TotR: 5 Ways Distance Running Derails Weight Loss

Welcome back to another scintillating edition of Tuesdays on the Run with Patty from My No-Guilt Life and Erika from MCM Mama Runs and me.  We’re discussing tips, tricks and the challenges of weight loss (or maintenance) while training for distance races.

Five Ways Distance Running Derails Weight LossFlash back to January 1, 2012.  Eli had just turned two and I was ready to lose weight, get fit and get healthy.  I’d set my sights on the Princess Half Marathon that was a little over a year away and I knew that if I could meet that goal, surely I’d be slender and gorgeous just through all that running.  I started walking and eating well and the pounds melted off.  Things were going according to plan!

Nine months and thirty pounds down and my weight loss came to a screeching halt just as my running was breaking the one hour mark.  I started adding some carbs back in, fueling on my longer runs and indulging in some delicious chocolate almond milk after my runs to improve my recovery.  My running got better and better and the scale stayed put.  That would have been great if I’d been at my goal weight, but I was still thirty pounds away!

And so, I learned that contrary to logic and popular opinion, running for multiple hours each week does not equal easy and guaranteed weight loss.  And since then I’ve found that it can actually contribute to weight gain!  I’ve done a lot of reading and experimenting and here’s what I’ve learned.

  1. Post run treats can easily offset all the calories burned on the run.  As long as my runs are under six miles, I don’t feel a need to treat myself.  Once I break that mark, I become much more susceptible to the “I deserve it” and the “I burned way more calories than that” and the “I need this treat to replenish my glycogen and protein stores” justifications.  Those often lead to hamburgers, pizza and other foods that are not on my “No Crap” diet plan.
  2. Distance running can mess with your hormones.  I’ve read in several places that runs over an hour can increase cortisol, also known as the stress hormone.  This hormone does some good things for our bodies, but too much of it can really impact you negatively, including making you crave carbohydrates and fat (ever hear of stress eating?) which can lead to packing on the pounds.
  3. Distance running can mess with your immune system.  Studies have shown that moderate exercise can boost your immune system but paradoxically once your workouts go longer than an hour, the opposite is true.  I’ve found that I tend to be much more likely to come down with a nasty cold soon after a big race or even a long training run.  Increased cortisol can also be implicated in this (not to mention being around 30,000 other runners at a major race).  And while some people probably manage to maintain or lose weight during an illness, I tend to self-medicate with goldfish, potato chips and gatorade.  Feed a cold, indeed!
  4. Rungry.  I am almost never hungry immediately after a long run.  However, from 2-48 hours after I finish running I could eat all the things!  I’m not sure who coined the term, but being rungry is a real thing.  It’s not even the psychological issues related to #1 above, I’m just much hungrier for a couple of days.  Even when I’m eating healthy foods, I tend to want to eat more of them.  Also not great for weight loss.
  5. Neglecting strength training.  When I’m running all the time and busy with work, parenting and writing, the first thing to fall by the wayside tends to be my strength training.  I’ve read a lot of convincing articles and books that all have the same message.  If you want lasting weight loss, strength training is absolutely critical.  Cardio is good for you, but has a minimal impact on weight (unless you’re hiking for 12 hours a day!).

Even knowing all of that, I’m not about to give up distance running.  I love the feel of settling into mile eight of a long run.  I love lining up at the start line crossing the finish line of a half marathon.  I love being a runner.  But I also am not thrilled with my weight.  So, I’m going to try to continue to focus on lower-carb and unprocessed foods and to make strength training a priority.  I am going to accept that distance running isn’t the answer to weight loss (for me at least).  And that’s ok, I just need to pull out the other weight loss tools in the box and consistently apply them!

I’m excited to see what everyone else has to say on this tricky subject.

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TotR: 5 Ways Distance Running Derails Weight Loss — 31 Comments

    • You and me both! Being 41 sure isn’t helping with the weight issue!!

    • I’m going to refocus on shorter and faster runs and on strength training this spring and summer!

  1. This is me to a tee! I started C25K and over the course of that and the subsequent short runs I did each week following the plan, I lost 45 pounds, but the minute I started training for my first half and my distances got longer, the weight loss stopped. I’ve maintained that initial weight loss for over 3 years now, but I still have about 25-30 pounds I’d like to lose.

    • I find that the one hour mark is where my weight loss stalls! I’m hoping to focus on shorter distances (10k and less) after the half marathon this weekend for the next six months to see if that will get me to my goal!

    • It’s really frustrating to be putting in all those miles and to STILL not be able to eat treats. Knowledge is half the battle, right? 🙂

  2. I took Jeff Galloway’s advice and I eat something after a long run, even if I’m not hungry. I’ve found a Clif bar is good and then I don’t eat all the things the rest of the day. Before I started doing that, I would eat all the things, and they weren’t healthy things either.
    Lesley recently posted…Like A Woman PlaylistMy Profile

  3. I’ve heard and experienced this too. I’m training for a marathon, and I can do 15+ miles for my long run, and the next day be up 2 lbs! It’s so annoying. I need to get back into strength training and stick to it!
    katie @ fromicecreamtomarathon recently posted…Spinning again!My Profile

    • I really do think strength training is the key. Especially with heavy weights!

    • It’s really frustrating, especially since everyone’s body reacts differently to food and exercise. I suspect getting older (I am officially 41 now…gulp!) makes a big difference with this too!

    • It does work great for some people, we’re all different! That rungry thing is hard to resist though!

    • I think just acknowledging it makes it easier to offset some of the challenges!

  4. Pingback: TotR: Running and Weight Loss/Maintenance | A Little More Each Day

  5. I’ve been wondering lately about strength training. I was working regularly with a trainer, in addition to running, when I lost all of my weight. Since I took up longer distance running, I definitely haven’t made time for strength training like I did before and I wonder how much it has impacted that steady creep of weight gain I’ve had in the last year?
    Jessica S recently posted…TotR: Running and Weight Loss/MaintenanceMy Profile

    • I think it really is critical to lasting weight loss success. Unfortunately, my conscious acceptance of that can’t seem to get my behind down to the gym! I’d rather run outside!

    • Glad to know I’m not alone! Hopefully we can find the right tools to fight it!

  6. It’s definitely getting harder and harder to keep the pounds off as I get older. All your points are good ones and I feel like as long as I’m aware of what I’m eating (by tracking it), I have a better idea of where I can make changes and adjustments. It helps me stay on track that way, just like entering in my mileage and following a training plan.
    Jenn @ RunWithSole recently posted…Tuesdays on the Run: What’s with the weight gain?My Profile

    • I know that tracking my food would be so helpful, I just HATE doing it for some reason! Guess I need to suck it up and start tracking again! With free apps and cell phones, there’s no real excuse not to!

  7. I agree with you that strength training is key to weight loss. Running alone never helped me get past a certain plateau in my weight loss. Cross training – including pilates, heavy weight training & HIIT intervals finally helped me break through and shed the remainder of my baby weight. I hope you find the combo that works best for you!
    Aimee recently posted…Green Jewel 50k – Race RecapMy Profile

    • Great advice! I have high hopes for the strength training and HIIT work this summer!