April 20, 2010

DOES THIS MARATHON MAKE ME LOOK FAT? (Featured Writer Stephanie Hancock)

I have been impressed with all of the featured articles written by so many amazing women.  The stories they tell are top notch and I LOVE reading them.  This article by Steph makes me laugh.  Yesterday I went to spinning class for an hour, and finished the day with a five mile run.  I thought for sure my body would respond to all of this body action so I hopped my buns on the scale this morning and to my HORRIFYING surprise gained a pound.  Yeah, It's a women thing.  Thanks for the article it made me realize that I need to eat more cookies.

DOES THIS MARATHON MAKE ME LOOK FAT?  Featured Writer Stephanie Hancock
I have to address something that has been weighing heavily on me lately. Literally. Pounds. Like eight of them. This happens every time, yet it still catches me by surprise. Training is going great. I'm on track for an upcoming race, mileage is on the up and intensity is increasing. Actually everything is on the up and increasing. Including my weight. Talk about frustrating! This marathon, or that triathlon, or any heightened training is making me bigger. And, really, who wants to get bigger?
The guy at the sports store, that's who. I chatted with him at the check-out today. He was selling me jogger's mace (there's a creepy new dog on my route) and gel fuel for my long run tomorrow. He can't run, he said, it makes him lose weight and he wants to bulk up. I nodded in a show of sympathy, while inwardly I was cursing him. How dare he lose weight running while I'm in the gaining phase of my training?

Like most women and most runners, being lean is desirable, and for many women weight gain is not just frustrating, but sometimes almost devastating. Running should be a means to the lean, right? So what gives?

Thankfully this has happened to me enough times that I recognize the pattern and know not to panic. Research shows me, too, that I am not alone. An increase in training may correlate with an increase in weight, and it is not necessarily all bad. One blogger asked, "Does this marathon make me look fat?" I had to smile. I know that question.

And I know at least part of the answer.

First, the bad news. Some of those extra pounds may be avoidable as bad weight gain. The extra miles you are putting in translate to at least two things: extra hunger and extra justification to eat. You did an extra hard work-out, so you feel you "deserve" that extra food. Or you just keep eating all the time because you need the fuel for upcoming workouts. Maybe you fuel before and after shorter distances (5 mile run or so) because you think you need to. (You don't. You really don't need to start the fueling until an hour or so into your workout, and then only about 100-200 calories at a time every hour or as needed.) The problem arises when you don't understand the value of food and exercise. If you want to gain weight, put more fuel (calories) in than you burn. To lose weight, you have to burn more than you consume (true, it can get a little more complicated when you consider metabolism or underlying health conditions, but we're keeping things simple for now).

To put the calories-in/calories-out into perspective, a typical cookie or piece of bread contains about 100-150 calories. A typical running mile burns about 100 calories. One or even two miles per cookie!? And, to make things even more unfair, you have to burn about 3500 calories to melt one pound off your body. Running a marathon will burn about 2600 calories, not even one pound (true, you burn at a higher rate for the rest of the day - we'll just call those bonus calories). See, I told you it was bad news.

But I get sooo hungry! you say. Two ways I have found to deal with the crazy hunger cravings after working out (especially after swimming - that makes me famished!) is to immediately get some good quality protein in my body. Maybe replenishing my broken-down muscles satisfies them enough to keep them from screaming for food later on. I don't know, but it works for me. Also, hydrate. Many people mistake thirst for hunger and end up eating when, in fact, they just need to drink more and eat less. Try it - take a good long drink and see if that takes the edge off the hunger. You'll be more likely to make healthy, thoughtful food choices if you're not feeling a hunger frenzy!

Now alternatively, weight gain might also be good news. You're muscles are developing, and they are strong, dense, and heavy. Heavier than fat. A heavier you might also be a leaner you. That's okay. In fact, long, lean endurance muscle is great! (sorry, sports store guy, I have no desire to bulk up - no heavy weight-lifting for me!).

Also, with more muscle, you are probably storing more water. Water is not a big deal. Weight can fluctuate about 2-4 lbs from morning to night just because of water weight. With proper hydration, meaning balanced electrolyte drinks, you won't bloat up from retaining water. Finally, as your body adapts to the fuel needs for long training, it learns to store glycogen for easy access during times of physical exertion. More readily available fuel is more good news, even if the scale creeps up in response.

Interestingly, for me and others I've read about, rapid weight loss occurs during the two weeks following a long, hard race. After my first marathon, I lost 8 lbs. in two weeks, much of it water. Over time, as you adjust to the rigors of an active lifestyle, the high fluctuation between weight gain and weight loss steadies itself and you find yourself in the slower, healthy weight loss camp, or in the maintenance camp, depending on your calories consumed and calories burned.

Probably the best way to handle weight gain/loss is to keep both a training log and a food journal. Shortly after my second baby, I tried the Weight Watchers approach to losing weight. My doctor at the Mayo Clinic told me it was the best, most tried-and-true, lifestyle-altering way to lose and keep off unwanted pounds. So I wrote down everything, even a bite or a nibble, and about how many calories I was consuming. It was astonishing. I had not been correct when I had thought I was a healthy and small eater! Is that bite of cookie here, there, and a little later (until you've nibbled it away to nothing) worth another mile? If it is, then enjoy. If your goal is to lose weight, then you might want to think again.

One of the most valuable things, however, when I was combatting baby weight, was realizing that you cannot be healthy and lose weight if you under eat. There comes a point where your body will rebel and plateau, and even begin to shut down if you are burning too much more than you are consuming. Following the first week or two of rapid weight loss when you begin a diet, one to two pounds a week is a healthy, steady weight loss. Make sure you are consuming enough healthy calories to keep your body functioning. There are lots of calculators online to help you figure out your caloric requirements. Do not starve yourself, though! Just keep your food intake under control.

Go ahead and fuel properly for your level of activity. Unless you're training like an Olympic athlete, though, you really don't need to eat like one. Our bodies are incredible machines that adapt to the stresses we put on it, including storing and accessing fuel.
So again, the bad news: if you eat more than you need it's going to show. Even during intense periods of training. Sometimes the weight gain is simply from thinking you can get away with eating everything. You can't. Sorry. That is the "I live to eat" approach. But the good news: you are feeding an active machine, building muscle and storing for future workouts. Some weight gain can be beneficial and can be expected. That is the "I eat to live" approach. Just eat within reason and enjoy having a strong, healthy body.

P.s. (I have to admit, I run so I can eat cookies. Cookies are my fuel of choice). :)
Stephanie Hancock


Mrs. Olsen said...

Hats off to you Stephanie. Keep it up!

Marcelle said...

Am a first time visitor to your blog...this is just what I needed to read today as also seeing all the running with weight gain...every now and again...and also find its the food I eat.
I lost all my weight doing WW - was a dancer and then stopped teaching, in a month I ballooned!
WW with running and total dedication got my weight off...

It's me, Jenny! said...

What a great article! Love the writer's insight and witty commentary! Thanks Stephanie!

Jillicious said...

true that, steph! i'm so proud of you. spoken like a true exercise science whiz! i'm also one that exercises to allow me to eat cookies ;) love ya!

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