Redemption Year

Will Marathon Training Help You Lose Weight?

Back in my high school days, fall was filled with cross country. Practices, meets, pasta parties, all the good stuff.

And, among so many other topics covered to help prepare us for meets, one of my coaches mentioned the importance of proper nutrition while training. While there were sports that required light bodies and small diets, cross country wasn’t one of them.

You had to fuel the machine.

So, if you are thinking of marathon training to shed some unwanted number of lbs, I’m sorry to say, it probably won’t work. The running community is pretty much in unanimous agreement on this one.

But fret not! This is liberating!!

You are training your body to do something that only 1% of the population has done!

The first person to ever do one died – that’s how crazy we are. So it’d be just plain insane to attempt this with less in your body than you would give yourself on a normal day.

Here are 3 reasons why you should throw out your scale:

Because your scale doesn’t know how to do math.

Yes, it can count but that’s about it.

Over a typical 4-month training plan, you are running upwards of 500-600 miles. That’s the distance between Chicago and Nashville! (I’ve made that trip a lot and, of course, I sang the 500 miles song on repeat multiple times…It’s a long car ride.)


So yes, you will be running a lot more than average. BUT, at the same time, your body will be a lot hungrier than average!

To lose weight, calories in have to be less than calories out. Plain and simple.

In normal weight loss plans, losing 1-2 pounds a week is normal and safe. It takes burning 3500 calories to burn 1 pound. That’s cutting out 3500-7000 calories from your typical intake over 7 days. (So if you normally eat 3000/day calories and go on a diet to 2000/day, you’d lose 2 pounds that week.)

In a marathon training program, losing 1 pound a week is tough. Over 7 days, you have to cut or burn off 500 calories each day.

But this is where it can get dicey – your body needs the fuel! You are making it work harder and harder each week, going farther and farther, yet cutting down its fuel supply. The math doesn’t add up!

(And I don’t know about you, but that’s when the h-anger sets in…)


Because the scale doesn’t know what it’s weighing.

If you are managing your caloric intake (MyFitnessPal and similar apps work great for this), remember you are still building muscle with each of your runs.

Now, a pound of muscle weighs the same as a pound of fat and the same as a pound of steel.muscle-vs-fat

BUT they look completely different!

Muscle is five times as dense as fat. So while you can’t win if you are battling the scale for progress, you can definitely win battling the mirror.

So go on with your sexy self!

Because the scale doesn’t make you go faster.

It is the type of food that you put in your body that makes the difference.

This one makes me the saddest as I am 100% someone who runs to eat, drink and be merry. That finish line beer is haloed in the sky in the last mile or so.

But how you fuel matters and as you are training your body to go the distance, you are also training your body to use its resources efficiently. (I’m going the fat as fuel route instead of carbing up, read more here!)

Your body needs fats. Your body needs protein. Your body needs carbs.

From there it’s just understanding how much of each and portions. The general distribution is:

  • Carbohydrates: 45-65% of calories
  • Fat: 20-35% of calories
  • Protein: 10-35% of calories

And the rule for each is:

  • 68340Carbs: The more complex, the better
  • Protein:  Go lean
  • Fat:  Omegas are your friends

Adding miles doesn’t give license to go home and binge on snack foods. (I’ve tested it so you don’t have to.) While you’ve “earned it”, it isn’t helping you. Just cuz something may be healthy, doesn’t mean it can’t be delicious.

Give yourself the right fuel to get you to the finish line. (The forever Chicagoan in me also suggests to go for the steak with extra veggies…yum!)

The important thing is being your healthiest self.  And taking care of that healthiest self.

If you lose pounds while training, great! Less to carry in your many miles. If not, there’s reasons why and, assuming you aren’t sabotaging yourself with post-run cookies, that’s okay.

So toss the scale out the window, lace up your sneakers, and enjoy your run!

What’s more important to you:  A number on a scale or a number on a time clock?


For more studies with facts and figures, check out this myth-busting article from Hal Higdon.

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