It's 11 a.m. on Saturday morning, and I'm sitting at Magnolia Cafe about to slam down a couple of breakfast tacos and a short stack of chocolate chip pancakes. Dude! I ran 12 miles this morning so I'm entitled to it, right? Surely I can eat anything I want during training and not gain weight. I'm a calorie-burning machine!
Yeah, not so fast. Maybe I want to put down that maple syrup.
We all know those people who can eat whatever they want and never gain weight. Bless their hearts, I hate them. I've even told people that I train so that I can eat whatever I want, which makes me a liar. I've been in endurance training for a while now, and this 41-year-old cannot eat whatever she wants (and feel remotely good about herself). Even in the midst of heavy training, it's not uncommon for that needle on the scale to inch up a few pounds. Humph. What the heck is going on here? More importantly, if I'm gaining weight, why am I putting myself through all of this training? Aren't I supposed to morph into that lean, runner physique the more miles I train?
Oh, if only it were that simple.
As mileage and training start to ramp up, so does appetite and, quite frankly, the body’s need for more calories. This is the rabbit hole of overconsumption. Unfortunately, most athletes tend to overestimate their actual caloric burn, which leads to unconscious overeating, often in the form of post-run chips and margaritas. Training for a long distance race doesn't give you total impunity in eating. Sorry, team; I feel like I just told you that there is no Santa Claus. While training does give a little, continue to be mindful of the types and amount of calories you’re ingesting.
TIP: Wear a fitness watch that tracks calorie burn so that you have a realistic idea of energy expended. Are these watches completely accurate? Not always, but they do provide a base so that refueling is within reason.
Ironically, under-consumption of calories can also lead to weight gain. The human body is very complicated—much more so than is often credited—and it works to protect itself against starvation. Hormones kick in, and the body hangs onto weight as long as it feels it's in deprivation mode. Thankfully, these protective internal mechanisms keep us plugging along and escaping predators as we chug along around Lady Bird Lake. Beware: Limiting calories can be a dangerous slope. It often leads to uncontrollable cravings and binges. A calorie saved now is often 500 extra calories eaten later.
TIP: Be sensible. If you eat a well-balanced, healthy diet, not much needs to change in the course of training. Stay away from sugary, processed foods, and sport drinks that only increase cravings and add unnecessary calories. Eat every few hours to keep that metabolism running, and consult with a registered dietician if you need additional guidance.
While food is certainly the main culprit of weight gain during training, here are a few other things that may lead to a few extra pounds. Fear not! Some of these are positive and desirable.
Even if you’re not in the CrossFit box every day, training leads to more muscle mass. Because muscle tissue is denser than fat tissue, it weighs more. More muscle mass leads to a lower body fat percentage,which actually increases metabolism. Moderate strength training and muscle growth further reduces the risk of injury and improves running form and balance. I don't know about you, but I'll sacrifice a pound in order to be leaner, stronger, and faster.
The more endurance training you do, the more the body will adapt, retain water, and store carbohydrates for future use. This is especially true for people who consistently run the same pace and distance. Mix it up; add in appropriate amounts of speed and hill work to your routine. Ultimately, you’ll get faster and burn more calories in the process.
Lack of Sleep and Stress
Distance training has so many long-term health benefits (thank goodness), but it can also create imbalances in life, especially if it disrupts rest and sleep patterns. According to best-selling author and fitness and nutrition expert Dr. Rick Kattouf, “When we become sleep-deprived, hormones and neurotransmitters within our body become adversely affected; namely, hormones such as ghrelin, leptin, and the neurotransmitter serotonin. When these hormones and neurotransmitters are disrupted due to sleep deprivation, it affects our mood, appetite, food cravings, etc. This hormone imbalance can also greatly increase our food cravings, which can then lead to binge eating, which leads to weight gain. You can see how easy it is for a vicious cycle to start when we become sleep-deprived.”
Water Weight Fluctuations
As most women can attest, weight can shift on a daily basis based on hydration levels and water retention. This can lead to some temporary (but necessary) weight gain that should level off as activity increases. Don't be afraid to drink water, however; optimal hydration can reduce hunger and stave off cramps as well as prevent other related issues that diminish performance.
Trust me, I know that seeing a few extra pounds on the scale can be frustrating, especially when you are out there working your butt off. However, that's not an excuse to turn in the endurance athlete training card. Realize that the scale is only one of many fitness barometers. Monitor how you feel throughout the day, the way clothes fit, how those workout performances are going, and the amount and quality of sleep you are getting. That dang scale only provides an arbitrary number. Informed athletes monitor the entire scope of a training season and expect those ups and downs. They're normal. By process of elimination, you can identify the possible factors, make adjustments, and be well on your way to a successful finish line feeling like the lean and mean athlete you have become!
Half-Marathon Training Plan for 3M or Austin Half
Weeks 5-8 (12/01-12/28)