All too often I hear clients’ frustrations surrounding lack of weight loss while training for an endurance event, such as a marathon or triathlon. One would assume that logging 50+ miles per week of running would automatically produce weight loss. However, this is not always the case, and, in actuality, goals for weight loss during training are oftentimes not recommended.
We know that fat loss is produced by a calorie deficit. So, consuming fewer calories than one burns through resting metabolic rate, non-exercise daily activities, and programmed exercise, will produce weight loss. However, incorporating exercise or increasing exercise doesn’t automatically mean one will be burning more calories than they are taking in. Oftentimes, lack of weight loss during training is the result of one of the following:
Increased exercise or training = Increase in hunger = Increased caloric intake
“I deserve that delicious pizza (chocolate cake, doughnut, po’boy…take your pick!) because you had a killer 10 mile tempo run”. I know I often fall victim to this thinking at times!
“I ran/cycled/swam so hard this morning so I should limit my activity the rest of the day to rest my legs. “
All three of these examples can be the difference in weight maintenance and weight loss.
Although, is it common to feel an increase in physical hunger when increasing exercise or training (and often necessary for proper muscle healing and recovery), good food choices must be made to fill this increased hunger appropriately. Consistent good nutrition cannot go by the wayside. Keeping high fiber fruits, colorful vegetables, and whole grains along with low fat dairy products and lean proteins are best for filling energy needs to support training. However, in saying that, savoring and enjoying a “splurge” meal here and there can be part of a healthy approach to eating. The key here is 90% of the time eating healthfully and 10% enjoying an unhealthy choice that you have planned for.
Some endurance athletes train at high intensity during the workout (think higher caloric burn), but lead a sedentary life throughout the remainder of the day. This can be counterintuitive. Continuing to take the stairs instead of the elevator, walking to lunch vs. delivery, and parking further in the parking lot are small ways to increase caloric burn via non-exercise daily activities along with improving overall wellness.
Having a goal of weight loss while training for a specific event may not be the best approach. This could lead to underfeeding oneself, resulting in muscle fatigue and the inability to properly repair muscles following a workout. Weight loss goals are best saved for in between events. Eating to supply your muscles with endurance, power, and recovery support should be the goal as an athlete approaches a marathon or another endurance event. Save weight loss efforts during off-season times. Meeting with a registered dietitian can help to clarify how many calories, protein, carbohydrates and fats are necessary to achieve an athlete’s specific goals.
In summary, as we approach cooler temperatures and more road racing, think about your eating as fuel and plan meals and snacks accordingly. Move throughout the day in addition to your set workouts and splurge a little on your favorite delicacies, but only once and a while!