• Training & Cravings

    October 5, 2011

    Last week, I received an email from a reader asking for suggestions with how to deal with her cravings during marathon training:

    I am writing because I read that you gained weight while training for a marathon. While I know I’ve built muscle, I feel I also put on a good 5 pounds of unwanted weight. How do you not fall into your cravings?

    After gaining weight while training for my first marathon, I vowed not to gain weight the second time around. During my current training for the New York City Marathon, I still experience intense cravings every now and then, but I’m better able to navigate them, so I haven’t gained much weight (if any) during my training.

    IMG_6536 (640x427)

    Here’s how I’ve managed to not fall into my cravings (as much) this time around:

    Limiting calorie overcompensation

    During training for my first marathon, I gained nearly 10 pounds because of eating above and beyond what I needed for recovery. Basically, my thinking was: I ran 16 miles, so I ‘deserve’ to eat whatever I want. Of course, the foods that I picked weren’t the healthiest ones (i.e. beer, pizza, cupcakes), so this time around, I’m really trying to pay attention to what I eat and make smarter choices.

    Eating more balanced meals

    When I trained for my first marathon, I ate whatever and whenever I wanted. I didn’t really put much thought into my food choices, which eventually showed up on the scale (and with none of my jeans fitting). For my second marathon, I’m trying to eat more well-balanced meals with a mix of whole grains, fiber, protein, and healthy fats.

    Drinking a ton of water

    According to Runner’s World, “optimal hydration can improve performance and reduce hunger,” so I’ve been chugging down the water. I always hydrate before and after my workouts and sip water throughout the day, which helps keep my cravings at bay. As you probably already know, thirst can sometimes be mistaken for hunger, so I drink up! 

    Picking my carbs wisely

    When I trained for my first marathon, I was all about sugary carbs, like cupcakes and cookies. Obviously, they were delicious to eat, but they did nothing for my hunger (or my body’s nutritional needs), so this time around, I’m eating more whole grains, like quinoa, couscous, and fibrous bread, which are more filling, nutrient-dense, and keep my cravings in check.

    Eating more meat

    There are plenty of marathoners out there who don’t eat meat, and I know there are tons of quality vegetarian calorie sources available, but, for me, incorporating more meat into my diet has been essential for controlling my cravings and keeping the weight off during my training. The protein and fat in the meat takes longer to digest, so it helps keep me full for longer and wards off crazy cravings, especially with regard to sweets.

    Drinking smoothies

    Ok, this one is kind of random, but it works for me. When all else fails with my cravings, I drink a smoothie with protein powder mixed in. Smoothies are filling and nutritious (and delicious), which makes them great for controlling my cravings and keeping me full until the next meal.

    What are your tips for controlling cravings during training?

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    { 36 comments… read them below or add one }

    Samantha @ Bikini Birthday October 5, 2011 at 2:54 pm

    Great tips! I’m marathon training right now and my weight has been pretty steady (although I just started training so I don’t have a lot of cravings yet).


    Annette @ EnjoyYourHealthyLife October 5, 2011 at 3:00 pm

    These are great tips! I love drinking tons of water during the day, eating small meals/snacks helps me, and like you said, eating enough protein—mine come more from plant food, but it still makes me feel satiated and satisfied!

    While training for my 2 marathons I went up and down in weight, it just depended on how much I was eating and lifting weights. I can say that weight training (now) for me is essential to keeping any and all cravings in check! 🙂


    Holly October 5, 2011 at 3:00 pm

    I just finished my first marathon and my sweets cravings were INTENSE. My weight yoyo-ed up and down about 5 pounds as I would go through phases where I would give in to cravings and then phases where I would restrict to get that weight off. It was NOT a happy time!

    Towards the end of my training, though, I just realized that although I was marathon training, my caloric needs weren’t all that different from what they were before other than on long run days. I kind of used my long run days as days to quench cravings and tried to keep sweets to a minimum during the week. It was hard, but that’s what worked best.


    Holly October 5, 2011 at 3:02 pm

    @Holly: OH–and eating more meat helped me, too. I just needed more protein than what I could get from plant sources to keep me satisfied, especially since I’m not too crazy about beans and lentils–I can only eat so much of them.


    Tina October 5, 2011 at 3:06 pm

    @Holly: GREAT point about long run days verses regular workout days! I wish I had mentioned that myself!


    Rosa - Fitness, Food, Fulfilled October 5, 2011 at 3:01 pm

    I’m 2 months into marathon training and I haven’t gained any weight yet from training itself, although I know I’ve gained a ton of muscle. I’m heavier than I want to be, but that happened before training started.

    I’ve started tracking my calorie consumption to make sure I’m not eating more than I’m burning because I am hungry more often. Instead of filling up with empty calories, I try to incorporate more of those things you mentioned (protien, fiber, whole grains, as well as more fruit and vegetables). My motivation is also remembering that I want to break 4 hrs, so any added weight is going to keep me from reaching that goal.


    Stef @ Living HI October 5, 2011 at 3:04 pm

    Great post! To ensure satiety and quell my hunger, I have been putting more effort into getting enough protein. I am a vegetarian, so I’ve been eating lots of baked tofu on salads, cottage cheese, and greek yogurt.


    kathleen @ the daily crumb October 5, 2011 at 3:06 pm

    my number one tip would be to eat consciously. so often after a long run, i would find myself stuffing my face with food because i thought i “needed” it and had “earned” it. now you definitely need to replenish calories and everyone deserves a treat after a double digit run, BUT eat slowly, enjoy the food, and i bet you will find your appetite is not quite as out of control as you think.


    Paula @ Eat: Watch: Run October 5, 2011 at 3:06 pm

    I notice when I eat enough DURING the run, I’m not as hungry after the run. If I don’t eat enough during the run, I’m ravenous for 2 days.


    Ellie@fitforthesoul October 5, 2011 at 3:10 pm

    that’s interesting~~I didn’t know that many marathoners didn’t eat meat! I would think that (as you said) it would help running performance, and more people would eat it. I know though, when I was in xcountry in high school, we had pasta nights before races! 😛


    Tina @ Faith Fitness Fun October 5, 2011 at 3:15 pm

    I agree with all of those things. Focusing on portions and balance really helps me not gain despite extra mileage and extra recovery needs. I think sometimes we have to go through the gains and situations though too to better learn about our body’s needs. I know I have been all over the place with my body and through that can better gauge my needs to keep a good balance and care for my body.


    Cait's Plate October 5, 2011 at 3:16 pm

    Loved this post! I think the “i just ran 16 miles I can eat whatever I want” is a common mistake with marathon training (or you know, not a mistake, but a common misconception) – my sister did the same for her first one and she always says if she did it again she’d be more careful with that.


    shelly October 5, 2011 at 3:17 pm

    I didn’t gain any weight during Marathon training but I didn’t lose any either. I never wanted to eat much the day of a long run but I would be insanely hungry the day after. I just made sure to try to plan for my hunger by bringing extra sensible snacks to work with me and upping the size of my meals a little on that day only so I wouldn’t be too tempted by the junkfood in the breakroom. I think 2 things really helped me avoid gaining weight during my training- 1) I found that eating “junk” (aka too much simple carbs, fatty meats, or alcohol) would really impact the way I felt on my runs and so I avoided a lot of junk food to spare my stomach and keep my energy levels up. and 2) I cross trained like crazy during marathon training b/c I was getting married 2 months after the marathon and wanted some muscle tone! And after the marathon, switching to lifting lots of weights spared my legs and allowed me to futher tone up.


    Lindsey October 5, 2011 at 3:21 pm

    Drink water for sure. And eat every 3 hours, that way I don’t let myself get hungry and keep my blood sugar up! I also always took into consideration if what I was eating was helping my training and made sure to fuel and re-fuel with healthy whole foods 🙂


    Angela October 5, 2011 at 3:22 pm

    Brushing my teeth after meals and/or chewing a piece of gum to keep that minty taste in my mouth always seems to help!


    Sarah@The Flying ONION October 5, 2011 at 3:23 pm

    Fabulous tips! When I was training for my half, I made sure that I allowed myself to have a sweet every. single. day. Fighting the cravings made it worse for me, but having some dark chocolate covered almonds or a couple of cookies quenched the cravings, keeping me satisfied.

    Also. Upping the vegetables and fruits and whole grains did wonders as well. 😀


    Deva @ Deva by Definition October 5, 2011 at 3:30 pm

    When I’m running, my appetite is through the roof. If I want something sweet, I reach for a LaraBar. I don’t say no to dessert, but when it stops tasting good, i stop eating it.


    Michelle @ Oats n' Bows October 5, 2011 at 3:38 pm

    Great tips Tina! I’m a new runner and I’m trying to get into the swing of things. I’ve heard a lot about weight gain due to marathon trainings and its a tad off putting. But you make some really great points on how to balance it all out 🙂


    Brianne October 5, 2011 at 3:43 pm

    These are great tips. I’m not training for a marathon, but I am nursing my 6 month old son, he eats so much! I exercise and hour a day as well and I’m always starving. Thanks for the tips on how to keep filled up and healthy.


    lauren October 5, 2011 at 3:44 pm

    I gained something like 4lbs during training and 4lbs after the race…eeks! I’m not sure I can actually blame this on training for my half, but I swear I thought I was hungrier. I know my snacks were definitely too big or too often.
    But, one good thing I did was that I’d have something I was craving after my long runs, like pizza or boneless wings, that I probably would have had anyway…but then I’d go an overdo it. Portions are the key here! I’m hoping I can use what I’ve learned as I start training for my next half this Feb.


    Beth McCurdy October 5, 2011 at 4:16 pm

    Very nice article. I love your blog. I’m an ultra marathoner and foodie as well. In order for me to perform well, I need to pay close attention to my food intake. Luckily it’s not that hard for me because I LOVE to cook and eat healthier types of foods. I agree about the increase in protein. As much as I’d like to be a vegetarian, I feel like I need the protein from chicken and fish. I’m also big into protein shakes-especially after a hard workout/long run.
    There is some evidence of an “increase in blood volume” causing some weight gain when training for marathons. Also, the body is fighting hard to hold on to fluids so some of it can also be water retention as well. I have heard many people complain of weight gain when increasing training load (including my husband!) and it seems like it should be the other way around.
    I think if people eat healthy, stay away from processed foods, and are working a solid training program, the body will do what it’s supposed to do.


    Angela @ The Chicken Scoop October 5, 2011 at 4:53 pm

    Great tips! I use water as a substitute for cravings. After drinking 2 cups of water (a bottles worth basically), if I still have a major craving, I have a little bit of it. At that point I’m so full from the water, I can’t have too much anyway!


    Katie @ Peace Love and Oats October 5, 2011 at 5:55 pm

    definitely drinking enough water, and also taking the time to make and appreciate a meal, rather than just shoving whatever carbs I see into my mouth as quickly as possible! okay, well most of the time.


    Katie October 5, 2011 at 6:50 pm

    This post was much needed for me! I am just finishing up training for my full first marathon and I have used the “I just ran _______ miles, I can eat whatever I want” line far too many times. Luckily I have maintained my weight but I definitely don’t feel very light. I almost feel like I need a post-marathon diet to get used to eating normal amounts again! How did you transition?


    katie @ KatieDid October 5, 2011 at 7:04 pm

    When I was training I fell in love with eggs. I would eat really big filling omelets to refuel after runs and that would keep my hunger at bay. I also started eating more meat and animal fat in general which keeps me sated. I think its really important to focus on protein and fat just as much as carbs because they build back the muscles and keep you sated.


    Tiffany @ texan on the run October 5, 2011 at 7:05 pm

    Great post, nice tips, I’ll def try these out, thanks!


    Mary @ Bites and Bliss October 5, 2011 at 7:29 pm

    Thanks for the tips. I’m only halfway through training and have already noticed weight gain. Weight gain is part of carbloading, but still..it shouldn’t be noticeable during training. I’m going to start being more aware of what I’m eating from now on.


    chelsey @ clean eating chelsey October 5, 2011 at 7:46 pm

    Great tips! I think that focusing on more carbs during training is a good thing, but you’re right – focusing on sugary ones won’t do you any good! Thanks for the advice.


    Hillary October 5, 2011 at 8:34 pm

    I gained weight while training for my half marathon for many of the same reasons you did. When I realized my weight was going up, I tried to cut back on the treats and try some other tricks. The smoothie trick helped me a LOT—so easy and filling. And I also tried to only eat when I was hungry and not because I felt like I “deserved” a treat for running.


    Claire October 5, 2011 at 9:31 pm

    Yes I agree with everything you said!! I gained weight while training for both the Chicago, Boston, and Shamrock Marathons and I have vowed not to gain it this time around for Vegas in December. I’ve been good at keeping cravings at bay for two reasons: It’s about what and when I eat. I focus much more on lean protein, either from meat or yogurt and I make sure that I eat within the 45 minute window after I run (10+ miles). This is tough for a lot of runners because they (like me) just don’t feel hungry after a long run. But it is really important–not only does the carbs and protein refuel our muscles, but I truly believe it helps to prevent crazy “running hunger”

    Interestingly, there was an article about this in the last month’s Runner’s World. It said that women runners become more hungry than men because of hormones. Crappppppp. But I think if we are cognizant about what we are eating and when we eat it we can balance our hormones…and our appetites 🙂


    Hannah October 6, 2011 at 12:47 am

    Ah yes, meat! I think I really need to up my protein to get away from my sugar cravings….


    Hannah October 6, 2011 at 12:48 am

    Smoothies and meat… why not? 😛


    Khushboo October 6, 2011 at 1:45 am

    Agree with all the above! This is one reason why I think calorie counting can be positive–> making sure you meet your nutritional needs and matching your calorie burn without going overboard! I would also say fuel within 90 minutes of a run, even if you don’t feel like it. Otherwise hunger will hit you later and it won’t be pretty!


    Christine @ Oatmeal in my Bowl October 6, 2011 at 11:13 am

    I am so glad to know that I am not alone on this. I started doing Jillian’s Ripped in 30. And although it wasn’t a marathon, the cravings are crazy afterwards. The first day I ate a big breakfast burrito (not a common meal in my diet). If I keep up, I am going to gain more than I lose! Thank you for the tips.


    Kristina October 6, 2011 at 10:11 pm

    It is really interesting – I haven’t run a marathon in well over 10 years, but over the past 9 months, I have started to train for and participate in triathlons. I found, with the first one, that I really had to watch what I ate – not to keep off the pounds but to make sure that I didn’t lose too much weight since that was definitely NOT one of my goals. I realize that some people dislike getting on the scale, and it’s not necessarily my favorite experience, but I do find it helpful to get on the scale once a week or so, just to track where I am.
    I do wonder what my feelings would have been had I gained weight while training for the tri. Maybe it’s easy for me to say that weight gain shouldn’t be a consideration when in training, but I’d honestly like to believe that. However, it seems that other people have strong feelings (aversions) about the idea of weight gain while training.


    Kelli June 6, 2012 at 12:34 pm

    These are really good things to keep in mind in general, for anyone who is expending a lot of calories through exercise. When I first lost around 20 pounds four years ago, I did it mainly through diet and light exercise, such as walking or short workout dvds.

    Then I joined a gym with my roommate two years ago, so she would have a workout buddy, and found controlling my eating and cravings much more difficult after intense workouts! All of these tips are useful for people who are increasing calorie expenditure to a level they are previously not used to.


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