The unexpected weight gain from running

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    21st October 2023 – (Hong Kong) Many runners start pounding the pavement to lose weight and get in shape. But some end up gaining weight instead, leaving them scratching their heads and reconsidering their exercise regimen.

    Unexpected weight gain can be discouraging for runners striving toward their fitness goals. However, there are several explanations for this phenomenon that have nothing to do with failure. Understanding the real reasons behind running-related weight gain can help disappointed runners stay motivated and get back on track.

    Overcompensating Through Diet

    Exercise and diet go hand in hand when it comes to weight loss. Creating a calorie deficit is essential for shedding excess pounds. Running burns substantial calories, so runners need to fuel up. But it’s easy to overdo it and consume more calories than expended through exercise.

    Runners may feel ravenous after a long run and reach for extra helpings at meals or frequent snacks. While additional calories are necessary, runners should focus on nutritious whole foods to properly nourish their bodies without going overboard on calories. Quality fats, complex carbs and lean proteins enhance energy and recovery without expanding waistlines.

    Many runners make the mistake of loading up on sugary sports drinks, energy bars and processed snacks advertised for athletes. But these items tend to be high in calories, added sugars and artificial ingredients. Sticking to natural nutrition sources better supports weight management for runners.

    Gaining Muscle Mass

    Running builds up leg muscles, so weight gain after starting a running program may simply indicate greater muscle mass. Since muscle weighs more than fat, the number on the scale can increase even as body fat decreases.

    Runners should pay attention to body composition changes rather than solely tracking weight. Greater muscle definition in legs and arms, more vascularity, firmer physique and slimmer waist are signs of lowered body fat percentage and increased lean muscle mass.

    HIIT running incorporating sprints, hill repeats and intervals also torches fat while adding shapely muscle. As fitness improves through muscular development, running feels easier and weight gain from added muscle pays dividends.

    Inflammation and Water Retention

    Inflammation is a normal bodily response to muscle exertion and microtears from exercise. But the ensuing fluid accumulation makes runners feel puffy and seem heavier. Scaling back other physical activity while starting a running program exacerbates this effect.

    Rest days are essential for recovery and facilitating muscle repair and strengthening. Overtraining can overstress the body, causing excessive inflammation and water weight gain. Ensure adequate rest breaks between runs and consider alternate training like walking, swimming, yoga or weightlifting on some days.

    Massage, icing sore muscles, cold showers, Epsom salt baths and NSAIDs like ibuprofen can also help alleviate inflammation. Compression apparel may improve blood flow and circulation to flush out retained fluids.

    Underlying Health Conditions

    Certain medical conditions lead to weight gain unrelated to diet and exercise habits. Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder affecting up to 20% of women. Insulin dysregulation makes weight loss extremely difficult for those with PCOS despite diet and exercise interventions.

    Getting properly diagnosed and adjusting nutrition and training accordingly is key. A lower carbohydrate diet may better manage PCOS-related weight gain by improving metabolic function and insulin levels. While exercise alone may not lead to weight loss for these women, it remains crucial for supporting overall health.

    Thyroid disorders, diabetes, depression, PCOS and other conditions can all cause weight gain impervious to increased exercise. Seeing a doctor to identify and address any underlying issues is important for anyone struggling with unexpected weight gain while ramping up their running.

    Healthy Running Weight Loss Strategies

    For most runners, a few simple diet and training adjustments can get weight loss back on track after initial gains. Here are some tips:

    • Incorporate strength training – Building muscle through weightlifting, resistance bands and bodyweight exercises torches calories and fat while transforming physique.
    • Follow the 80/20 rule – 80% of calories should come from wholesome minimally processed foods like fruits, veggies, whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, lean proteins and healthy fats. The other 20% can be “fun” foods.
    • Change how you view food – Consider meals and snacks as fuel for peak running performance rather than eating purely for pleasure. Make nutrition choices according to what best serves your body.
    • Eat more earlier, less later – Frontload calories by starting the day with a hearty breakfast full of protein, good carbs and healthy fats. Then eat smaller, lighter meals and snacks as the day progresses.
    • Weigh yourself regularly – Tracking weight provides valuable feedback and keeps you accountable. But also assess how you look and feel vs. just the number.
    • Increase workout variation – Combine running with cross-training like cycling, swimming and yoga to constantly challenge your body in new ways.
    • Listen to your body – Hunger and cravings give clues about nutritional needs. Identify true hunger vs. stress or emotional eating prompts.

    With some patience and targeted adjustments, runners can overcome initial weight gain to achieve their fitness goals. A holistic approach addresses all factors to facilitate weight loss success through running. Consistency, self-compassion and tapping into motivation sources like inspirational runners, rewarding routes and goals events further promotes achievement.