting down to a nice balanced plate to replenish with. One of my favorite post-run meals? Whole wheat toast with avocado and scrambled eggs. Deliciously balanced and satisfying.
However, if you’re one of the nauseous runners (sorry, I know that sounds rude) who can’t stomach the thought of eating a big plate of food after you run, at least grab a glass of milk or a small dish of yogurt and fruit. Because in addition to helping replenish your muscles, eating within the hour may also fend off the munchies later in the day.
Problem #3: “I ran 10-miles, so I can eat whatever I want today.”
This is one of my biggest problems, and is the probably the number one reason I gained weight during half marathon training.
Even though I had previously been running, say, 5 miles on a given weekend, the fact that I ran 10 miles made me suddenly feel that I was entitled to eat whatever I wanted.
Chocolate cake? Sure!! Why not? I deserve it.
In reality, the difference of calories burned while running an extra 5 miles a week span really didn’t make that much of a difference. Let’s think about this for a second. An average runner will burn approximately 500 calories over 5 miles. That is about 70 calories per day over the course of a week. Which is basically eating an extra orange or a cheese stick every day. That’s all fine and good, but what happens when a runner (e.g., me!) decides that she can eat that extra piece of cake, while also nibbling away all afternoon?
Yep. You guessed it.
This is exactly where the weight gain happened. I’m not saying it’s not a good idea to treat yourself and enjoy fun foods after a tough run. However, if you’re looking to maintain your current weight through training, definitely be aware of how this mindset may cause you problems along the way. Treat yourself to something special but don’t let yourself go crazy all week long.
Also. Remember that certain food groups will keep you feeling full longer than, say, a piece of cake will. Include protein (think chicken, beans, fish, yogurt, etc.), whole grains (think brown rice, quinoa, whole wheat bread, whole wheat pasta, oatmeal, etc.) and fats (think avocado, nuts, seeds, olives, etc.) in your meals and snacks to keep you feeling satisfied.
Problem #4: “I don’t have a run planned for today (rest day!,) so I should eat less.”
Rest days are just as important to your training process as your long run days. When your body is not training hard, it’s still refueling and repairing. You still need to continue to eat balanced meals and snacks in order to get the most from your training.
Don’t skimp on calories just because you’re not out for a run. This day will make a big difference when you do hit the roads, and it will prevent you from feeling overly hungry on your training days.
Problem #5: “If I run, that is enough exercise to keep me healthy and fit.”
I used to proudly call myself the cardio queen. I don’t need weights or strength training, people!!! A friend in college once told me that “someday you will learn to love strength training.” I thought that was the silliest comment ever.
Until, one day, I learned to love strength training. Go figure.
Truth is, we as runners are constantly working the same muscle groups. But if you want to get the most from your runs while maintaining your current weight and avoiding some common injuries, strength training must be incorporated. It will likely even make you a faster, stronger runner. My fastest 5k time came during the summer when I fell in love with kettlebell workouts and yoga.
**Keep in mind that increasing your weekly running mileage while training for a race can be taxing on the body. When in doubt, my personal belief is that a little bit of weight gain is better than weight loss. Under-eating can lead to injuries and impaired racing performance, so it is important to also make sure you are eating enough during training. Train hard, eat well, have fun!
QUESTION: Have you ever trained for a race (5k, 10k, half marathon, marathon, etc.)? Do you have any tips/thoughts/suggestions on eating and training?