Why am I gaining weight while I am training?
I can’t tell you how important it is to pay very close attention to what I’m about to say. Women, this is why you gain weight! Let me profile you for a minute! 40 to 55 years old, maybe a little perimenopause or menopause going on. You see yourself going into the “slow down” phase of life and you have heard the nightmare stories of just looking at a piece of cauliflower pizza crust and gaining 5 lbs. You decide to start running. Shoot, maybe you even decide you're going to start doing triathlons, after all, the sport of marathoning is one of the fastest growing among this age and demographic. I salute your efforts for being proactive and trying to create a healthy lifestyle with exercise and really committing to something that has an end goal. You bike over 100 miles a week, or maybe you run between 30 and 70 miles a week. You’ve been doing this for 12 months to 10 years and you don’t walk in to see me until it has gotten to this point. You not only can’t lose weight but you are actually starting to gain weight. You add more miles, join a new group of running partners, you try adding hills or sprints, but still nothing!
I can help! I’m going to tell you why you are gaining weight while you are training. After all, the famous 1989 Danish study shows that a group of 9 sedentary women trained for 18 months for a marathon and not one of them lost weight. Actually, the majority of them gained weight.
Here is what’s going on.
#1 All endurance training lacks intensity. Meaning those 30-70 miles per week is all sustainable aerobic work. Even when most of you do what you call sprints, they are not nearly intense enough to add the stimulus necessary to actually lose weight. Stay tuned and I’ll explain.
#2 When you are training in the aerobic zone and lower intensity, specifically anything sustainable for over 2 to 3 minutes, you are teaching your body to store carbohydrates. You do this because you are telling your body that you are in need of conserving energy, your body is getting used to you training for longer bouts and it goes into a mode that will hold onto carbs that you can use later when you need them. Well, this adds up and is then converted into fat.
#3 Long efforts of cardio or anything over 2-3 minutes causes a release of cortisol, a stress hormone in your system. It’s a catabolic hormone that has several negative effects on the body. The one that you want to worry about when it comes to weight gain is water retention and bloating. That’s right, endurance athletes release more cortisol and the problem is that churning out that much cortisol really forces weight gain and bloating, which usually means that clothes start to fit tighter and you feel heavier.
#1 Stop running so many aimless miles each week. I don’t think anyone who is not a professional marathon runner should be running anything more than 25 miles in a week at the most.
#2 Recover appropriately from all training. This means adequate sleep at about 8.5 hours, whole foods and responsible hydration throughout the day. This will help blunt the catabolic response of cortisol.
#3 Do high intensity interval training. Simply put… run much faster, lift much heavier loads and train aggressively for shorter bouts with more maximal efforts.