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