• Helen Phillips

Help! I've Put on Weight Marathon Training


Putting on weight whilst training for a marathon is not as uncommon as you think!

Marathon training puts a lot of stress and strain on your body. You’ll be exercising more and a lot of the running you do will be hard running, speed, hills or long endurance run training. Following a structured training plan, eating a balance healthy diet and being sensible about what and how much you eat you wont put on weight, but you wont necessarily lose much weight either.

Here are some of the reasons some people fall down with their diet, and put on weight through marathon training.

1. Marathon Training gives you “permission” to eat what you like!

If you’re new to doing regular exercise you will be burning more calories when you start your training programme. As the amount of running you’re doing increases so will your appetite and there’s a temptation to eat everything and anything. So you go for bigger portion sizes, seconds, start snacking and giving yourself post run food treats as reward.

A lot of people over estimate how many calories they burn whilst running. Running for one hour burns about 600 – 800 calories, depending on your fitness level, weight, speed and intensity of the workout. But if you then reward yourself with a Dominos American Hot Classic Crust Pizza (588 calories per 3 slice portion) or a Pret a Mange Double Berry Muffin (512 calories) and Latte (118), you’re not going to lose any weight!

The best way to manage your increased appetite is to eat more nutrient dense fruit and vegetables, including starchy root vegetables and lean meat, rather than indulging your sweet tooth or junk food habit. That way you’ll be helping your body to refuel, repair and recover after training.

2. Your marathon training programme is less intense than you’re used to

Whilst for most people a marathon training programme will be a step change in activity level and all consuming, if you’re already a sports and fitness fanatic who exercises daily following a structured training programme might seem a bit tame at first.

Training for a marathon, if you follow the training programme to the letter, you’ll be pushing your body hard during training, here will be very few days where you can “just go for a run” and the programme will have scheduled rest days.

If you’re an exercise junkie those rest days are tough. But it’s that rest that allows your body to recover and adapt from the training exertion you’ve put it under. If you’re already a fitness fanatic marathon training volume might be less than you’re used to.

If you listen to your body you’ll get it right. Be mindful of how much exercise you’re doing, calories you’re burning and therefore how much food you need.

3. You try to train for a marathon with dieter habits

Training for a marathon you will be burning more calories, so expect that your overall calorific requirements to go up. If you’re dieting, training with a significant calorie deficit and reduced glycogen stores (from low carbohydrate intake) you’ll end up tired and exhausted. You need to make sure that you are eating enough to fuel your training, otherwise it’ll be ineffective in building strength and endurance to run those 26.2 miles.

Training in a significant calorie deficit or with reduced glycogen stores will make training harder, less effective and you’re more likely to be prone to injury.

Frustrated at how tough training is and exhausted, what do you do? You’ve been living “off lettuce” all week and training your socks off, something’s going to snap! Slumped on the sofa you phone for a full on takeaway and a couple of beers as a pick me up!

Eat sensibly. Eat starchy carbohydrates to fuel your running, protein for muscle repair and plenty of fruit and vegetables, so you don’t feel the need to splurge on nutrient free junk that will lead to weight gain.

I’m not saying you cant diet and lose weight whilst marathon training, but you need to do it in a sensible way, with only a small calorie deficit and eating sufficient carbohydrate to fuel your running.

4. You snack on “healthy” energy bars

Just because energy bars are made with oats, are full of fruits, nuts and seeds, packed with protein, maple syrup and are gluten and dairy free doesn’t necessarily make them healthy. And it certainly doesn’t make them calorie lite or calorie free!

A typical energy bar will provide you with about 200 calories and are good options for a post workout snack. But choose your brand carefully, some contain almost 30% fat. Eating an energy bar could be no less indulgent and calorific than eating a slice of homemade cake!

A better option would be to choose a malt loaf cake bar, which comes in at less than 100 calories and 3% fat or make your own.

Training for a marathon requires you to eat a healthy balanced diet, eating plenty of carbohydrate to fuel training, protein to repair muscles and fruit and vegetables for essential vitamins and minerals to neutralise free radicals produced during exercise and ward off illness. Being mindful of the calories you are burning and the meals you are consuming and you shouldn’t put on weight during your training.