For some lucky folks start running, and the pounds just melt off. But for many others, it's just not that easy. In fact, counter-intuitive as it may seem, it's shockingly easy to gain weight on the way to the starting line. In a 2010 Tufts University study of 64 runners in marathon training researchers found that during the 12-week buildup to the marathon, while some runners lost as much as 27 pounds; some gained as much as 14. Some 63% of the subjects said that they ate more during training.
While you do need to eat enough to support your running routine—and eat more if you're logging monster mileage—it's way too easy to go overboard. Here's how to avoid weight gain on the way to the starting line.
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Many people start downing sports drinks and eating energy bars as soon as they start working out. But you really don't need them. Sports bars with calorie counts and nutrition profiles that rival many candy bars. And you really don't need them unless you're heading out on a two to three-hour workout. All calories count—even the ones with packages that target athletes.
It's easy to fall into the trap of thinking: "I ran five miles, and therefore I deserve a candy bar, or to eat with abandon for the rest of the day." Don't make that mistake. it only takes a few minutes to eat back the calories you just spent hours working so hard to burn—and then some. Studies have shown that if you enjoy your workout—and regard it more like fun and less like drudgery—you're less likely to overeat after your run. To keep yourself in line, preplan a healthy post-run meal before you hit the road, so you're not tempted to indulge.
While carbs are critical to your training—they're the body's most efficient form of fuel—there's no need to load up on the baked goods before that three miler. Carb loading is not just an excuse to eat bagels, it is a calculated practice of stocking the muscles with glycogen in the week before a race.
Hydration is an important part of running well. But it's best to go with plain water most of the time. Many sports drinks contain calories and artificial colors and flavors that can pack on the pounds. Unless it's hot outside, you're in the midst of a speed session, water will usually do. If you just can't get yourself to drink it, try flavoring your water with a slice of lemon, lime, orange, cucumber, or some sprigs of mint. You'll be surprised at how satisfying that can be.
Too often, people end up eating not because they're physically hungry, but instead to relieve some other uncomfortable sensations, like fatigue, loneliness, stress, or sadness. Food is always within reach, and it's an easy, legal way to instantly shift your mood. Eating when you're not hungry can quickly lead to weight gain. The next time you have the urge to eat, take a moment to consider whether the desire is coming from a growling empty stomach, or some other more emotional longing, that food just won't satisfy.