If the scale is increasing along with your mileage, there could be a few different things going on.
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Even if you're not running with the goal to lose weight, gaining weight while training can be frustrating and confusing. First, it's important to note that these pounds aren't necessarily from fat—as the density of tight, lean muscle mass can result in weight gain, explains Hayden Voss, assistant general manager and trainer at ENRGi Fitness. Still feel like you're gaining fat? Keep reading for some possible causes.
You're Overestimating the Calories You Burned
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Yes, eating a healthy dose of complex carbs, protein, and good fats after exercising will repair muscles and prevent injury, but it's easy to overdo it. If you get home after a long run and overestimate your calorie burn or underestimate the calories in your post-workout meal, you could easily end up overeating and gaining weight, says Natalie Rizzo, M.S., R.D., an NYC-based sports dietitian.
Staying hydrated throughout the day and eating something satiating, but not too heavy on the stomach, before a workout can help limit hunger following exercise, and therefore avoid overeating, one expert told us in How to Control Your Ravenous Hunger After a Tough Workout.
Learning how to master intuitive eating can also help prevent overeating by showing you how to better recognize when you're full and satisfied, or really still hungry. "Intuitive eating can be a really valuable tool for athletes, teaching them to honor both hunger and satiety cues," says Heather Caplan, running coach and dietician. This will also numbers-focused runners to register fullness based on satisfaction, rather than the number of calories.
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You Forgot About Cross Training
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If running is your only method of training, you might lose muscle and gain fat, says certified trainer Rebecca Gahan, owner and founder of Kick@55. Such steady state cardio can promote fat storage and take away from muscle, if done consistently on its own.
"Long-term, steady-state cardio tricks your body into thinking your exercise time is 'normal' metabolism, which slows your resting metabolism," says Dustin Raymer, fitness director at Structure House, M.S., C.E.S. "This usually happens far into training, but one way to combat this is to not neglect the importance of strength training." He recommends as few as one strength training workout a week with light weights to help retain muscle mass and improve metabolism.
You're Not Drinking Enough Water
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"The human body is roughly 60 percent water, and keeping it well hydrated helps it function properly," says Pamela Nisevich Bede, M.S., R.D., a sports nutritionist at Abbott. "While it may seem like a no-brainer that you'll want to hydrate after training, it's essential to keep your hydration levels steady throughout the day."
What's more, that feeling of thirst could be mistaken for hunger and lead to overeating, she says. And, if you're training for a marathon, you might be hungrier than usual, says Michael Jonesco, D.O., a specialist in orthopedics and sports medicine at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. Leptin, a hormone that has been said to stifle appetite, is suppressed for the rest of the day following a morning jog, which may contribute to intense hunger felt by many runners throughout the day, he says. (Learn more about leptin resistance. It could be the answer to why you're always hungry.)
Here's how to make sure you're drinking enough: On average, women need 91 ounces (11.4 glasses, or 2.7 liters) of water each day, and men need 125 ounces (15.6 glasses, or 3.7 liters), according to the Institute of Medicine. "You can replace a few glasses with fruits, juices, vegetables, and even coffee," says Bede.
You're Fueling Too Much During Your Runs
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You only need a sports drink if you're running on empty, training in intense conditions, or running for longer than an hour (at the minimum), says Bede. On those days when the thermometer spikes but the run is short, grab a lower-cal, electrolyte beverage instead of typical sports drink. "Look for one that contains sodium and potassium but is light on calories (no more than 25 calories per 8 ounces)," she says.
As for gels? "While you should absolutely be training with some type of fuel, like gels, chews, bars, etc., you only need them when your runs begin to surpass the 75-minute mark," she adds. There's no need for a mid-run gel at your next 5K.
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You're Drinking Too Much During Your Workout
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Yes, you can under and over hydrate, so finding that happy medium will help you avoid weight gain. "If you weigh yourself immediately after a run, and you're heavier than when you started, you're drinking too much water," says Jonesco. If you drink too much water, not only will your water weight seem to add pounds, but it's also potentially dangerous. "Overhydrating could dilute your blood and cause a potentially fatal condition called hyponatremia," he says.
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You Have Chronic Inflammation
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When you're running all those miles, you increase your body's physiological response to inflammation and swelling, so you might feel more puffy and achy than usual, says Nate Helming, Reebok master trainer. Inflammatory responses (and bloating) can lead to weight gain. "The best way to reduce this weight swing is to avoid extreme swings in your training," says Helming. "Distribute your miles evenly through your training plan."
Giving your body time to heal, stretching enough, and foam rolling will also ensure that your body doesn't remain in a chronic state of inflammation and stress. This kind of consistent tax can show up as extra weight on the body. Eating anti-inflammatory foods can also help. Try cherry juice, avocado, salmon, leafy greens, and walnuts. (On the other hand, these foods can increase the inflammation, so you may want to avoid them during training.)
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