4 Tips to Prevent Weight Gain During Marathon Training

Many runners are surprised when they sign up for a long distance race, such as a half or full marathon, that they don’t lose weight. In fact, many runners will experience weight gain during their training. Weight loss probably isn’t the main reason people most people sign up for a half or full marathon – many runners sign up for a long distance race to set and meet a goal to train for a long distance, run a new personal best, or run in a new city/state.

Despite that, weight is still a common topic that comes up in the running/endurance community, and weight gain can be surprising to an athlete when they’re logging some serious miles.

So, why does weight gain occur, and what can athletes do about it?

First of all, it needs to be emphasized that weight is just one number – it doesn’t describe how athletic or fit someone is. An athlete’s weight can fluctuate due to changes in hydration status, especially if they’ve been eating extra carbohydrates, which can cause their bodies to hold onto water weight. Runners who are starting a new training cycle may also be gaining weight due to increased muscle mass, especially if they are running more miles than usual. If that athlete is adding on significantly more miles than usual, mixing cross training/strength training into the mix, they could add on a couple pounds of muscle.

For many athletes, though, running can cause them to feel hungry all the time, which makes them eat more. Runners also may be getting some serious cravings, or give themselves a pass to eat whatever they want, whenever they want.

Just to make things clear, runners should be honoring their hunger signals and eat more as their miles increase, just as they should feel comfortable eating what they crave. Runners who end up gaining weight during training may want to know where to look and how to prevent this from happening.

  1. Determine your individual nutrition needs. If you struggle with constant cravings, weight fluctuations, fatigue, not feeling strong during workouts, or just not knowing what to eat, meeting with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist can help you develop a nutrition plan that will incorporate your unique goals and nutrition preferences and needs.
  2. Take a deeper look into what you’re eating. Maybe this means writing down or tracking your meals over a couple days. Despite the fact that runners may be eating healthy foods, tracking their food intake can help them identify where their fuel calories are coming from, and if there’s some patterns that are causing their weight to creep up. The dietitian can take a deeper look at your current meal plans to make sure you’re meeting your needs through your daily meals. Many times, runners may be adding on a pre-workout, during-workout, and post-workout snacks or meals, and may be adding extra between-meal snacks during the day. They may even be adding in extra calories from sports drinks and sports foods, or may be eating excess carbohydrates and not eating enough protein and healthy fats.
  3. Make sure you’re recovering post-workout. Runners who skimp on the post-workout recovery snack or meal or aren’t eating enough calories (especially calories from carbohydrates) to fuel their runs may end up feeling even hungrier later in the day and end up overeating at other meals. It’s always best to get recovery nutrition right, so if you feel like you absolutely can’t eat anything solid several hours post-run, try drinking a smoothie that contains protein and carbohydrates (such as Greek yogurt, milk and berries) to jump-start the recovery process.
  4. Make healthy food options readily available. Athletes who are training for a marathon often report that they are always hungry or they’re always eating. Having a good plan for meals and snacks for the week is a good way to make sure healthy options are available, even with limited time. Set aside a couple hours to make a list of what you’ll eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner for the week and go grocery shopping for those ingredients. Cutting up vegetables, making soup to freeze, grilling/baking some protein options, making whole grains such as rice and quinoa, and preparing snacks ahead of time can make a huge difference for athletes during their training.

If you need help determining your unique nutrition needs during training, set up an appointment to develop a plan to improve your daily training and race day fueling strategies for your next race by calling Lizzie Kuckuk, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist at 605-312-7878 or e-mail her at Elizabeth.Kuckuk@SanfordHealth.org.