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.
Flash 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.