Strength & Speed

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Why Are Some Amateur Marathoners Fat?

Posted by Strength & Speed on June 2, 2016 at 8:35 AM

     Run a marathon. Lose weight. The first is a common bucket list item and the second is a common New Year resolution. Both items seem to line up well when planning out your goals for the season. Many people think if I train for and run a marathon, I am going to shed a ton of pounds and end up as a lean running machine. Fast forward four months and the same runners barely appear different even after months of high volume running. What gives? I thought I was burning more calories so I should be thinner now?

     While you can lose significant weight by running, it is often not as much as most people imagine for a couple of reasons. The first is diet. Your body composition and diet have a lot more to do with your daily diet than most people think. It is easier to maintain a healthy diet combined with moderate exercise than to try and use extreme levels of exercise with a poor diet. Your body composition and weight is determined by your food choices more than most people think. For example, when I used to diet for bodybuilding shows, I worked out a lot less than I do for training for World’s Toughest Mudder or other ultra-races. If it was as simple as calories in/calories expended, I would be leaner when training for WTM. Not all calories are created equal and eating 300 calories of Skittles will have a different effect on your body than eating 300 calories of chicken breast.

     The second reason is running makes you hungry. High running volumes cause a rise in hormones that make you want to eat more. This is why after a several hour run, you may not be able to resist ordering dessert or that Venti Frappuccino. Sure you just burned off a ton of calories but refer back to the first point that it is not as simple as calories in/calories expended. The rise in appetite may offset the extra calories you burned. Add in the rationalization that every runner does, “I just ran 10 miles, I deserve that extra piece of cake” and suddenly your body composition is no longer trending in the desired direction.

     The final reason is that high volumes of running can also drop testosterone levels. Testosterone helps keep your body fat percentage at lower levels. If, like most runners during marathon training, you stop lifting weights you lose the associated spike in testosterone accompanied with strength training, and your testosterone levels are even lower than normal.

     All of these aspects in conjunction with each other creates a compounding effect, which leads to a runner who is either has no weight loss or has a skinny/fat appearance (low body weight but high body fat percentage). To avoid this trap you should do the following:

     1. Continue to eat healthy foods just at a higher volume during endurance training.

     2. Rarely indulge in post-run cheat foods. Not every run warrants an ice cream Sunday as a reward. If you are going to indulge try to eat your cheat food immediately before, during or immediately after your run. Furthermore, try to limit post-run indulgence to a particularly long run as in 2+ hours.

     3. Strength train twice a week to help spike testosterone levels.

     4. Remember not all calories are created equal.


Categories: Speed, Nutrition & Supplements