Body and Weight Changes During and After a Training Cycle

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I’m always hesitant to talk about body or weight-related topics because they are definitely touchy subjects! But I wanted to talk about some things that have been on my mind recently.

I am almost two months removed from the Boston Marathon.

My running during the peak of Boston training was around 65 mpw. These days, I’m anywhere from 20-40. No run has been longer than 11 miles. Very few have been beyond 10. (I’ll go into more details soon about how I’m feeling, what I’m doing / not doing, etc).

I’m also not eating as “healthy” right now as I was several months ago. It means ice cream at night, muffins or donuts on the weekend with my little guys, frappacinos when I feel like it. I’m not eating until I’m nauseous but I’m allowing myself to eat all those things that I may have passed up during the peak part of my training.

And I’m about 6-8 pounds heavier than I was three months ago. Now, I’m not saying I’m heavy or need to diet or anything like that. Not at all. But I am heavier. I can feel and see the weight gain. 6-8 pounds on my body is noticeable (to me). It’s about 5-7% of my total body weight.

In years past, the down period after a huge goal race would have caused me to freak out. I would have obsessively watched (or restricted) what I consumed in order to keep my weight what it was several months ago.

But I’ve learned to let this happen. It’s normal and all part of a marathoners training cycle. Our bodies need time to unwind and relax before we ask it to go hard again.

As a marathon training cycle progresses, my body leans out. My ab muscles are more pronounced, my thighs and butt are smaller and my arms lean out significantly. I’m often at my leanest 2-6 weeks out from the goal race. And I would definitely call it my peak weight (I am not really a fan of the term “racing weight” – more on this in another post!).

I will be completely honest and admit that I love the way I look and feel (confidence and happiness) when this happens. But staying at that weight or in that shape is not sustainable more than a month or two for me. It happens when multiple things are going on at the same time (and all of which I need a break from after a long training cycle!):

  1. First, once I start running consecutive 55, 60 miles per week, my body naturally begins to lean out. I have found that ~55 mpw weeks is usually when I start to see a change in my body. I’m sure that if I were able to run say 70 mpw and then 80 mpw, I’d see more changes. (I’m not saying I have any plans to run those mileage weeks – but I think my body would respond accordingly if I did.)
  2. Second (and this goes hand in hand – for me, at least – with the high mileage) is consistent long runs. There’s a difference between running 10-12 miles each weekend and running 18-23 miles each weekend. Your body adapts and changes.
  3. And lastly, my nutrition improves as the training cycles progresses, mileage picks up and workouts become more intense. It’s natural for this to happen to me. I am much more aware and focused on what I’m putting into my body when I know I have a 23 miler or a 3 x 3 mile workout the next day. If I’m not putting good stuff into my body, I won’t get the results I am after.

And so during each cycle, once I get about 6 weeks out from the goal race, I find that I am lighter and leaner. Which is when I really start to see paces start dropping.

This past training cycle was a breakthrough cycle for me – and it went hand in hand with the leanest I have ever been in my life. I definitely think they were related – and that they were the result of each other (in both directions).

Now, there is a major difference between losing a few pounds in an unhealthy way and losing a few pounds because of training, intensity and healthy eating. I’ve done both and my running looked completely different from one to the other. When I was restricting, I never really felt good when I was running. I was constantly fatigued and tired. There was no breakthrough running either.

For me, the key is just to let things happen naturally. I don’t obsess about my weight (we haven’t owned a functioning scale in almost 3 years). I don’t obsess about food (I do not count anything for food – calories, fat, protein). The only thing I concern myself with is ensuring I am consuming enough food to feel and run well.

I will add, however, that feeling and seeing a bit of weight gain is never truly easy. I am human. I complain to my husband when I put on pants or shorts that were loose on me in March and now are a little too snug for comfort.

I don’t think there is anything wrong with acknowledging that there has been some weight gain. It’s when that acknowledgement leads to unhealthy habits or eating that it becomes an issue.

Just some thoughts to keep in mind as you may be in the middle of that “down” period right now before fall marathon training resumes shortly. Don’t obsess over the weight. Enjoy the downtime. Eat those treats that you may have skipped when training was heaviest. And know that when training and intensity pick up, the weight will likely return to what it was.

My good friend, Tina, wrote an awesome post recently about a similar topic. You can read it here.

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    9 thoughts on “Body and Weight Changes During and After a Training Cycle

    1. Thanks for sharing. I think I gained weight during marathon training (I was no where near running the miles you were) because I was so scared about bonking and not fueling correctly. The whole fueling thing plagued me during my training cycle. Then again it was my first marathon. Now I am going to start training for my second, and I think I will be a little less stressed over the whole fueling thing this time around.

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    3. I love this! And love you! Life has an ebb and flow to it and when we embrace that, we are healthy and happy. Looks like you’re doing just that. Kudos for sharing this!

    4. This was such a great read. I’ve gained weight over the past year, which I mostly attribute to injury and not being able to marathon train! It’s been a hit to my self esteem – I don’t know if other people really even notice, but I can tell and I don’t like it. I know the pounds will drop when I’m able to train again, but I’m trying to pay closer attention to what I eat to help with the process. It’s hard because I want to feed my body well when in the thick of training, and it’s easier to fall off that wagon when you’re just sitting on the couch.

      Thank you for sharing!
      Susan – Nurse on the Run recently posted..Five for Friday: Back to School EditionMy Profile

    5. What you shared here is definitely true. Our body and weight really change during and after a training. Thanks for this very informative post. Hoping to read more about this.

    6. Thank you SOOOO much for this post! I’m going through this exact thing right now after my 50 miler the end of April. I’ve been struggling with just wanting to eat whatever and enjoy life but knowing my weight has gone up 3-4 pounds. Your post really hit home and made me realize that everything is all good!

    7. Thanks for writing this post! I am the opposite from you though which is kind of weird. I can’t really lean out during marathon training but i get leaner after the cycle with less running and more lifting heavy.

    8. This x1000. I’m usually 5-8 lbs heavier when I’m not in marathon-training mode. I eat less, but I also run less, so that’s the result. And I definitely pay less attention to what I eat during the off season. I run two marathons per year, so 7-8 months out of 12 are spent watching out what I eat 80% of the time (I run mostly at night and I have a sensitive stomach, so I have to be extra careful about what I eat during the day if I have a workout in the evening). Those 2-3 months in-between training cycles, I really have to let it go a little bit. Yes, I am and I feel heavier. Yes, I lose muscles and my abs disappear. However, I feel that my body and my mind really need this. Than you for your honest post!

    9. Great and timely post for me. As much as I try not to let weight get to me I hate when the scale is a couple more pounds than I’d like. I’m sure it has something to do with where I am in my training cycle. Maybe I should be watching the amount of food I eat? (I really just eat until I’m full but try to make overall healthy choices…) Anyway, it is comforting to know I’m not the only one going through this. :-)
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