Today, I want to talk about a somewhat awkward — but very real — problem many people run into during endurance training.
It’s not funky toenails.
It’s not perma-stink in the pants.
It’s WEIGHT GAIN!
Now SRSLY, you may be thinking.
How can a person possibly gain weight when they are exercising 5, 8, 10, and even 12 hours a week?
Well, I’m here to tell you it’s actually surprisingly common.
And no, it’s SO not fair. You’re exercising your ass off, right?
And if you’re like a lot of endurance heads, you started training in order to manage or lose weight and improve your health.
But before you panic, let’s take a look at some of the causes of weight gain in runners, hikers, and other endurance athletes.
First, if you are new to training or coming back from a break, understand that getting in shape involves a modest amount of weight gain.
Training adds muscle mass, and muscle weighs more than fat. So it’s possible to gain weight while actually improving your body composition.
And that new muscle actually burns lots of calories, so you can’t be too mad at it.
The good news is that after gaining a few pounds early in training, most people are able to maintain or lose when fueling properly.
Other causes of endurance training weight gain can sabotage your progress and require your attention.
Probably one of the hardest things to control during endurance training is your appetite! For a lot of people, the increase in appetite far outpaces the increase in calories burned.
A lot of people also have unrealistic expectations about how many calories they actually burn during exercise. They think, “I just went for a two-hour trail run. So now I can eat a whole pizza by myself.”
Pro tip: this is a bad idea.
According to my own coach — who has had to talk me down from the pizza ledge a few times — you don’t actually need to increase your caloric intake much until you are getting into the tough stages of endurance training. And even then, you don’t need to increase it all that much.
So how do you control that gnawing hunger you feel during endurance training — especially after a big run?
Here are some tips that have helped me through the years.
1. First, have a good grip on calories in/calories out.
Using a fitness tracking app like MyFitnessPal can help you see approximately how much you’re eating versus how much you’re exercising.
(I don’t actually recommend making tracking apps a lifelong habit unless you enjoy them. But they can be helpful when you’re making a transition.)
Keep in mind that fitness apps tend to underestimate calories burned during exercise. Why? It’s hard to say, because they don’t share their algorithms with us. But don’t assumed that because you burned 600 calories running you can now drink 600 calories worth of IPA with dinner!
2. Next, fuel smarter, not harder.
Some nutrition tips to help manage your appetite:
- Always eat a balanced breakfast. It can be heavy on carbs if you are planning a morning workout, but it should also include some fat and protein.
- Eat two servings of fruits and veggies with every meal. Fiber helps to reign in appetite.
- When possible, after a big workout, make your post-workout recovery snack (the one where you eat carbs and protein) an actual meal.
- Pay attention to the quality of your food. Research suggests that processed foods increase appetite. Learn to create simple meals from fresh ingredients. If you don’t have time for cooking during the week, become a meal prep star.
3. Finally, really tune in to your urges.
An urge to eat doesn’t always mean you’re starving or depriving yourself.
Our body and mind create all kinds of complicated urges to eat. Sometimes they’re actually about needing more fuel, and sometimes they’re not.
When you feel an urge, resist that desire to immediately give in. But don’t push it away either. See if you can feel into it and figure out what it’s all about.
- Are you genuinely hungry and needing more fuel?
- Are you feeling an emotion you don’t want to feel?
- Is there something you want to avoid or numb out by eating?
- Do you need more water?
- Are you bored?
The list goes on.
By paying attention to your urges, you’ll get a better feeling for which ones signal true hunger and which ones you need to work through in other ways.
4. Finally, have patience with yourself.
Weight management during endurance training is a puzzle that sometimes takes some trial and error to solve.
It’s different for every human. And what works for you at one stage of life may not work later.
Keep trying new patterns, being kind to yourself, and watching the results. With patience and determination, you’ll dial in your weight loss secret sauce eventually.
Need help writing a hiking training plan that gets results?
Fill out the form below to grab a copy of my FREE epic outdoor endurance roadmap! This handy tool shows you how to choose the right workouts for your fitness level — and do them right.
So there you have ’em. All the common reasons people gain weight during endurance training, plus what you can do it.
If you need some extra help and support, definitely hop in our Facebook group. Weight gain during endurance training is a fairly common problem, so you’ll be in good company!
Originally published Nov. 15, 2019.