Marathon Weight Gain

There are plenty of good reasons to run a marathon: the sense of personal achievement, raising money for a cause, offending a bear on a 26.1-mile-long chain.

There’s also at least one bad reason to run one: to lose weight.

As counterintuitive as it may seem, signing on to run a four-hour-long road race is not a sure-fire path to watching the pounds melt off. In fact, if my statistically sound survey of one respondent tells me anything, it’s that 100-percent of runners actually gain weight during marathon training and the subsequent recovery process. (Note: I may or may not know the definition of “statistically sound.”)

But you just spent an entire summer running more miles each week than most Americans run in their entire lives! How is marathon weight gain even possible?

A lot of things don’t make sense in this world, dear reader, and marathon weight gain is one of them. Also, cats.

Any coach will tell you some modest weight gain during marathon training is normal, since you’re amping up your muscle density and keeping more hydrated than ever before. And when you really start carbo-loading in the final week of your taper, you can expect to see the scale spike as much as four pounds, this Runner’s World article says, since your body’s retaining three extra grams of water for every gram of carbohydrates stored. As you make your way to the finish line, those extra pounds of water weight will quickly melt away.

Try to spot me! Also, try to find Waldo’s binoculars.

Unfortunately, the other weight gained during marathon training – the real, tangible weight – is a lot harder to get rid of. And how did those extra pounds get added in the first place? Well, let’s do some simple math:

Conservative estimates tell you a runner burns about 100 calories per mile, meaning a would-be marathoner on a 40-mile peak weak is burning an additional 4,000 calories every seven days. Sounds like a get-out-of-vegetables free card to me. But when you break it down, spread over the course of a week, that’s only an additional 571.4 calories a day, or 83% of a basket of ShakeShack cheese fries. Add in your voracious marathon runner’s appetite and you’ll shift from a calorie deficit to a calorie surplus faster than ConEd restored power to the Rockaways.

What’s that, you say? Rockaways homeowners are still without power 15 days after the hurricane? Oh. Awkward. Hey, let’s all take a page from New York Road Runners and donate to the very-much-still-ongoing recovery efforts. Cool? Cool.

But beyond keeping tabs on your fueling during marathon training, it’s even more important to step back and re-evaluate your nutrition and exercise routines after the race comes to a close. Not for the first 72 hours, mind you – those days are unquestionably meant to be spent cramming your face with bacon cheeseburgers – but in the weeks that follow, you’ll need to reteach your suddenly less-active self to once again ignore the caloric cravings your high-intensity marathon training had allowed you to indulge. Once the post-race aches and pains subside, you’ll also need to reintroduce moderate movement into your daily routine. Burning 300 calories on the elliptical doesn’t give you free reign to, say, butter your cheese curls (that’s what she said), but it will help you get back on track now that your 26.2-mile achievement is a thing of the past.

Pysche! I wasn’t even in that first photo! But I’m in this one, I promise.

Of course, if you do find yourself needing to shed a few pounds post-marathon, the most important thing to remember is this: be kind to yourself. You didn’t train your body to run a freaking marathon in a week, so don’t expect to get back to your goal weight in a blink-of-an-eye, either. Drastically cutting down to a 1,400 calorie diet is not going to help you maintain all that lean muscle you built over the course of your training, and there’s no greater crime than skipping the cake(-flavored vodka) at your 27th birthday party this Saturday.

As I always say, moderation in all things. Except crepe cake.

Here’s your damned shout out, Keirnan.

How do you keep your weight under control during or after a big race? 

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4 Responses to Marathon Weight Gain

  1. todkehrli says:

    First – congratulations on completing the MCM. What a tremendous accomplishment!

    I managed to lose weight over the course of my marathon training by gaining weight first. Muscle, that is. I stuck with lifting weights 3X a week and took creatine supplements early in my training. My weight didn’t change much for a while, but my body fat % dropped. Having some extra muscle increased my metabolism.

    I’m a little obsessive/compulsive and was determined to get to a weight goal before the MCM, so I may not be your typical runner, but I would recommend looking for ways to build and maintain muscle to make losing weight easier.

  2. I’m so glad it’s not just me, I blogged about this whole issue recently too as I really think people need to know! I assumed I was going to drop a dress size or something but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Loving your blog by the way 🙂

  3. ATA says:

    I’ve only just finished my first half-marathon, so my experience isn’t exactly the same. I lost some pounds in my final month of training since I tried to maintain 1400 net cards a day. (I have another 5-10 to go, technically). More visible though was the loss and shift of inches and my body shape as I got stronger and leaner. I’m only 1 week out from the race, but I’m struggling a bit with an increased appetite, so I’ll need to get back to a healthy routine soon… but maybe after a few more days of treating myself 😉

  4. David says:

    Great post! It sounds like you’ve got the right mental approach to the whole thing. After 8 marathon training cycles I’ve realized that weight does fluctuate and what’s more important is your average weight before, during, and after, rather than at any one moment. And of course I totally agree about the 72 hour free period post-race (though I often give myself more like 120 hours…).

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