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Is Marathon Training Making You Fat?
by Tzatzil LeMair on December 30th, 2016

​Lately, I’ve seen some articles circulating on social media on how training for Ironman or marathons “made people fat". These articles are not written by professional writers, registered dietitians or certified coaches, these “articles” are usually blog posts written by people who have experienced weight gain while training for endurance events. On the articles I read, the writers, feeling frustrated, give up their endurance training, start a completely new routine focusing on strength training and high intensity interval training, adopt a new clean diet with reduced carbohydrates start seeing results and immediately claim “marathon training was making me fat!” Um, no, marathon training was not making you fat, overeating while marathon training was making you fat.   

It's not (entirely) our fault

Overeating while marathon training is very common and very easy to do. I must admit; the running community doesn’t always help. Example; You just trained for and ran your first 5K. You did your research and carbo-loaded the day before, you consumed an energy gel and a sports drink the morning of, you ran a great race and as you make your way through the finish line chute you are immediately offered a myriad of post-race junk food; cookies, potato chips, cheese & peanut butter crackers, pizza, you name it! Yes, you may find bananas and if you are lucky, oranges too! But can they compete with a breakfast taco? And since you ran a race today, you might go celebrate with your friends and have pancakes ignoring the fact that running three miles burns approximately 300 calories, the equivalent of ONE medium size pancake with butter and syrup. And the longer the race the bigger the splurge.  Trust me, I know. Whenever I’m training for a marathon, I feel like a hero after every double-digit run and, for the rest of the day, I continue to eat as much as my teenage sons if I don’t stop myself.

​​“But I need to Carbo-load!”

What’s the deal with carbo-loading anyway? Yes, it’s true that carbs are the body’s preferred source of energy, but we hear that and immediately envision stacks and stacks of pancakes and enormous bowls of pasta and buttery garlic bread. The problem is that we tend overestimate calories burned and underestimate calories consumed. You can carbo-load by consuming a large sweet potato and fruit salad for dessert. But if you prefer pasta and pancakes that’s fine too, just watch the serving portions and make sure you are getting enough nutrients from other sources too.

"​I’m always starving!”

I hear this all the time! When my athletes tell me they are starving, I know they are not getting enough nutrients in their diet. If your diet is nutritionally lacking and doesn’t include enough nutrients (protein, fat, fruits and vegetable) you will feel hungry. It helps to track what you are eating to see what you’re missing in your diet.  There are many apps that can help you track not just calories but nutrients as well.

I always advise my athletes to take advantage of marathon training to adopt some new healthier eating habits such as tracking their food intake and focusing on food as “fuel” and strive for optimum nutrition. Ideally, avoid processed food, get enough protein, healthy fats and nuts, and strive to get most of your carbohydrates from fruits and vegetables. Eliminating or minimizing processed food will help you sleep better, recover faster, and keep your calories in check. Remember you cannot outrun a bad diet.

Marathon training will provide you with numerous health benefits, both physical and mental, including the possibility of losing weight but only if you implement healthy eating habits too.  Training for endurance events such as marathons or Ironman races is NOT a free pass to eat whatever you want. And if losing weight is the sole reason you’ve chosen to jump on the endurance bandwagon, you might be in for a disappointment and totally missing out on all the other wonderful benefits of marathon training.

Happy Running!


Posted in Nutrition    Tagged with marathon, nutrition, training, diet, carbo-loading


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