Some people out-eat their running. They tell themselves, “I just ran 20 miles today. I can eat anything I want." You know who you are.
But at the other end of the spectrum you'll find another group of hard-training runners who aren't losing weight, either. Those are the folks who out-run their eating - and it's their light eating that may be causing them to gain weight.
You need to proportionately increase calorie intake with increased exercise. A skimpy diet will undermine your surge in training because it cannot maintain your metabolically active muscles. As an example, if you are eating 1,400 calories and burning 2,500 calories every day your metabolism will slow to protect your vital organs and defend against “starvation” by sustaining your adipose (fat) tissue - even during intense training.
Just remember: you won’t “get fat” by eating (1) carbohydrate-rich foods that support your long exercise sessions, (2) protein-rich foods that facilitate muscle recovery when it's needed, and (3) fat that provides energy, absorbs certain nutrients, maintains your core body temperature, and serves as a backup source of energy to fuel your workout when carbohydrates are not available.
If you think you may fall into the “I’m eating too little” category, test your daily caloric needs with our Caloric Expenditure Test. This simple metabolic assessment gives you the facts you need to eat wisely while you are in training.
Another reason that hard training may result in weight gain involves sleep, not calories. Sleepless nights (or too many early morning runs) don’t just ruin your mood the next day - they could also increase your waistline. According to new research in the August issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, sleep deprivation can cause you to pack on extra pounds.
When you get too little shut-eye, your metabolism slows down to conserve energy. That slowdown triggers the release of the hormone cortisol, which increases appetite. Your body thinks it needs more energy, so it asks for more food. Given that it takes just 3,500 calories to add a pound to your body, even 200-300 extra calories a day can quickly turn into extra weight.
Fleet Feet Training Director Brandi Barbre has more than a decade of experience coaching athletic performance, prescribing corrective exercise, and conducting metabolic testing. She has trained thousands of post-collegiate runners over a variety of distances, hundreds of school-aged runners, and dozens of professional athletes (18 NHLers, 11 NFLers, 7 MLBers, and 4 MLSers). Brandi has a Masters in Exercise Science from Southeast Missouri State University, has earned ACSM CPT, NSCA CSCS, and USA WSPC certifications, and is a marathoner (19 fulls; 28 halfs) and triathlete (2 70.3s), herself.