Endurance Athletes and Weight Gain

It seems counterintuitive. If I am an extremely active athlete burning hundreds (or even thousands) of calories during training sessions, I should expect to see weight loss. But that may not necessarily be the case. I see this often actually; a friend, family member or client sets a goal of running a race (10K, 15K, half marathon, full marathon, etc.) as a way of losing weight and actually finds that they gain weight. I came across this article recently and thought it explained this phenomenon well:

I think the biggest problem for most people as that they overestimate the amount of calories they burn during exercise. Exercise seems to be an excuse to eat “whatever” since it assumed that the calories will be offset by endurance training. Buying a heart rate monitor would be helpful to track calories actually expended during exercise.

I also think that athletes fail to plan balanced meals to keep them well fueled. Especially those athletes that are also trying to lose weight. Everyone needs a balance of carbohydrate, protein and fat, especially athletes. If they skip out on protein, their muscles will not repair properly. If they forget the carbohydrate, they won’t replace the glycogen stores that were just depleted. Fat will keep them feeling satisfied and are so important in maintaining proper hormone levels during training. Remember that plate method…it can work for everyone!
If these principles of good nutrition are forgotten, it may lead to intense cravings for unhealthy foods. For example, if the carbohydrate is not consumed after a workout, they may want that whole pizza later on. This is called “nutrient periodization” or eating the proper balance of foods before and after exercise. Rachel and I have both done past blog posts on proper nutrition for exercise:

Eating for Athletes Part 2

Real Food for the Real Runner

The key is to remember that no matter how much exercise you do, if you aren’t eating well you won’t see the results you want. Proper nutrition is important for everyone, no matter the amount of exercise you may, or may not, be doing.
Emily Fonnesbeck RD,CD